To be honest, when I heard the sad news about what transpired early Saturday, I wasn’t sure how this team would react. It would have been really to excuse them for lack of effort if they lost this one, after all they had to absorb in the hours preceding it.
December 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys free safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) knocks the ball loose as Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) tries to hang on at Paul Brown Stadium. Dallas won the game 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
But I knew it could go another way and it did. We did not see a stellar effort by the Cowboys, but we rarely do. Not since game one against the Giants have we seen what I would consider a stellar effort, but we did see them play a complete game to the extent they covered up weaknesses and played well enough in all phases to come home with a victory.
The Cowboys defense somehow managed to hold off a very good Cincinnati Bengals offense, despite poor punting by Brian Moorman constantly putting them at a disadvantage in field position. And they were able to play good defense against the Bengals late in the game, despite the loss of Morris Claiborne.
Ideally, when you lose any player, you want the one that takes his place to perform as well. Rarely does that happen, because the starter starts for a reason. But in the case of Josh Brent, it was already a case of a backup playing for missing starter Jay Ratliff.
Equally (if not more) capable Sean Lissemore came back from injury at a key time to be what the team needed in this game. In a very winnable game for the Bengals, enough mistakes, and key plays by the Cowboys defense, were made down the stretch to keep them from capitalizing on their small lead.
I feared the Cowboys were further weakened against the running game and that the Bengals would run wild on them. I believe Lissemore was the difference that prevented that from happening. All in all, it was a very good defensive effort for a Cowboys team missing many starters and primary backup players.
On offense, DeMarco Murray, and the running game in general, had a difficult time against a stout Bengals defensive line, but made just enough plays to keep drives alive, especially late in the game. Add to that Murray’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield, and you have a player that helped make a difference in securing the victory.
In fact, you can make the blanket statement with confidence that the Cowboys offense is always better when Murray can participate. When Murray is in there, as we saw in this game, play action means something. With a runner like Murray, the opposing defense has to honor the play action, or risk allowing a big run.
That provides Tony Romo with bigger windows to throw a pass into after the linebackers have been suckered towards the line, thinking it’s a run. The Bengals cornerbacks did a good job of defending our receivers, but just like with the running game, Romo and the receivers made just enough plays to secure the victory. I sure would like to have seen Dwayne Harris get in better position to fight for the ball that was intercepted at the end of the first half though.
December 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs over Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) at Paul Brown Stadium. Dallas won the game 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
I am sure that the Cowboys punting schemes for this game involved kicking the ball away from Bengals punt returner Adam Jones. What I am not sure about is why the kicks were so short. At some point doesn’t it make more sense just to punt it to the guy rather than have several kicks go less than thirty yards?
It was a dangerous strategy that fortunately did not cost the Cowboys the game. Other special teams play, including two field goals by Dan Bailey, was once again enough to win.
The Cowboys have been through a lot this year, with what happened Saturday being by far the most tragic, but they seem to continue to do just enough to stay in contention. Let’s hope they can build on this one and go on to win the next three.
My heart and prayers go out to the family of Jerry Brown and I feel for Josh Brent too. This young man made a stupid mistake that cost the life of his best friend and likely his career and freedom as well. In one way or another, he will pay for this mistake the rest of his life.