Few teams in NFL history were as clueless about what to do with a lead than the 2011 Dallas Cowboys. This was the team that couldn’t hold a 24-10 lead over the Jets, a 27-3 lead over the Lions, or a 34-22 lead over the Giants. Making matters worse, the Cowboys had those leads in the fourth quarter.
There have been too many reminders of those failures during the long offseason. And with the Cowboys opening against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Wednesday, it looked as if Cowboys fans might have to endure some more pain. Few thought the Cowboys would win.
Then came the fourth quarter. Dallas led 17-10 heading into the quarter and still held that lead when the Cowboys got the ball with 13:03 left in the game. Tony Romo promptly led the team on a 12-play drive that ended when he hit Miles Austin on a 1st-and-30 play and Austin was able to split defenders on his way to a 34-yard touchdown.
Exciting, of course, but there was that reminder: Dallas held a 24-10 lead over the Giants, but nearly 6 minutes remained on the clock. Plenty of time for Eli and company.
Of course, it took Manning just over 3 minutes to cut the Dallas lead to 7. To make matters worse, former Cowboy Martellus Bennett caught the touchdown that cut into the Dallas lead.
The Cowboys had to kill 2:36 from the clock. The Giants had two timeouts. After two plays, there was yet another sign that this could be a frustrating ending. On 3rd and 2, it appeared that DeMarco Murray had run for a first down, which would have iced the game. However, referees called Jason Witten with a hold, moving the Cowboys back eight yards. Dallas had to convert a 3rd-and-10, or Eli would have yet another chance.
Then Romo threw a quick slant to Kevin Ogletree, who slid past defenders for a 13-yard gain. That ended the game.
This was the same Kevin Ogletree who had caught a total of 25 passes for 294 yards and no touchdowns in three seasons. On Wednesday night, he caught 8 passes for 114 yards with 2 TDs. We hope Laurent Robinson is happy in Jacksonville, because Ogletree looked better on Wednesday than Robinson looked last year.
On top of that, this defense seems to be for real. It was mildly exciting when the Cowboys only gave up a total of 12 first-half points in four preseason games. The team once again did not give up a touchdown in the first half on Wednesday, holding the Giants to a single field goal. That field goal came after the Cowboys defense kept the Giants out of the end zone following a Romo interception that Michael Boley returned inside the Dallas 3-yard line.
Romo made up for the pick, completing 22 of 29 passes for 307 yards with 3 TDs. Austin finished with 4 receptions for 73 yards and the score, while Dez Bryant had 4 catches for 85 yards.
Murray had a nice game, gaining 131 yards on the ground. His 48-yard run in the 3rd quarter helped to set up a Dan Bailey field goal.
On defense, Sean Lee continues to make a name for himself. He had 12 total tackles and forced a David Wilson fumble in the first quarter. Many expect Wilson to contribute heavily, but he had only 4 yards on 2 carries.
Meanwhile, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were targeted a total of 17 times combined but had only 10 receptions for 96 yard between them. Cruz also had two costly drops.
DeMarcus Ware made some history tonight by recording 2 sacks. That gives him 101.5 during his career, which is a franchise record (though only because sacks were not an official stat before 1983).