Dallas 35, Detroit 19: The Savior, Bryan McCann

Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return gave Dallas the spark it needed in a 35-19 win over Detroit.

Until the Lions lined up for a punt with 9:38 left in the third quarter, the game between Dallas and Detroit looked like so many of the other losses this season. The Cowboys had done enough early to earn a lead but then made some dumb mistakes to lose the lead and face the possibility of another maddening loss.

The Cowboys’ first big mistake was Felix Jones fumbling deep in Dallas territory with less than a minute left in the first half. The fumble set up a Detroit touchdown that gave the Lions a 10-7 lead heading into halftime. The generally positive mood in the stadium turned very sour, as some booing rained down as the player walked off for intermission.

Second, the Cowboys shot themselves in the foot yet again when Leonard Davis was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. Detroit 12, Dallas 7. The Lions had moved the ball better than Dallas at that point, and 15-7 or 19-7 seemed very possible. Fortunately, the Dallas defense came up with a stop before the Lions could cross midfield.

When Detroit’s Nick Harris lined up to punt at the 9:38 mark, the Lions had already downed two punts inside the 5.  Dez Bryant lined up to receive the kick, but he let he ball sail over his head. Detroit’s John Wendling saved a touchback by tipping the ball back into play before the ball landed in the end zone.

At that moment, Bryan McCann made the play of the game. He retrieved the ball off a bounce and headed to his left, and he promptly ran right past five Detroit players. After that, the only players left were Detroit’s Maurice Morris and about six white jerseys. McCann raced for a 97-yard touchdown, and the Cowboys did not trail again.

Two plays later, rookie linebacker Sean Lee forced the first fumble of his career, and defensive end Jason Hatcher recovered. The Cowboys quickly moved 19 yards for the score to take a 21-12 lead.

The Cowboys had a few plays to forget on Sunday, and when Nate Burleson ended up behind the Dallas secondary on what turned out to be a 58-yard gain, his play set up a Detroit touchdown. Once again, the Cowboys found a way to let momentum slip away.

But the Cowboys rebounded to mount a drive, moving 69 yards on 16 plays on a drive that exhausted nearly eight minutes. Jon Kitna’s third touchdown of the day went to Miles Austin, who scored his second TD of the day.

David Buehler had kicked better on Sunday, averaging 72.5 yards per kickoff and nailing four of his five kicks into the end zone. The fifth kick, though, wound up out of bounds, giving Detroit the ball at the Lion 40. Detroit moved into Dallas territory, but on a 3rd-and-7 play from the Dallas 35, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware sacked Shaun Hill, forcing a punt.

Dallas turned around and drove from its own 20 to the Detroit 29. Most expected Dallas to go for the field goal to increase the lead to 31-19. However, on a 4th-and-1, Kitna pulled off a great bootleg. His fake to Marion Barber sucked in the entire right side of the Detroit line. Kitna was all alone around the end, and thanks to a downfield block by Doug Free, Kitna was able to walk in for the final score.

Detroit outgained Dallas 338 to 265 as the Cowboys only managed 131 passing yards. Dez Bryant caught an early touchdown pass but was unable to duplicate his effort from last Sunday as he caught only three passes for eight yards. Miles Austin scored twice, but both were on short passes near the goalline.

The Dallas defense again rushed fewer players and played more zone. Dallas seldom rushed more than four, but Dallas was able to generate enough pressure to help out the secondary.

Eleven months after Dallas upset the Saints in the Superdome to ruin New Orleans’ run for a perfect season, the Saints come to town on Thanksgiving. New Orleans is now 7-3 thanks to a win over the Seahawks today.