Dallas 14, Philadelphia 13: What Might Have Been in Week 1
The Cowboys have been haunted all season by their opening-game loss to the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys did everything they could that night to give the game to Washington, and in the end, Alex Barron’s holding penalty on the final play negated what would have been the game-winning touchdown from Tony Romo to Roy Williams.
You know the story since that time—the line has been a weak link all year; Romo has been out since week 7 thanks to a broken collarbone; the team’s kicker, David Buehler, has been consistently inconsistent; and the secondary has been awful.
Against the Eagles on Sunday, all of these negatives were once again factors in the game. With Romo and Jon Kitna out, Dallas had to start third-stringer Stephen McGee. The Cowboys were in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but Buehler pushed the ball right on a 53-yard attempt. Kevin Kolb didn’t destroy the Dallas secondary, but backup receiver Chad Hall caught a 48-yarder after smoking Terence Newman in the fourth quarter, and the play set up a field goal that gave Philadelphia a 13-7 lead. This was the same deficit the Cowboys faced when they tried to come from behind against Washington.
Dallas got the ball at its own 32 with seven minutes left, and the team immediately went backwards. Dallas had to punt the ball from its own 22 after a three-and-out, and it looked like the Eagles might be able to run the clock out, much like they did against Dallas on December 12.
Thankfully (I suppose), however, the Eagles weren’t playing with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, or Jeremy Maclin. Philadelphia only picked up one first down, and when Anthony Spencer sacked Kolb with just over three minutes left to play, Dallas had a chance. Sav Rocca’s punt only traveled 29 yards, giving Dallas the ball at its own 46.
It looked like the game might end right there. Dallas got a bad spot on a second-down play, and the team failed to convert from third-and-inches. Fullback Chris Gronkowski managed to move the pile enough to get the first down, and after a spike, McGee hit Jason Witten for a 33-yard gain to the Philadelphia 11. On 3rd-and-3 from the 4, McGee again found Witten, who ran to the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the same area where Williams had caught the touchdown pass in week 1, but this time, Barron wasn’t on the field to negate the play.
Of course, the Cowboys still had to figure out how to play defense to secure the win. But unlike previous weeks, the Cowboys didn’t make heroes out of the Eagle backups. DeMarcus Ware finished a great game by picking up his third sack on first down. The Eagles did not move the ball, and Newman picked up his second interception of the game to put the game away.
There are going to be plenty of people who are upset that the Cowboys’ meaningless win may ruin their draft position. Six teams finished with records of 5-11 or worse, and Dallas is among seven teams with 6-10 marks. The Seahawks would make eight teams if they lose to the Rams tonight.
There were some positives, though, in addition to the simple W. Ware and Spencer looked like the forces they were from a year ago, with the two combining for five sacks. Ware also scored a touchdown after Spencer forced Kolb to fumble in the second quarter. Up to that point, Dallas trailed 7-0 and had not done much to make a game of it.
Felix Jones rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Marion Barber and Tashard Choice were non-factors, though, with Barber doing nothing on short-yardage situations and Choice dropping at least one pass he should have caught.
Witten was held in check for much of the game, but he came alive at the right time. Miles Austin hauled in two long passes, including a nice play on a bubble screen, and his 62 yards put him over 1,000 yards for the season.
And if nothing else, we don’t have to spend the entire off-season being reminded of a 44-6 loss to the Eagles on the final game of the season.