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Atlanta 39, Dallas 28: A Solid 29 Minutes of Football, but Then…

A puzzled Brandon Weeden.

A puzzled Brandon Weeden.

With the Cowboys trying to win games with Brandon Weeden at quarterback and without Dez Bryant at receiver, most knew the team needed to do some things very well to knock off the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons.

  • Run the ball well.
  • Play excellent defense.
  • Let Weeden manage the game without having to rely on him to win it.
  • Win the field-position game.
  • Win the turnover battle.

Other factors could also apply, but these would be critical. And for 29 minutes, the Cowboys did most of these things.

Joseph Randle reminded fans of the 2014 version of DeMarco Murray. In the first five minutes of the game, he had 85 rushing yards. He scored three touchdowns in the first half and looked unstoppable.

(In the second half, Randle looked more like the 2015 version of Murray in Philadelphia.)

The defense contained Julio Jones for the entire first half, allowing Jones to catch only 3 passes for 27 yards.

Weeden made a critical mistake on an interception, but he was otherwise effective. The announcers said he set a franchise record with 20 consecutive completions.

Dallas had 20 first downs to Atlanta’s 12 in the first half.

It looked as if the Cowboys would go into halftime with a 28-14 lead thanks to Randle’s third touchdown run of the game. Everything had gone the Cowboys’ way.

Then came the last 40 seconds of the first half. The Falcons went 66 yards on 6 plays to kick a field goal, making it 28-17 at the half.

The problem: Dallas never regained the momentum after that point.

To begin the first half, Dallas forced an Atlanta punt. The Cowboys took over at the Atlanta 47 with a 14-point lead.

And the team promptly moved backwards. Dallas faced a 3rd-and-23 and were forced to punt one play later.

Although the Cowboys pinned the Falcons deep, Dallas at that point decided to unveil the Can’t Stop Anyone Defense from 2012-2013. Yes, that one.

Atlanta went 87 yards in 6 plays to cut the Dallas lead to 28-23.

The Cowboys needed to run, but they couldn’t. Dallas had to punt again.

Another Falcons drive began deep in Atlanta territory, but it didn’t matter. Atlanta moved the ball 89 yards in 11 plays.

Julio Jones scored the go-ahead points on a two-yard touchdown reception. The Cowboys had no idea how to stop Jones, who gained 164 yards on 12 receptions.

If it wasn’t Jones killing the Cowboys, it was running back Devonta Freeman. He carried the ball 30 times for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns.

With the Cowboys trailing and unable to move the ball on the ground, Dallas needed to turn to Weeden to produce something.

Instead, Dallas went three-and-out, with Weeden taking a sack on third down.

Atlanta scored pretty easily again. Weeden and the Cowboys could do nothing.

Atlanta 39, Dallas 28.

No, the loss did not completely fall on Weeden’s shoulders. This was a team loss.

He cannot, however, make the stupid pass he made in the second quarter. An Atlanta interception led directly to a Falcon touchdown.

He also did not get the ball downfield at all. He attempted only six passes directed at receivers. Terrance Williams was his target twice, but Williams failed to catch a pass.

The role players did not help, though.

One reason why Williams failed to catch a pass was because he dropped a pass that hit him on the numbers.

Cole Beasley made some good plays, but many people would have trouble naming the other receivers on the field today.

Dallas recorded one sack but often completely failed to put any pressure on Matt Ryan.

The Cowboys will play one more game without Greg Hardy and Rolondo McClain, and Jeremy Mincey should be back before long. Each of them should help matters.

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Live Blog: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons

The 2-0 Dallas Cowboys host the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons in week 3.

Live Blog, Week 3: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons

How the Dallas Cowboys address major injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant will give us an idea about this team’s possible fortunes in 2015.

The Cowboys have a tough test today in their first full game without Romo. Atlanta has defeated the same two teams as the Cowboys, as the Falcons beat Philadelphia 26-24 in week 1, followed by a 24-20 win over the Giants in week 2.

Here’s the live blog for today’s game.

Then and Now: Cowboys vs. Falcons, 1986 vs. 2015

The Cowboys lost a shootout to the Atlanta Falcons in week 3 of the 1986 season.

The Cowboys lost a shootout to the Atlanta Falcons in week 3 of the 1986 season.

The Cowboys have faced the Atlanta Falcons during week 3 of a season only once before. That game took place in 1986 at Texas Stadium.

This is the second time this year a Then and Now feature has focused on the 1986 season. The previous entry addressed the season-opener against the New York Giants.

Here is a look the matchup in 1986 (then) compared with Sunday’s game against the Falcons (now).

Then (1986): The Cowboys faced the Falcons nine times between 1966 and 1985. Dallas won eight of those games, including two playoff victories.

Now (2015): The Cowboys last played the Falcons in 2012, losing 19-13. Dallas has played Atlanta five times since 2001 and has lost three of those games. The last Dallas win came in 2009.


Then: Atlanta’s starting quarterback was David Archer. He played college football at Snow College in Utah and was not drafted in 1984. He started 23 games with the Falcons between 1985 and 1987.

Now: Dallas would have started its own undrafted quarterback, Tony Romo, but Romo suffered a broken clavicle against the Eagles last week. Instead, the Cowboys will start Brandon Weeden, who has started 21 games during his career with Cleveland and Dallas.

Then: The Falcons’ starting running back was Gerald Riggs. One year earlier, Riggs carried the ball 397 times and gained 1,719 yards. He was still effective in 1986, finishing the season with 1,327 yards. However, he had trouble staying healthy and never reached the 1,000-yard mark again after turning 27.

Now: The Cowboys had their own workhorse in 2014. DeMarco Murray carried the ball 392 times that season and rushed for a franchise-record 1,845 yards. However, running backs in the past, including Riggs, have usually struggled after touching the ball so many times in one season, and the Cowboys led Murray leave via free agency. In two games with the Eagles in 2015, Murray has gained only 11 yards in 21 carries.


Then: Atlanta had not made the playoffs since 1982 and had suffered through a 4-12 season in 1985.  Things looked good in 1986 as the team started at 4-0. However, the Falcons lost five straight in the middle of the season and finished at 7-8-1.

Now: Atlanta was one of the better teams in the league between 2010 and 2012. However, the teams suffered through a 4-12 season in 2013 and a 6-10 season in 2014. Hopes are higher now, as Atlanta won its first two games.


Then: The Cowboys won their first two games before losing to the Falcons. Dallas eventually improved its record to 6-2, but an injury to Danny White in week 9 caused a downward spiral. The Cowboys finished with a 7-9 record.

Now: The Cowboys have won their first two games but have lost both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the next several weeks. Whether the Cowboys can avoid a downward spiral will determine whether the Cowboys can reach the playoffs again.

Blocked Punts Returned for Touchdowns

Danny McCray blocked a Donnie Jones punt in the third quarter in the Cowboys' 20-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2015.

Danny McCray blocked a Donnie Jones punt in the third quarter in the Cowboys’ 20-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2015. Kyle Wilbur returned the ball for a touchdown.

A huge play in the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday was Danny McCray’s blocked punt, which Kyle Wilbur returned for a touchdown.

I have heard a number of different estimates about the last time the Cowboys returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, but most of the estimates I heard were wrong.

According to the data on Pro-Football-Reference, the last time the Cowboys returned any type of blocked kick for a touchdown was 2007, when Pat Watkins returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

We have to look back to 1992 for the last time the Cowboys scored on a blocked punt. In week 2 of that season, Robert Williams scored after the Cowboys blocked a Sean Landeta punt.

That was actually Williams’s second career touchdown from a blocked punt. One year earlier, he scored after Dallas had blocked a Greg Montgomery punt against the Houston Oilers.

Here is a list of all five times the Cowboys have scored on blocked punts.

1977: Charlie Waters scored after a blocked punt in a 16-10 win over the Eagles.

1985: Jesse Penn returned a blocked punt 46 yards for a touchdown in a 50-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

1991: Robert Williams returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown in a 26-23 loss to the Houston Oilers.

1992: Robert Williams recovered a blocked punt and scored in a 34-28 win over the New York Giants.

2015: Kyle Wilbur returned a blocked punt 26 yards for a score in a 20-10 win over the Eagles.

Dallas 20, Philadelphia 10: Big Win, Big Cost

The Cowboys’ defense had completely shut down the Philadelphia offense for the entire first half of the week 2 matchup. DeMarco Murray had negative rushing yards for much of the game, and Sam Bradford looked completely lost.

Sean Lee was the real hero of Sunday's 20-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Sean Lee was the real hero of Sunday’s 20-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dallas had a lead, but it was only 6-0. Nevertheless, three minutes into the second half, Danny McCray broke through to block an Eagle punt, and Kyle Wilbur returned the blocked punt for a touchdown. It marked the first time since 1992 that the Cowboys had returned a blocked punt for a score, and the play gave Dallas a 13-0 lead.

Another three-and-out by the Eagles led to another punt. With 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Romo hit Lance Dunbar on a 39-yard pass down the right sidelines, giving the Cowboys a first down at the Philadelphia 32.

It turned out to be the last pass Romo will throw for several weeks. Two plays later, Romo landed hard on his left side and broke his clavicle. He also fumbled on the play, giving the Eagles life.

The Eagles drove to the Dallas 3, but the real hero of the game for the Cowboys came up huge. Sean Lee picked off Sam Bradford in the end zone.

Philadelphia later kicked a field goal to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 13-3, and Dallas fans had to hope that Weeden had enough to run time off the clock.

Weeden did lead a drive.  On the 11th play of that drive, however, Gavin Escobar fumbled the ball, and Malcolm Jenkins returned the ball 34 yards into Dallas territory.

Fortunately, Bradford remained lost. He mishandled a snap from center on the next play, giving the ball back to Dallas with 7:15 remaining in the game.

Less than three minutes later, J.J. Wilcox snagged a deflected pass and recorded another interception of Bradford with 4:40 left.

Weeden hit Terrence Williams on a 42-yard touchdown pass to pad the lead, as the Cowboys won, 20-10.


One week ago, I wrote that last week’s game against the New York Giants was somewhat similar to the team’s season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins in 2010. The difference was that the Cowboys beat the Giants, unlike the result in 2010.

Today brought another bad reminder from 2010.

In week 6 that season, Tony Romo went to the turf with a broken clavicle and was out for the season. After losing to the Giants, the Cowboys were 1-5 and finished the season with a 6-10 record.

In the third quarter of today’s game at Philadelphia, Romo went hard to the turf and broke the same left clavicle. Nobody is sure right now how long he will be out, but it could be as many as 12 weeks.

In games started by the likes of Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee, Kyle Orton, and Brandon Weeden since 2008, the Cowboys have gone 6-9. Weeden’s career record as a starter is 5-16.

Weeden will now take over as the starter of a team that has gone 2-0 for the first time since 2008.

Lee came up huge in the win. He recorded 14 total tackles, including two for losses.

His play was a big reason why DeMarco Murray had only 2 rushing yards on 13 carries.

Lee’s interception in the end zone was nearly as big as McCray’s blocked punt. Had the Eagles scored on the drive, it would have been a one-possession game with Weeden leading the Cowboys.

After two games in 2014, Murray had 285 rushing yards on 51 carries for a 5.6 per-carry average.

After two games in 2015, Murray has 11 yards on 21 carries. At this rate, it would take Murray 335 games to reach his total of 1,845 yards from last year.

Live Blog: Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Cowboys vs. Eagles, Week 2

Cowboys vs. Eagles, Week 2

The Cowboys are in Philadelphia to face the Eagles. Dallas is 1-0 after the win over the Giants in week 1, while the Eagles are 0-1 after falling to Atlanta.

Here’s the live blog:

Then (1971) and Now (2015): Cowboys vs. Eagles in Week 2

The Cowboys have faced the Philadelphia Eagles on the road during week 2 on two previous occasions. One took place in 1974 in a Monday Night Football game where Dallas lost on a late field goal.

We’ll forget that one.

Philadelphia's Leroy Keyes tackles Mike Ditka in a week 2 game played on September 26, 1971.

Philadelphia’s Leroy Keyes tackles Mike Ditka in a week 2 game played on September 26, 1971.

The other took place three years earlier during the Cowboys’ first Super Bowl championship season. This week’s then-and-now feature focuses on that 1971 game.


Then (1971)—The Cowboys had overcome years of frustration by reaching the Super Bowl after the 1970 season. The Cowboys then added even more frustration by losing to the Colts in SB V.

Now (2015)—The Cowboys had overcome years of frustration by reaching the playoffs after the 2014 season. The Cowboys and their fans suffered more frustration, though, when Dallas lost the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.


Then—The 1970 Eagles had a miserable 0-7 start and finished with a 3-10-1 record.

Now—The 2014 Eagles appeared to be in a position to repeat as division champions, but three straight losses in December killed the Eagles’ chances.


Then—Philadelphia’s third-year head coach Jerry Williams was on the bubble in 1971, given that Philadelphia won only seven games in 1969 and 1970 combined. Williams’ team opened at 0-3 in 1971, and he was fired.

Now—Philadelphia’s third-year head coach Chip Kelly is not on the bubble, but he made some head-scratching roster movies during the 2015 offseason. The Eagles lost their 2015 season-opener to the Atlanta Falcons.


Then—The Eagles featured running backs that only the most dedicated trivia buff would remember. Ronnie Bull? Lee Bouggess? Tom Woodeshick?

Now—The Eagles traded their former all-pro back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo, but Philadelphia added well-known backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to join Darren Sproles in 2015.


Then—The Cowboys opened their season on the road at Buffalo with a 49-37 shootout win. Craig Morton began the season as the starter, but a quarterback controversy developed. By the end of the season, Roger Staubach was the team’s leader.

Now—The Cowboys pulled off an improbable win against the New York Giants. Tony Romo has been the starter since 2006, and no other quarterback on this team will challenge him.


Then—Dallas jumped out to a 21-0 lead in a 42-7 win over the Eagles.

Now—Sunday at 3 p.m.

When the Cowboys Have Faced Former 1,000-Yard Rushers

As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, most eyes have been on how Dallas will handle former Cowboy DeMarco Murray. He, of course, led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,845 yards and set a franchise record in doing so.

A Dallas running back has gained at least 1,000 yards 25 times during the past, including the 2014 season with Murray. A total of six running backs have accomplished this, including Murray, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Calvin Hill, and Julius Jones.

Emmitt Smith (shown here as a Cardinal) is one of four 1,000-yard running backs to face the Cowboys later in his career.

Emmitt Smith (shown here as a Cardinal) is one of four 1,000-yard running backs to face the Cowboys later in his career.

Among these players, the Cowboys later had to face Smith, Walker, Hill, and Jones when those backs played for other teams. Like Murray, two of these players joined division rivals. Here is a short review of how those backs fared against the Cowboys.

Calvin Hill

Hill played with the Cowboys from 1969 to 1974 before joining the World Football League. He returned to the NFL in 1976 and joined the Washington Redskins. He played there until 1978, when he joined the Cleveland Browns.

In five games against Dallas, Hill was never a factor. He never rushed for more than 44 yards, and in five games only gained a total of 108 yards on 20 carries (for an average of 21.6 yards and 4 carries per game).

Herschel Walker

The Cowboys were able to build a dynasty thanks in part to their trade of Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in 1989. He gained 1,514 rushing yards in Dallas in 1988.

Walker never played against Dallas as a Viking. He later joined the Eagles, though, and also played for the Giants. In nine games against Dallas (including a playoff game), he ran the ball 79 times for 314 yards. He was most effective against the Cowboys in 1992, when he scored three touchdowns in two regular-season games.

Emmitt Smith

Smith’s return to Dallas in 2003 was as anticipated as the game this Sunday. He did not last long at Texas Stadium. He carried the ball 6 times for -1 yard, and a hit by Roy Williams put Emmitt out of the game.

Julius Jones

Jones is probably the forgotten one of this group of backs. He gained 1,084 yards in 2005, but Marion Barber had become the dominant back in Dallas by the end of 2007.

Jones played in Seattle in 2008 and 2009 before joining the Saints in 2010. He faced Dallas twice as a Seahawk and once as a Saint. In those three games, he gained 138 yards on 36 carries.


Below is a table of the 1,000-yard rushing performances in team history:

Dallas 27, N.Y. Giants 26: This Is Not 2010

In 2010, the Dallas Cowboys opened their season against the Washington Redskins. Dallas had won the NFC East the year before, and some were talking Super Bowl.

Dallas made far too many mistakes that night. A fumble late in the first half by running back Tashard Choice was returned for a touchdown, giving the Redskins a 10-0 lead.

Despite the miserable game, the Cowboys trailed by only 6 points with less than two minutes remaining. The Cowboys drove from their own 19 to the Washington 13. Three seconds remained. Tony Romo threw the ball to the corner of the end zone, and Roy Williams appeared to catch the game winner.

But tackle Alex Barron was called for a penalty, and Dallas lost. Nothing went the Cowboys’ way that year, as Dallas finished the season with a 6-10 record.

Jason Witten was one of the heroes in an improbable win by the Cowboys over the New York Giants.

Jason Witten was one of the heroes in an improbable win by the Cowboys over the New York Giants.

Five years later, the Cowboys hosted another division rival, the New York Giants. Dallas won the NFC East last year, and some have talked about the Super Bowl for the Cowobys.

Dallas made far too many mistakes tonight. A fumble by Cole Beasley late in the first half resulted in a Giant touchdown, giving the Giants a 10-6 lead. Another interception before halftime led to a Giant field goal.

Despite the miserable game, the Cowboys trailed the Giants by 6 with less than two minutes remaining. The Cowboys needed to drive from their own 28 and score a touchdown with 1:34 remaining and no time outs.

Tony Romo went to work, hitting four passes to move to the New York 11. With 13 seconds remaining, Romo picked up a bad snap, threw the ball over the middle, and hit Jason Witten with the game-winning touchdown in the end zone.

No penalty this time. The Cowboys pulled off an improbable comeback, downing the Giants 27-26.

A Good Win After a Bad Game

These are the types of wins that good teams pull out. Dallas probably should have lost this one because of the many mistakes, but the Cowboys had enough left in the tank to get the win. It turns out that this was the latest (7 seconds remaining) game-winning touchdown pass in the history of the Cowboys.

Dallas outgained the Giants 436 to 267, but the Cowboys had three turnovers yet caused none.

Running Back Committee Worked Just Fine

The Dallas running backs were not an issue at all. Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and Darren McFadden combined for 79 rushing yards and 131 receiving yards.

Dunbar came up huge on the final drive, catching two passes for 40 yards.

Randle looks like a legitimate starter. He had strong runs throughout the game and finished with 65 yards on 16 carries.

Giants Made Their Own Mistakes

This one cannot be easy for Giants fans.

Even Dallas fans ought to admit a pass-interference call on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Terrance Williams was pretty bad. That play set up Tony Romo’s first touchdown pass to Gavin Escobar.

Later in the game, it looked as if the Cowboys had just made a massive mistake. With the Giants leading 23-20, the Giants had moved the ball to the Dallas 33. Rashad Jennings ran the ball for two yards on a 2nd-and-2, but Jeremy Mincey was called for unnecessary roughness. That gave the Giants a first down at the Dallas 16.

The Giants moved the ball all the way to the Dallas 1. With 1:43 remaining and the Giants facing a 3rd-and-1, Eli Manning rolled right. Although Dallas had no time outs, Manning threw the ball away. The Giants kicked the field goal to take a six-point lead, but the Cowboys had life.

Costly Win

Immediately after the game, reports said Dez Bryant broke a bone in his foot and will be out four to six weeks.

Dallas also lost rookie defensive end Randy Gregory with a high ankle sprain.

Week 1 Live Blog: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

Follow, as the Cowboys host the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football.

Follow us…er, me…live as the Cowboys host the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football.

The Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in the season opener on Sunday Night Football.

The only other NFC East team to play today was Washington. The Redskins lost the Miami Dolphins, 17-10. The Eagles will travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons on Monday.