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Minnesota 34, Dallas 3: A Sickening End to a Great Year

After a season with ups and downs in terms of my own predictions, I guessed that the Cowboys would win their playoff game against the Vikings in overtime. One hero in this fantasy scenario: kicker Shaun Suisham.

Okay, then.  Suisham ensured that the Cowboys will look for a new kicker by missing two field goals, including one that would have given the Cowboys a 3-0 lead with six minutes left in the first quarter. Granted, that would not have helped the final score, but Dallas lost momentum as a result of that play, and the Vikings took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes later.

The other would-be hero in a Dallas win would have been Tony Romo. Instead, Romo spent much of the day running for his life. Marc Columbo had no answer for left defensive end Ray Edwards. But just as soon as one started wishing that Doug Free would come in the game, it happened—except that Free had to replace left tackle Flozell Adams, who went down with a calf injury. Free looked like an inexperienced player getting owned by a veteran (Jarad Allen), which is exactly what happened.

Romo fumbled three times and lost two. The second lost fumble occurred two plays after the Cowboys had given up a second Brett-Favre-to-Syndey-Rice touchdown that imcreased the Minnesota lead to 14-3. When Allen stripped Romo of the ball and Ben Leber recovered, the Vikings had the ball at the Dallas 20.

The defense managed to hold the Vikings to a field goal. And though the secondary is going to be subject to criticism for its failure to stop Rice most of the game, the defense at least left a glimmer of hope that the Cowboys could make a game of it. Between the 3:49 mark of the second quarter and the 14:26 mark of the fourth quarter, the Vikings didn’t score.

The problem was that the Dallas offense could barely move an inch during that time (or afterward, for that matter).  The only serious Dallas drive in the second half took place early in the third quarter. Three runs generated 34 yards and moved the ball to the Minnesota 23. Then Jason Garrett called a pitch to an ineffective Marion Barber, who could not get around Edwards, and Barber lost seven yards. Dallas could not make up for the loss, and Suisham missed a 49-yarder that would have cut the Minnesota lead to 17-6.

The fourth quarter wasn’t worth watching for the Cowboys. Favre hit Rice one more time to increase the Viking lead to 27-3. With two minutes left, Minnesota chose to run the score up when Favre hit tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on an 11-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-4 play.

Jason Witten (10 rec., 98 yds.) and Felix Jones (14 att., 69 yds.) had respectable games, but the Cowboys could not maintain drives. Miles Austin only managed four receptions for 34 yards.

As for Williams,  a guy named Kevin Williams showed up on the stat sheet. So did a safety named Madieu Williams. That receiver named Roy Williams? He was targeted one time and did not manage a catch.

* * *

The Cowboy bashing has already begun, with plenty of folks calling for Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett to get fired. Frankly, though, if you told me in August that this team would find a way to win five straight near the end of the year and win a playoff game, I would have taken it in a heartbeat even if I also knew that the Cowboys would tank their final game. Moreover, even if Dallas had won today (which I honestly believed would happen), New Orleans would be the last place I would want this team to play. Dallas certainly pulled out a big win there in December, but it’s hard to forget that the Saints nearly erased a 24-3 Dallas lead before DeMarcus Ware saved the day.

So anyway, four years of blogging have ended in “The Botch” against Seattle in 2006, “The Stutter” against the Giants in 2007, “An Ignominious End” in a loss to Eagles in 2008, and the loss today. I know others are angry about this loss, but at the least, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this team started to turn a corner this year and will continue that trend next year.

Cowboys-Eagles Highlights

Here are the highlights of the Cowboys’ playoff win over the Eagles. Great stuff.

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And an interview with Tony Romo after the game:

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Dallas 34, Philadelphia 14: A Long, Long Time Coming

The version of the Dallas Cowboys that has emerged since December 19, 2009 continues to put to rest the concerns that have followed this team for so many years now.

Of course, the team’s drought of playoff wins has come to an end after 13 years. Tony Romo has won a playoff game. Wade Phillips has won playoff game. Jerry Jones has won a playoff game without guys named Aikman, Irvin, and Emmitt.

This picture is for those of us who had to explain to 10-year-old children what the last Dallas playoff win felt like.

Beyond all of that, what is most impressive about this team is that the Cowboys aren’t falling apart when faced with adversity. “Oh, no, here we go again” just isn’t happening.

Against the Eagles on Saturday night, Philadelphia clearly needed to get some momentum to erase the effects of the Cowboys’ shutout win last week. Dallas drove the ball in the first quarter but could not punch it in. When Dallas finally got on the board, thanks a pass interference penalty called on Sheldon Brown, the Eagles responded with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin.

7-7. So much for the shutout string. So much for the easy blowout. So much for the momentum.

On the first play after Dallas got the ball back, Romo threw up (not as in vomit, though the thought came to mind) a duck pass that appeared to be picked off by Sean Jones, who returned the ball to the Dallas 14. It looked like the Eagles might snag a 14-7 lead.

But then the oft-maligned Phillips made the most important challenge of his coaching career, and the referees determined that the ball had touched the ground and reversed the call. With new life, the formerly maligned Romo moved the ball 85 yards in 10 plays. Players catching the ball on the drive included Patrick Crayton (18 yards on a 3rd-and-9) and Roy Williams (17 yards on a 3rd-and-7).

A Romo pass to Jason Witten moved the ball inside the Philadelphia 1. One might recall the Cowboys’ short-yardage problems from a month ago. No problem at all, as Tashard Choice ran right behind Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis to score and give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead.

From there, the rout unfolded. Dallas held the Eagles and got the ball back. A pass from Romo to Miles Austin set up a Shaun Suisham field goal. Two plays later, Vick fumbled a handoff attempt, and another oft-maligned player—Bobby Carpenter—recovered the fumble. Three plays after that, Romo hit Austin on a bubble screen, and when Austin ran it in from six yards out, the Cowboys led 24-7.

Flashback to the infamous finale of the 2008 season. The Eagles took a 24-3 lead just before the half. On the ensuing kickoff, with less than 10 seconds remaining in the half, Pacman Jones fumbled the kickoff return, setting up a 50-yard field goal by David Akers. Not that the Cowboys had a chance before that play, but the Eagles put another nail in the coffin with that play.

Flash forward to Saturday night: The Eagles tried to get some points just before the half. However, with 51 seconds left in the half, linebacker Bradie James stripped Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver. Dallas moved the ball to the Philadelphia 30, setting up Suisham’s 48-yard field goal as time nearly expired.

From that point, it was just a matter of watching the clock and hoping the Eagles didn’t come up with some sort of miracle. The Eagles moved the ball into Dallas territory midway through the third quarter, but an Anthony Spencer sack on a 3rd-and-7 play ended the drive. After the Eagles punted, Felix Jones put the Eagles out of their misery by darting right and breaking away for a 73-yard touchdown (video).

From there, the celebration was on. Given that the Cowboys beat the Eagles by scores of 34-10 (1992) and 30-11 (1995) in two previous playoff wins, it was hard not to think back what wins over Philadelphia led to in previous seasons.

Jones finished with 148 yards on 16 carries, while Tashard Choice added another 42. Marion Barber barely played.

Romo continued his red hot play. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards and 2 TD.

The Dallas defense gave up 340 yards, which was more than normal, but a big chunk of that came on the Maclin touchdown and after the game was out of hand. McNabb had a passer rating of just 68.5, and that was thanks to some stat-padding late in the game.

The Cowboys travel to Minnesota next week to face the Vikings. Dallas lost at Minnesota in the 1999 playoffs but beat the Vikings at home in 1996. This was also a great series during the 1970s. Keep this in mind: in both of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship seasons of the 1970s, Dallas beat Minnesota to do so.

Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0: Redemption Via a Division Title

You might have thought you were watching a much older version of the Cowboys in the team's 24-0 win over the Eagles.

With two minutes left in the first quarter and the Cowboys leading 7-0, Tony Romo tried to rifle a pass to Patrick Crayton. Asante Samuel stepped in front of the pass and knocked it up in the air. Joselio Hanson grabbed the ball to record a pick, ending the Cowboys’ drive.

For the past ten years, the Cowboys have folded in these situations. It was only natural to expect the Eagles to drive down and tie the game, killing the Cowboys’ early momentum.

Instead, Philadelphia was forced to punt after driving into Dallas territory. For the game, the Dallas defense held the Eagles to 228 yards and only allowed one drive into the red zone. For the first time in team history, the Cowboys shut out two opponents in a row. And for the second time in three seasons—but only the third time in the past 12 seasons—the Cowboys have won the NFC East.

The win sets up a rematch with the Eagles next weekend. With the Eagles’ loss to the Cowboys, the Packers’ win over the Cardinals, and the Vikings’ win over the Giants, Dallas takes the #3 seed and the Eagles take the #6 seed. Arizona will host Green Bay next weekend in another immediate rematch.

Sunday’s game was never really close. Dallas scored on its opening drive of the game by moving 80 yards in nine plays, thanks in large part to a 32-yard run by Marion Barber on the second play of the game. The drive was capped off by Jason Witten’s 10-yard touchdown reception (video).  The team nearly increased its lead on the next drive, but Hanson’s pick ended that drive.

In the second quarter, the Cowboys started a drive with 12:36 remaining from their own 10. A 30-yard pass to Patrick Crayton and a 40-yard pass to Miles Austin helped to set up the Cowboys’ second touchdown of the day, a 14-yard pass from Romo to Crayton (video).

The Eagles looked like they would get on the scoreboard with under five minutes left in the half, but Donovan McNabb fumbled a snap, and the ball was recovered by Jay Ratliff. That was the last time that the Eagles came close to scoring.

Dallas added three with 1:09 left when Shaun Suisham hit a 44-yard field goal. The Cowboys thus had reason to have confidence in Suisham, until he missed on a 30-yarder early in the fourth quarter. By that point, the Cowboys were already up 24-0 thanks to a 49-yard touchdown run by Felix Jones late in the third quarter (video).

Tony Romo became the first QB in team history to take every snap during a season (though, to be sure, he should have been taken out at the end of the game, especially after hurting his back). He went 24 of 34 for 311 yards with 2 TDs and the one pick.  Barber and Jones both had 91 rushing yards, and Crayton finished just one yard shy of 100 yards.

***

The Cowboys face the Eagles in the playoff for the first time since 1995. Dallas beat Philadelphia in 1992 and 1995 en route to Super Bowl titles. The Eagles beat the Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship Game.

***

I’m going to have to do more homework, but at least four teams have faced each other in the wildcard round of the playoffs after playing during the final weeks of the regular season.

2000: New Orleans vs. St. Louis

The Saints lost the defending Super Bowl champion Rams in the final week of the 2000 season before beating St. Louis one week later in the same location.

2001: Oakland vs. N.Y. Jets

Oakland lost the Jets 22-20 in week 17 at Oakland. However, the Raiders turned around one week later and beat the Jets in a 38-24 win at home.

2001: Philadelphia vs. Tampa Bay

The Eagles closed out the 2001 season at Tampa Bay, winning 17-13. Philadelphia hosted Tampa Bay the following week and won again, 31-9.

2004: Indianapolis vs. Denver

The Colts had nothing play for in the final week of the 2004 season and lost the Broncos, 33-14 with Jim Sorgi starting at QB. One week later, Peyton Manning  returned and let the Colts to a 49-24 rout over Denver.

Dallas 17, Washington 0: With Thanks to Carolina, Hello Playoffs

The Carolina Panthers gave the Cowboys a nice present by destroying the New York Giants in the Giants’ final game at the Meadowlands. The Cowboys turned around and shut out the Redskins 17-0. With the win, Dallas has clinched its fourth playoff berth during the current decade.

The Cowboys' shutout win secured a playoff berth for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys could finish as high as the #2 seed with a win over the Eagles and two Minnesota losses. At the worst, the Cowboys could be a #6 seed. Most of us will happily worry about that later.

Dallas took control of the game on Sunday night early in the first quarter. On the Redskins’ opening drive, Terence Newman picked off a pass that had deflected off of Washington tight end Fred Davis. Seven plays later, Tony Romo dodged the rush and found Roy Williams in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

(It marked the only time that Dallas fans didn’t boo Roy all evening, but that’s also a matter for later discussion.)

The Dallas offense struggled for the rest of the first quarter, but the defense suffocated a struggling Washington offense. The Redskins didn’t manage to move into Dallas territory until the second quarter, and even then, Dallas held Washington at the Dallas 49.

After a Washington punt, Dallas was pinned deep in its own end. After moving the ball to the Dallas 28, though, Romo hit Jason Witten, who raced 69 yards to the Washington 3. The play was the longest of Witten’s career and helped him to have a 117-yard evening.

Jason Witten hauls in a pass and races 69 yards.

Marion Barber scored on the next play, giving Dallas a 14-0 lead.

From that point, the Dallas offense found ways to shoot itself in the foot, while the defense continued to dominate the Redskins.

Dallas drove to the Washington 42 with just over four minutes left in the first half, but then the Cowboys tried to run a reverse out of the Razorback. It was horrible, as Miles Austin lost 14 yards. On the next play, a Romo pass bounced off Williams’ hands, and Reed Doughty caught the pick off the deflection.

On the next play, the defense sacked Jason Campbell, leading to a three-and-out. The Dallas offense nearly moved into field goal range, but Romo’s final pass of the half went to Miles Austin, who didn’t get out of bounds.

On the opening drive of the second half, Dallas moved to the Washington 35 but failed to convert either a 3rd-and-1 or a 4th-and-1. Washington stuffed Marion Barber twice.

Ten minutes later, Dallas drove to the Washington 30 and faced another 4th-and-1. Another Marion Barber run. Another stuff.

Okay, then, the Cowboys moved the ball to the Washington 5 with about eight minutes remaining. Third and one. Marion Barber ran up the middle, and Washington stuffed him.

Fortunately, the Cowboys were close enough to trust Shaun Suisham to kick a 23 yarder, which gave Dallas a 17-0 lead. Washington managed to move into Dallas territory late, but the Cowboys held.

My predictions have left something to be desired all season, but I can proudly say I predicted the shutout. The team’s last shutout was also against the Redskins at Washington, as Dallas beat Washington 27-0 in 2003.

Romo finished 25 of 38 for 286 yards with 1 TD and 1 Int. Witten caught 6 for 117, while Austin caught 9 for 92.

The real heroes were on the defensive side of the ball, as Dallas held Washington to 218 yards in total offense, including 43 rushing yards. That marks the best defensive performance of the season.

A Dallas win over the Eagles gives the Cowboys the NFC East title. A loss means that Dallas will have the #6 seed, because Dallas then could not finish ahead of the Packers.

Dallas 24, New Orleans 17: Big Exhale After a Big Upset

The Cowboys’ 24-17 win over the Saints on Saturday night featured expected heroes. One hero: DeMarcus Ware who returned one week after suffering a neck injury to record two sacks. The second of those sacks occurred with less than six seconds remaining, securing the Dallas win.

Another hero: a gutsy Tony Romo, who threw for 312 yards and a TD.

Marion Barber didn’t fill the role of closer, but his two touchdowns helped the Cowboys to take a 24-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Miles Austin also came up huge, catching 7 passes for 139 yards and the first score of the game.

Along the way, some heroes of the unsung variety emerged. Kevin Ogletree caught two passes for 23 yards, while tight end John Phillips caught three for 40. Anthony Spencer might live in Ware’s shadow, but Spencer has become a force himself. He had six tackles and two big sacks.

After most of the heroics, Dallas still had to play the fourth quarter, which nearly every Cowboy fan must have feared. The 24-3 lead became a 24-17 lead, and some ugliness reared its head. Roy Williams dropped a third down pass that would have extended a Dallas drive. And with the Cowboys in position to put the game away with what was little more than an extra point, Nick Folk missed badly by banking the ball off the right upright.

Just when it appeared that the Saints would make yet another comeback (one eerily similar to their win over Washington), the Dallas defense came through. Drew Brees could not get set in the pocket on the Saints’ final drive, and Ware’s sack meant that New Orleans would not see any miracles.

Dallas improves to 9-5, ensuring the team’s fifth consecutive winning season.

San Diego 20, Dallas 17: Goodbye to the NFC East Lead

At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, my guess of the week had the Cowboys beating the Chargers 27-20. Don’t ask where I came up with:

I am not going to abandon the Cowboys’ chances to make the playoffs and even pick up a playoff win. I think the Cowboys will fall behind tomorrow, but the team will regroup. Tony Romo will have a big day, and Nick Folk will rebound with at least two field goals and no misses.

Chargers Cowboys FootballCertainly not prophetic. It was, in fact, pathetic, given that final outcome was three points, which is the number of points the Cowboys lost thanks to yet another Nick Folk miss. Just before Folk’s miss, the Cowboys failed to score after having a first and goal from the San Diego 4, thanks to the Chargers stuffing Marion Barber three consecutive times from the 1.

It is hard to say that the game would have turned out much differently had the Cowboys scored near the end of the first half, but a 10-10 halftime score would have been considerably better than the 10-3 score that resulted from the Cowboys’ missed opportunity. Heck, a 10-6 deficit would have been better than the 10-3 deficit the team faced.

The Cowboys managed their three points thanks to a 41-yard kickoff return by Felix Jones on the opening kickoff of the game. Dallas moved the ball to the San Diego 13, but on a 3rd-and-7 play, Romo tried to hit third tight end John Phillips in the end zone. The pass was incomplete, and Nick Folk managed to nail a 31-yarder to give Dallas a 3-0 lead.

On the next drive, San Diego faced a 3rd-and-12 from its own 14. In what was a common theme throughout the game, the Dallas defense could not come up with a third-down play when the Cowboys needed a stop. Phillip Rivers hit Malcom Floyd on a 24-yard completion, giving the Chargers a first down. Five plays later, the Chargers had a 7-3 lead, thanks in large part to a pass interference penalty on Gerald Sensabaugh.

Dallas went three-and-out, and the defense again struggled to stop the Chargers. San Diego’s drive stalled with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, but Nick Kaeding kicked a field goal to give the Chargers a 10-3 lead.

The next Dallas drive took nearly eight minutes off the clock, but the Cowboys could not punch the ball in from the one-yard line. On three consecutive plays, Dallas tried to send Marion Barber to the right side of the line from the one. The strategy failed.

Terence Newman didn’t have a great game, but he gave the Cowboys another opportunity late in the second quarter when he picked Rivers off at the San Diego 27. However, Dallas only managed to move the ball three yards, and Folk missed the field goal to the left.

Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys had a drive that could have defined its season. The team took the ball 99 yards on 13 plays, capped off by a six-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Miles Austin.

The game was tied, and the Cowboys had some momentum in an important home game. The defense had a chance to take control of the game, but instead the team fell apart yet again.

DeMarcus Ware sprained his neck on a second-down play near midfield and was carted off the field. After a nearly 10-minute delay caused by Ware’s injury, the Chargers faced a 3rd-and-12. With the crowd worked up and the Chargers on their heels, Rivers managed to complete a 39-yard pass to Vincent Jackson down the right sideline. One play later, Rivers found Antonio Gates for a rather easy 14-yard touchdown, giving San Diego a 17-10 lead.

The Cowboys’ response on offense: three and out after losing five yards.

The Cowboys response on defense: give up a 15-play, 73-yard drive that led to a Charger field goal. At that point, the game was already over.

Playoff Picture (As If We Need to Worry About That Right Now)

With the Eagles beating the Giants and the Packers beating the Bears, Dallas falls out of the lead in the NFC East and into the #6 spot in the NFC. The Giants (7-6) are a game behind the Cowboys (8-5), but New York obviously holds the tiebreaker over the Cowboys thanks to two wins by the Giants over the Cowboys. Dallas will also lose a tiebreaker in the wildcard race to the Packers, who are now 9-4.

The remaining schedules:

Dallas: at New Orleans; at Washington; vs. Philadelphia

N.Y. Giants: at Washington; vs. Carolina; at Minnesota

Philadelphia: vs. San Francisco; vs. Denver; at Dallas

Green Bay: at Pittsburgh; vs. Seattle; at Arizona.

N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 24: Gutless Performance Despite Lofty Statistics

On many of the message boards this year, two distinct types of fans (there
are other types, of course) have emerged.

The first gave up on the Cowboys after the team’s loss at Denver, saying that
Wade Phillips should have been fired then.

The second type weren’t ready to give up on the Cowboys, though most positive
comments were tempered with the phrase "…but let’s wait until we see what
happens in December."

There is no need to summarize the Cowboys’ December woes, given that nearly
every story about the Cowboys last week focused on those woes. But I’m going to do it anyway. What has tended
to happen in December?

(1) The Cowboys’ fundamentals fly out of the stadium. The team misses
tackles, blows assignments, misses key blocks, and you name what else.

Example: Allowing the Baltimore Ravens to score on two long runs to close out
the final game at Texas Stadium in 2008.

(2) The Cowboys’ offense makes key mistakes at the worst possible moments.
This might be an interception or a fumble, or it may just be a bad read.

Example: Tony Romo throwing a pick against the Steelers, which Pittsburgh
returned for a touchdown in a 20-13 Steeler win in 2008.

(3) When something positive happens for Dallas, the opposing team very
quickly erases any momentum that the Cowboys might have gained.

Example: The Cowboys eating up nearly all of the second quarter of their 2007
playoff game against the Giants and taking a 14-7 lead, only to watch the Giants
easily march down the field to tie the game before the half.

The Cowboys incorporated all of these miscues into their miserable, gutless
loss to a Giants team that provide it knew better than the Cowboys how to win.
The game had a feel much like the Cowboys’ 21-17 loss to New York in the 2007
playoffs; in fact, the Giants at one point led 21-17 on Sunday. The game was
likewise much like the Cowboys’ 20-13 loss at Pittsburgh in 2008, which began a
1-3 month of December that ended the Cowboys’ playoff hopes. Like the Cowboys’
loss at Pittsburgh, it was hard not to have the impression that Dallas would
find a way to lose the game.

At one point in the game Sunday, the Cowboys had outplayed the Giants and had
taken a 10-0 lead. In fact, Dallas took advantage of an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble to
score a touchdown with 3:14 remaining in the first half. The Giants had not yet
moved into Dallas territory, and it looked as if the Cowboys might start running
away with the game.

Then came three consecutive 16-yard gains by the Giants, including a pass
where Eli Manning should have been sacked but was able to flip the ball to tight
end Kevin Boss. With relative ease, the Giants scored on a 21-yard touchdown
pass when Terence Newman tried to make a play on the ball but missed, and Hakeem
Nicks pulled in the pass to score.

Dallas began what looked like a nice drive into Giant territory, but Mathias
Kiwanuka stripped Marion Barber on a screen pass, and Osi Umenyiora picked up
the ball and raced to the Dallas 28. The Giants again scored rather easily and
took a 14-10 lead.

Thus, what looked like a very promising first half falls apart thanks to all
three of the miscues noted above. The rest of the game was not pretty for Dallas
fans, even with some positive plays thrown in the mix.

The Giants opened the second half by moving the ball effectively yet again,
but from the Dallas 25, Manning lofted a pass that Mike Jenkins intercepted.

The teams then exchanged three-and-out drives before the Cowboys got rolling
again. Dallas moved the ball 56 yards in eight plays, capped off by Tony Romo’s
second touchdown pass to Roy Williams. Dallas had the momentum again, along with
a 17-14 lead.

The momentum lasted for 19 seconds on the game clock. On the Giants’ next
drive, Manning hit Brandon Jacobs in the flat, and Jacobs outran Anthony Spencer
and Bradie James and broke an attempted tackle by Gerald Sensabaugh to go 74
yards for a touchdown.

It was all but over for the Cowboys after that, even though it was only a
four-point game. Dallas managed to move to the Giant 24 with 10:50 remaining,
but on a third-and-seven play, Romo missed Tashard Choice on what might have
been a touchdown pass. Nick Folk then completely blew a 41-yard field goal
attempt.

The Giants responded with a drive down to the Dallas 5, but the Cowboys held.
With a Lawrence Tynes field goal, the Giants extended their lead to 24-17.

With the Cowboys needing some heroics, Romo managed to commit an intentional
grounding penalty, and the Cowboys had to punt. The stellar punt return team had
several shots to bring down Domenik Hixon, but Hixon broke several arm tackles
en route to a 79-yard touchdown.

The Cowboys had a chance to close the gap to seven with just over four
minutes to play, but Romo’s pass to Williams went way too high. Dallas failed to
convert a fourth down and turned the ball over.

Romo hit Miles Austin on a 22-yard touchdown pass with just under a minute
left to cut the lead to 31-24, but the Cowboys failed to recover the onside
kick.

At least

one blogger
gave the Cowboys credit for their performance today, but it’s
hard to believe that this season will turn out any better than previous years.
The Cowboys that played today are no different than the Cowboys who could not
finish out the season in previous years.

As for numbers, Tony Romo was a fine fantasy quarterback today. He completed
41 of 55 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Jason Witten had a huge game
with 14 receptions for 156 yards, while Austin had 10 receptions for 104 yards
and a TD. Williams had his first multiple touchdown game since 2007.

Dallas 24, Oakland 7: Weapons Resurface

A great win for the first Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboys Stadium.

A great win for the first Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboys Stadium.

The Cowboys seriously lacked firepower during the last two weeks in games
where they scored only seven points in consecutive games. This was nothing a
game against the Raiders couldn’t help.

Consider these performances:

Tashard Choice

Past two games: 4 att., 14 yards

vs. Oakland: 3 att., 67 yards, including a 66-yard run out of the Razorback
(Wildcat)

Felix Jones

Past two games: 13 att., 55 yards, with a long run of 9 yards.

vs. Oakland: 7 att., 68 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown run.

Jason Witten

Past two games: 10 rec., 90 yards

vs. Oakland: 5 rec., 107 yards

Miles Austin

Past two games: 8 rec., 67 yards

vs. Oakland: 7 rec., 145 yards, 1 TD

Tony Romo

Past two games: 409 passing yards, 2 TD, 74.6 QB rating

vs. Oakland: 309 passing yards, 2 TD, 121.2 QB rating

 

What has been consistent during the past three games has been the Dallas
defense. The Cowboys gave up only one touchdown against the Raiders and held an
opponent to fewer than 10 points for the third time this season.

During the week that Greg Ellis returned to Dallas, it was his replacement in
the Dallas lineup that had one of the biggest games. Anthony Spencer was a
monster on Thanksgiving, recording two sacks and eight total tackles.

The Cowboys had a few miscues against Oakland, but thanks to the defense,
those miscues became largely irrelevant.

On the second offensive play for the Cowboys, Romo hit Austin on a crossing
route that gained 49 yards to the Oakland 27. However, right tackle Doug Free
committed a penalty, followed by another penalty by Kyle Kosier. The drive
stalled, and the Cowboys were backed up so far they had to punt.

Two drives later, Tashard Choice took a snap out of the Razorback and took
off. He probably should have had a touchdown but was run down after a 66-yard
gain. Next play: Holding on Deon Anderson. Dallas had to settle for a field
goal.

In the second quarter, Romo hit Marion Barber in the right flat, and Barber
raced 42 yards up the sideline. Next play: False start on Flozell Adams.

Despite those plays, the Cowboys wrestled control of the game in the second
quarter. Leading 3-0 with 13:09 left in the second quarter, Dallas took the ball
at its own 11. Two passes to Miles Austin moved the ball to the Oakland 46. Austin’s first reception on the drive was big, as it came on a 3rd-and-11 play from the Dallas 10. He stretched at the end of the play to give Dallas a first down. Two plays later, he caught a pass on a crossing route and gained 27 yards. Felix Jones then found a hole up the middle and raced all the way for a touchdown. It was Jones’ first touchdown since the Cowboys’ week 2 loss to the New York Giants.

Late in the first half, Dallas moved the ball into Oakland territory. Romo
hit Austin over the middle, and it appeared that when the defender tackled
Austin that Austin’s knee never hit the ground. A review showed that Austin’s
ankle and lower leg did touch the ground, but the ruling did not end up
mattering. Romo hit Austin two plays later on a screen pass that Austin ran in
to give the Cowboys a 17-0 lead.

Oakland managed to cut the lead to 17-7 in the second half, but the defense
stepped up after the lone Raider touchdown. Meanwhile, the Dallas offense
effectively put the game away when Romo hit Roy Williams on a six-yard touchdown
early in the fourth.

Dallas piled up 494 total yards in offense, marking the team’s best offensive
output in terms of yardage all season. The last time the Cowboys gained more
yards was against St. Louis in 2007, when Dallas gained 502.

With the Giants’ loss to the Broncos on Thursday night, the Cowboys have a
two-game lead over New York. The Eagles can stay within a game of Dallas by
beating Washington on Sunday.

Dallas 7, Washington 6: Not a Thing of Beauty

The Cowboys 7-6 win was a bit like a Bob Ross painting: We don't want to see or hear how it was done, but we'll take the final outcome.

The Cowboys' 7-6 win was a bit like a Bob Ross painting: We don't want to see or hear how it was done, but we'll take the final outcome.

If last week’s 17-7 loss to the Packers weren’t frustrating enough, the
Cowboys nearly managed to lose in the same manner to the Redskins. Like last
week, Dallas became frustrated after experiencing a couple of miscues and failed
to score in the first half. Like last week’s loss, Dallas trailed 3-0 at
halftime. And like last week, Dallas failed to score until the very end of the
game.

The difference against the Redskins was that Tony Romo’s 10-yard touchdown
pass to Patrick Crayton wasn’t a score during garbage time like Romo’s TD pass
to Roy Williams last week. The Dallas score gave the team a 7-6 lead, and that
one point proved to be the margin of victory.

Dallas did not abandon the run against Washington, but the running game did
not prove to be the difference in the game. Part of the reason for that was a
Marion Barber fumble midway through the first quarter, ending a Dallas drive
after the team had moved inside the Washington 20. The play proved even more
disastrous when Romo injured his back trying to tackle DeAngelo Hall, who had
recovered Barber’s fumble.

Romo never missed any time, but his throws were off all game. He missed Roy
Williams on several occasions, and given that Williams does not catch balls that
aren’t thrown right at him (or on some cases, he drops those thrown right at
him), it was not a good game for the team’s "#1 receiver."

The Cowboys had a good drive in the final six minutes of the first half, as
the team marched 52 yards to set up a Nick Folk field goal attempt. But for the
second consecutive game, Folk missed the kick and killed any momentum the team
had built. Washington nearly took advantage of the mistake by driving into
Dallas territory, but Shaun Suisham missed from 39 yards out to leave the score
3-0 at the half.

The frustration continued in the third quarter, as Dallas managed just one
first down. The Redskins increased their lead to 6-0 with a Suisham field goal
in the final minute of the third quarter, and it appeared that the six points
may be too much to overcome.

Early in the fourth, Dallas drove to the Washington 38 and faced a 3rd-and-1.
The team tried to run Marion Barber to the right, but Andre Carter darted from
the left end position and ran Barber down, dropping Barber for a one-yard loss.
On fourth down, Romo tried to get a pass to Miles Austin, but Romo overthrew the
ball, and London Fletcher picked it off.

The Redskins had a chance to make it a two-possession game when they drove to
the Dallas 30 midway through the fourth. However, Suisham missed yet another
field goal, giving Dallas another shot. Starting at the Washington 40, Romo hit
on a series of passes to Jason Witten, Felix Jones, and Miles Austin, and Dallas
finally had a first-and-goal play from the Washington 9. A penalty on Witten
backed the team up five yards, but another pass to Austin left the Cowboys with
a second-and-goal from the 10.

On the touchdown pass to Crayton, Romo broke one tackle in the pocket and
then rolled to his left. Crayton found an opening in the zone, instead of
running the ball, Romo zipped the ball to Crayton to give Dallas the lead.

David Buehler nailed the kickoff into the end zone, and Dallas stopped
returner Devin Thomas inside the 20. Moreover, Washington was called for an
illegal wedge, backing the Redskins up to the 8. The Redskins moved the ball to
the 33, but on a first down play just after the two-minute warning, the Cowboys
forced Jason Campbell to roll to his left. Jay Ratliff tipped a pass attempt up
in the air, and linebacker Anthony Spencer came down with it. Dallas was able to
run the clock down to seven seconds before the Redskins got the ball back deep
in their end.

Spencer has missed several opportunities to make big plays this year, but he
has had back-to-back solid games. Against the Redskins, he had three solo
tackles and two assists to go along with his interception.

Romo broke a streak of seven consecutive games with 20 or more receptions, as
he completed only 15 of 27 pass attempts for 158 yards. His 69.7 passer rating
was his lowest since the Cowboys’ 17-10 loss at Denver in October.

The Cowboys now have a 7-3 record and retain a one-game lead in the NFC East.

Here is a video clip of the game: