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N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 14: Another Loss for the Modern Cowboys’ Legacy

Tony Romo’s Cowboys continue to show that they can’t win big games.

There was one positive surprise tonight. The Cowboys didn’t quit.

Most of the rest of this review is negative. Long before the Cowboys showed some fight, the Giants had already scored 21 first-half points.

This defense was just terrible, even with some improvements in the second half. Terence Newman should have played his final game as a Cowboy. He missed a key tackle in the second quarter when a tight end hurdled him. He whiffed trying to cover Victor Cruz, who raced up the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown. The Giants never trailed again.

The Giants picked on Newman several more times in the first half. Eli Manning later turned his attention to Alan Ball and Orlando Scandrick, and Cruz and Hakeem Nicks managed to burn both of them as well.

Almost Anthony Spencer committed two costly offsides penalties. He had chances to make tackles and record sacks. He missed several of those opportunities and did not record a sack.

The Cowboys had chances to recover two Giant fumbles in the first half, but neither Ball nor Gerald Sensabaugh could grab the ball.

The Cowboys had a drive that appeared to go deep into Giant territory. However, Romo’s apparent 22-yard pass to Dez Bryant inside the red zone was negated because Romo crossed the line of scrimmage before he threw the pass.  Dallas moved the ball into Giant territory late in the half, but Dan Bailey missed a 52-yard field goal attempt.

By halftime, Dallas trailed 21-0. The game appeared completely over.

The Dallas defense came to life for much of the second half. The offense also did its part, but not without more mistakes. After the Cowboys cut the lead to 21-7, Romo threw an interception. However, the defense stopped the Giants on fourth down, giving the Cowboys another chance.

Still trailing by 14, Dallas drove to the Giant 10 and faced a 4th and a long 1. On a strange play, Romo tried a QB sneak, which came up short.

But the defense held, and a good punt return by Dez Bryant followed by a penalty on New York gave Dallas the ball at the Giant 26. Dallas scored three plays later to cut the New York lead to 21-14.

The Cowboys had a good chance with just one more stop. The Giants faced a 3rd and 7 at their own 28. Dallas pressured Manning, but Manning threw deep to Cruz, who caught the ball in front of Scandrick.

Finally, from that point on, it was over. The Giants kicked a field goal, held the Cowboys, and then drove for a touchdown.

* * *

There is no simple solution for this team, nor is there clear reason to be optimistic. This team’s current legacy is to start losing late in the season and to fall apart in the most important games. Jerry and Jason can say all they want that what has happened to previous teams doesn’t matter, but plenty of very committed fans are so far beyond fed up with this franchise folding when the games really matter.

In other words, we can’t look past:

2003: Dallas travels to Carolina to play in the Cowboys’  first playoff game since 1999. Carolina 29, Dallas 10.

2006: Tony Romo fumbles a snap on a field goal attempt that would have given the Cowboys a late lead. Seattle 21, Dallas 20.

2007: The Cowboys’ late comeback attempt falls short as the Giants ruin the Cowboys’ 13-3 record. N.Y. Giants 21, Dallas 17.

2008: Dallas travels to Philadelphia with a playoff berth on the line. Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6.

2009: Dallas wins its first playoff game in 13 seasons and then travels to play the Vikings. Minnesota 34, Dallas 3.

2011: The Cowboys travel to New York with a playoff berth on the line. N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 14

Of course, then there’s the 6-10 season in 2004, the 9-7 season in 2005, and the 6-10 season in 2010. The positives–winning some games in November and beating the Eagles in the playoffs in 2009–don’t make up for the constant disappointment we’ve had to put up with for quite a long time.

 

Philadelphia 20, Dallas 7: Our Big Lump of Coal

One highlight from today’s game: Jason Witten moved into third place in receiving yards in team history.

My son and I left the parking lot to head to Cowboys Stadium just after the Giants had kicked a field goal to trim the Jets’ lead to 7-3 in the first half. It still looked like the day would bring quite a treat—a Jets win, meaning that the Cowboys would have their chance to wrap up the division at home with a win over the Eagles.

By the time we got to the stadium to stand in the security line, we could see that the Giants were ahead 10-7. Someone at some point said that the Giants had scored on a 99-yard play (Eli Manning to Victor Cruz, as it turned out).

It was 10-7 for quite a while. The stadium monitors would occasionally show highlights from the game, but not often. However, we were aware that the Giants had taken a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter.

It was 20-7 when the stadium monitors showed a Jet drive deep into Giant territory. On 3rd-and-goal from the 1, Mark Sanchez forgot to grab the ball, which squirted into the end zone for a touchback. Even though the Jets narrowed the score to 20-14 less than two minutes later, the mood at Cowboys Stadium was somber.

No way for the Jets to win, so the Cowboys-Eagles game essentially meant nothing.

Several around us repeated that statement in the minutes leading up to kickoff. The Cowboys turned around and played as if they believed the game meant nothing. It felt more like preseason game for much of the late afternoon.

Dallas had no answers for the Eagles, even if the score wasn’t 34-7 like it was on October 30. On the sixth play of the game, Almost Anthony Spencer almost sacked Michael Vick. Instead, Spencer grabbed Vick’s facemask, but Vick still spun around and flung the ball downfield. Riley Cooper made a nice catch, and the penalty on Spencer for the facemask move the ball into the red zone. Vick threw a 13-yard touchdown to Brent Celek to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.

Really, Philadelphia didn’t need more than that.

Felix Jones had a nice 10-yard run to open the game, but he only carried the ball four times. Tony Romo attempted two passes. On the second, his hand hit the helmet of an Eagles’ defender. Few in the stands realized that Romo would be out for the game, and in fact my son had to tell me that Stephen McGee had gone in.

Dallas decided to rest some starters who had suffered through a few injuries, and though Romo might have been able to play, head coach Jason Garrett indicated that the team wasn’t going to take any chances.

The strangest sight today was seeing Jerry and Stephen Jones (along with a third person) bolt onto the sideline after Romo had gone to the locker room for tests. Jerry went directly to Garrett, apparently to tell the head coach about the quarterback’s injury. Just imagine that circumstance happening in any other sport with any other team—the owner/general manager bolting onto the field to tell the head coach about an injury to a player.

Good Lord.

Ah, yes, there was more football to be played.  Dallas moved the ball to the Philadelphia 32 in the second quarter. A holding penalty on Tyron Smith pushed the Cowboys out of field goal range.

The Eagles should have scored on their next possession, but (per the replay booth) Jason Avant fumbled the ball as he reached out to try to let the ball cross the plane of the goal line.

Dallas turned around and moved the ball back to the Eagle 30. Garrett called for a pitch to Sammy Morris, but the whole play was flubbed. Morris lost 9 yards, and even if he had made the first down, Dez Bryant was called for an illegal shift. So Dallas ended up out of field goal range.

Philadelphia took control at its own 13 with 55 seconds left in the first half. The Eagles had just one timeout remaining. Any guesses what might happen?

22-yard pass. 33-yard pass. 27-yard pass. Five-yard touchdown pass. Philadelphia 14, Dallas 0.

The second half was a series of three-and-outs by the Cowboys and time-killing drives by the Eagles. Dallas had one long drive in the fourth quarter, but McGee’s fourth-down attempt to Martellus Bennett in the end zone went sailing wide.

The only reason Dallas scored was that rookie Bruce Carter blocked a punt, setting up a touchdown pass from McGee to Miles Austin.

So next week is for all the marbles. It’s going to take a few days to start believing this team has any chance to win.

Cowboys-Eagles Storyline

The Cowboys face the Eagles at 3:15 tomorrow at Cowboys Stadium. By then, we will know whether the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win. Should the Jets beat the Giants and the Cowboys beat the Eagles, then Dallas would take the division title.

Of course, a Giant win means that the division title will be up in the air until week 17, no matter who wins between Dallas and Philadelphia. The Eagles need the win to keep their slim hopes alive, but that would only happen if the Giants lose to the  Jets.

Below are some key stories:

* * *

Finally took a tour of Cowboys Stadium. Here is one clip from our visit:

Dallas 31, Tampa Bay 15: Miscues Don’t Completely Ruin Dominant First Half

The Cowboys should have spent Saturday evening celebrating. But a win is a win, right?

This was going to be the game where the Cowboys played so flawlessly that I couldn’t get angry. When Dallas took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, I told my young son that Dallas would score 50 tonight.

By the end of the second quarter, I was half-right. Dallas led 28-0 thanks to three Tony Romo touchdown passes and a Romo touchdown run.  At that point, the Buccaneers had only managed one first down, and that came on the opening drive of the game. One play after that first down, Josh Freeman fumbled the ball, which set up the first Dallas touchdown.

At halftime, Deion Sanders said there was no way the Cowboys would suffer another second-half collapse. After all, he said, Tampa player had all but quit.

Friends, this is the Cowboys we’re talking about. The Cowboys had not held a halftime lead of at least 28 points since 1994. But that is irrelevant. This is the 2011 Cowboys we’re talking about. These Cowboys know exactly how to ruin any lead, no matter the margin and no matter the time remaining.

So just think what could happen when the Cowboys received the second-half kickoff. Feed Felix Jones early and often, helping my fantasy team? Throw very safe passes to Jason Witten and Miles Austin, moving the ball just a bit and eating up the third quarter?

Maybe that was the plan. But a nine-yard run by Felix Jones was wiped out by a holding penalty on Tyron Smith. That backed the Cowboys up to their own 10. Two plays later, Dallas faced a 3rd-and-19 from the 11.

What could possibly happen? Lots of things, which is why much of the pregame focused on such highlights as Romo throwing two picks returned for touchdowns by the Lions, which put the Lions back in the game on October 2.

So what should we all think and feel when Romo protects his 28-point lead by trying to keep a 3rd-and-19 play alive, rolling to his right, getting hit and stripped of the ball by Adrian Clayborn? And what should we believe when Dekota Watson scoops up the ball and runs in for the score, cutting the Dallas lead to 28-7?

I couldn’t even get mad. This team is so clueless about how to win a game that I had little doubt that Tampa would make a game of it after all.

Dallas did go on a drive that ate up 7 minutes and led to a Dan Bailey field goal. That was promising.

But the defense turned around and gave up a long drive that resulted in a touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion.  With 23 seconds left in the third quarter, Dallas led by only 16 points, and the Buccaneers could have tied it with two touchdowns and two more conversions.

Let’s borrow from Baylor’s Robert Griffin III: It was unbelievably believable that the Cowboys had no idea up to that point how to put the game away.

Dallas moved into field goal range, only to suffer a sack that put the team out of range. Mat McBriar has faltered in a few situations this year, and when the team could have used a punt downed inside the 20, he kicked the ball into the end zone.

Tampa moved the ball back into Dallas territory. The worst play was a 4th-and-9 play from the Tampa 44. Kregg Lumpkin took a pass over middle, but Sean Lee was right there. However, the best tackler on the team missed the tackle, allowing Lumpkin to pick up the first down.

Fortunately, that drive stalled with just under six minutes left. Dallas killed some clock, and McBriar had another opportunity to pin Tampa Bay deep. Another touchback.

The Cowboys held on the final drive, giving Dallas its eighth win of the year after the offense ran out the clock.

Again, the story of the game should have been the first half. Romo finished the game with a QB rating of 133.9, and most of his damage came before halftime. He threw touchdown passes to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Laurent Robinson. A big positive is that Austin looks like he has returned to form, but Romo continues to look in the direction of Robinson.

Two other positives were the play of Jones and his new backup, Sammy Morris. The latter picked up 53 yards on some tough runs throughout the game.

The defense also played a nice first half. The second half wasn’t terrible, but it was troubling to see DeMarcus Ware on the bench during several series in the second half. By the end of the game, Ware and Anthony Spencer were on the bench, and Dallas went with Victor Butler and rookie Alex Albright.

(Someone explain this: Tampa double-teamed Albright on a few of the plays late, and Dallas still couldn’t manage a sack.)

Anyway, the win is a positive. The first half had many other positives. But the feeling that this team really hasn’t learned anything is glaring.

 

N.Y. Giants 37, Dallas 34: Cowboys’ Pathetic Collapse Is All Too Familiar

The cowboy in the background sums it up for all of us.

The features of the 2011 Dallas Cowboys:

(1) We get to see shot after shot of Rob Ryan for no real reason.

and

(2) The Cowboys completely rip our guts out by finding yet another way to blow a game.

Dallas took a 34-22 lead over the Giants with 5:41 when Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Yes, that’s a 12-point lead with 5:41 to go.

Then the defense of the greatest defensive coordinator in the league needed to make just one stop. Maybe this defense could have just slowed down the Giants.

Nope. The Giants moved the ball 80 yards in two and a half minutes to cut the Dallas lead to 5.

Then Dallas just needed perhaps one first down to secure the win. On 3rd-and-5, Romo found Miles Austin streaking up the right sideline on a go route. It would have been a touchdown, or at least put the ball deep into Giant territory to secure the Dallas win.

At that moment, my television literally froze for a second, but it was clear enough that Romo missed Austin’s outstretched hands.

Dallas had to punt, and at just the moment that Mat McBriar needed to nail a 60- or 70-yarder, he hit one off the side of his foot for a 33-yard effort. New York just had to move the ball 58 yards.

How else could Dallas help the Giants stay in the playoff hunt?

How about a holding penalty on Frank Walker that gave the Giants a first down rather than having to face a 3rd-and-10 from the Dallas 24?

How about a large tight end named Jake Ballard catching two passes for 39 yards to put the Giants at the Dallas 1?

How about Dallas not having any answers at the goal line, allowing the Giants to score and then convert a two-point conversion?

Dallas moved the ball back into field goal range. Dan Bailey kicked what looked to be the game-tying field goal, but the Giants called time out. The Giants then blocked Bailey’s second attempt, ending the game.

This had become a season of magical performances by two key rookies. DeMarco Murray provided a rushing attack that the team had lacked, and Bailey was hitting field goal after field goal.

Well, that magic is gone. Murray fractured his ankle and is probably gone for the year. Bailey has missed game-winning or game-tying field goals in each of the last two weeks.

As for Ryan’s defense, the Cowboys should have won the game despite the secondary’s effort. Dallas had no answer for Hakeem Nicks, who caught 7 passes for 154 yards. Mario Manningham came from nowhere to catch a 47-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter thanks in large part to a completely blown coverage by the Dallas defense, which got caught trying to make last-second substitutions.

(Yes, some other teams get caught making substitutions, but are their defensive coordinators featured by the networks every 30 seconds?)

Dallas had some good performances, including those by Romo and Laurent Robinson. Romo put the team in position to tie it at the end, but the team would not have had to do so if he hadn’t missed Austin on the 3rd-and-5 play.

Anyway, many people, including me, thought the Cowboys were an 8-8 team. There is no reason to think they will be in any better than that. A win over Tampa Bay will give everyone a small glimmer of hope, but then Dallas will have to beat the Eagles and Giants in consecutive weeks to pull out the NFC East.

Logically, why would anyone believe that will happen?

Arizona 19, Dallas 13 (OT): The Cowboys Ice Their Own Kicker

Dan Bailey missed two long field goals, including one that would have beaten the Cardinals on Sunday.

These endings had become a bit routine. Late in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 13, the Cowboys forced the Cardinals to a three-and-out at the Arizona 9. Dallas had a chance for a nice put return.

And the Cowboys got that punt return, as Dez Bryant returned the kick to the Arizona 25. However, Orlando Scandrick was called for an illegal block in the back, moving the ball back to the Dallas 32.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys moved the ball into Arizona territory, converting a 3rd-and-11 to the Arizona 31 with  more than 20 seconds left. Dallas had two timeouts left, but Tony Romo decided to let the clock run down to eight seconds before spiking the ball.

Dan Bailey lined up for a field-goal attempt and appeared to make it. However, Jason Garrett called timeout just before the kick. The real attempt fell short, sending the game to overtime.

[There is some debate right now about whether the Cowboys managed to ice their own kicker. Perhaps that’s not the best description, but I’m leaving the title of this post as-is.]

It was Bailey’s second miss of the game after he had made 26 consecutive attempts. He did not get another chance.

In overtime, a penalty moved Arizona back to its own 24. But on 2nd-and-19, Terence Newman was called for pass interference.

Four plays later, Newman had another poor play, as he was unable to get away from a receiver. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ arm tackles could not stop LaRod Stephens-Howling, who took a swing pass and weaved 52 yards for the game-winning score.

Arizona 19, Dallas 13. Dallas falls to 7-5.

The only good news for Dallas was that the Giants lost to the Packers. Dallas hosts the Giants next Sunday night.

Romo suffered five sacks in the loss. Though Dallas had a 10-3 lead at halftime, thanks to Romo’s touchdown pass to Dez Bryant, the Cowboys had a hard time maintaining drives. Mat McBriar punted three times, and Bailey missed his first attempt.

With Dallas leading 10-3, Arizona held the ball for the first 6:42 of the second half. A field goal cut the Dallas lead to 10-6.

The Cowboys answered with a long drive of their own, and Bailey’s second field goal increased the lead to 13-6.

Arizona then tied the game early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run by Beanie Wells. Two subsequent Dallas drives ended in McBriar punts. The Dallas defense managed to hold Arizona until the fateful drive in overtime.

DeMarco Murray fell back to earth, managing only 38 yards on 12 carries. Bryant had the best game on offense, catching 8 for 86 with a score. He had two huge receptions on the Cowboys’ last drive.

Dallas 20, Miami 19: Another Thanksgiving Win on Another Late FG

Just a few weeks ago, the annual Thanksgiving Day game looked especially inviting, with the formerly winless Dolphins coming town. Many have assumed that Dallas would roll easily and then take a nice 10-day break to gear up for December.

Of course, then Miami won three in a row, the Cowboys have not been dominant even during their own three-game winning streak.

In the end, the Cowboys played a sloppy game, committing several dumb penalties and having trouble in the secondary. Miami held a 19-17 lead for almost all of the final seven minutes of the game.

Still, the defense made several key stops inside the red zone, and Tony Romo kept several plays alive with his mobility. When the defense forced a three-and-out with just over three minutes left the play, the Cowboys had another shot. Dez Bryant returned a punt 20 yards to give Dallas the ball at its own 36.

From there, Dallas only faced one third down on a drive that ate up the clock. With three seconds left, the Cowboys attempted a field goal from 28 yards away, and Dan Bailey made his 26th consecutive attempt.

Romo threw two interceptions in the first half, but he improved as the game continued. Though Bryant and Jason Witten made some nice plays, the key receiver today was Laurent Robinson, who caught 7 passes for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Miami ended up outgaining the Cowboys in total yards (352-303) and won the turnover battle. However, four trips to the red zone resulted in four field goals, allowing Dallas to stay in the game.

DeMarco Murray was effective yet again. He gained 87 yards on 22 carries, including several key runs on the final drive of the game.

Dallas improved to 7-4 and has a half-game lead over the Giants, who play the Saints on Monday night.

Romo Learns Excess Timeout Rules Along with the Rest of Us

I heard a commentator on the radio today suggest that Tony Romo would not have been called for a penalty for trying to call a time out before Dan Bailey’s game-winning field goal. The commentator’s reasoning was that referees are instructed not to grant the time out and that there is no penalty for the attempt to call the time out.

Bob Sturm’s story today says the same thing:

On Monday, the league cleared up the scenario with a clarification on the ruling of what might have happened: “Officials would not have granted Tony Romo a time out. They are instructed to ignore the request when a team has no time outs.” This renders my speculation on what might have been irrelevant as was any subsequent discussion on whether this would have been ruled a 5-yard delay of game or a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct. The league claims they would never have penalized Romo for that mistake.

However, Todd Archer of ESPN wrote a blog entry suggesting that Dallas would have been charged a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Here is the rule, which Archer also quotes:

Unsportsmanlike Conduct. An attempt to call an excess team timeout or to call a second timeout in the same dead-ball period by Team B in an attempt to “freeze” a kicker, will be considered unsportsmanlike conduct and will subject the offending team to a 15-yard penalty (See 12-3). This will apply to field goal or Try attempts.

Note: If an attempt is made to call a timeout in such situations, the officials shall not grant a timeout; instead, play will continue, and a penalty will be called, with customary enforcement. If a timeout is inadvertently granted, the penalty shall also be enforced.

The rule seems unambiguous, but the comment from the league would indicate that officials would have ignored Romo’s request and just called a delay-of-game penalty. I thought perhaps the Official Case Book might settle things, but I don’t see anything that covers this scenario.

At any rate, we should still thank Mike Shanahan for making this an academic question.

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT): Field Goal Makes Up for Poor Punt Coverage

At least one of these obnoxious, hands-on owners had to win today. Unless the teams tied, of course, which was a possibility.

The Cowboys managed their third consecutive win on Sunday by beating the Redskins 27-24 on a Dan Bailey field goal in overtime. The kick came eight plays after Washington’s Graham Gano missed a 52-yarder that would have given the Redskins the win.

This marks the first three-game winning streak for Dallas since the end of the 2009 season. The Cowboys could be just a game behind the Giants if the Eagles can find a way to beat New York on Sunday night.

For a quarter and a half, the Cowboys looked as if they would roll to a easy win at FedEx Field. Thanks to a TD pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant, Dallas held a 10-0 lead, and Washington was having trouble making first downs.

On a 3rd-and-1 play for the Redskins at the Washington 29, Rex Grossman tried a QB sneak. He appeared to lose a fumble, which Barry Church recovered and returned to the 1-yard line. However, the Redskins successfully challenged the play, and Washington was able to punt. Sav Rocca banged a 63-yard punt, and though Akwasi Owusu-Ansah managed a return, a penalty pushed the ball back to the Dallas 5. The Cowboys followed that with a three-and-out.

Mat McBriar—who never shanks a punt—shanked the punt. Washington got the ball at the Dallas 32, and six plays later, Grossman ran for a score to cut the Dallas lead to 10-7.

The Dallas offense went nowhere and were forced to punt. Brandon Banks returned the ball into Dallas territory, and the Redskins were in business again. Six plays later, Grossman  hit Jabar Gaffney for a touchdown that gave the Redskins the lead.

In eight minutes, the entire complexion of the game changed, and it looked as if the game could start to slip away from the Cowboys.

Washington took the kickoff to open the second half and drove 55 yards to set up Gano’s only field goal of the game. Dallas responded with a three-and-out, and Banks gave the Redskins another boost with a 55-yard punt return.

However, the Redskins could not move the ball, and Gano’s 49-yard attempt went wide right.

Dallas was in business, and the offense took advantage. The Cowboys went on a 14-play drive that ended early in the fourth quarter with a TD pass from Romo to Laurent Robinson.

The Cowboys defense forced a punt, the offense promptly moved the ball from the Dallas 12 to the Dallas 41. On a 3rd-and-8 play, Romo rolled to his right and found Jason Witten, who found a seam. Witten took the pass all the way for a score, giving Dallas a 24-17 lead.

On the next play from scrimmage, Orlando Scandrick picked off Grossman, and it looked as if Dallas could put the game away. However, Dallas was forced to punt with 5:45 left in the game.

Washington took the ball at its own 11, and Grossman found holes in the Dallas secondary. With just 22 seconds left, Grossman found Donte Stallworth in the left corner of the end zone to tie the game at 24.

The Redskins drove from their own 18 to the Dallas 33. On a 3rd and 7, Grossman rolled right and slid, taking a sack. It left the ball at the Dallas 34, setting up Gano for a 52-yard attempt. He missed to the right.

Dallas moved into Washington territory but faced a 3rd-and-15 from midfield. Romo made a huge play, buying time in the pocket before hitting Bryant for a 26-yard gain.

The play set up Bailey to try to make his 25th consecutive kick. The kick moved to the right and looked as if it might go wide, but it ended up just inside the crossbar.

Romo threw three touchdowns without an interception. Nine different Cowboys caught passes in the game.

McBriar only averaged 24.1 yards per punt (net average) on seven punts. That was the ugly part of the game. However, Bailey helped the special teams effort, making both of his attempts while Gano missed two of three.

Dallas 44, Buffalo 7: The Stampede We’ve Been Waiting For

Dez Bryant was one of many Cowboys who played solid games in a 44-7 win over the Bills.

The schedule for the month of November looked inviting for the Cowboys, but there was a game on the list that was likely to cause concern. Buffalo entered the game at 5-3, but many thought that Chan Gailey’s team could give the Cowboys fits. Dallas didn’t look particularly good against Seattle last week, so if there was a game to cause concern, the Buffalo game was it.

The first half: Dallas had the ball four times and scored four touchdowns. The game was over by the end of the third quarter when Dallas led 34-7.

Tony Romo was on fire in that first half. He did not throw an incompletion until 5:33 remained in the second quarter. He completed 23 of 26 passes for a completion rate of 88.5%. That’s the highest completion percentage in a game for any Dallas quarterback who has attempted at least 10 passes. Ever.

DeMarco Murray has made most of us hope that Felix Jones continues to rest that injured ankle.  Murray gained 135 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown.

Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson both made plays, gaining at least 70 receiving yards each. Robinson scored twice while Bryant scored once, with all three scores coming in the first half.

Terence Newman picked off two passes and returned one of them for a touchdown.

All told, this was the first game in some time where there is almost nothing to criticize. Dallas looked sharp from the opening drive of the game, in which the Cowboys drove 80 yards in five plays, capped off by a great TD grab by Bryant. Jesse Holley got into the action on the drive, catching a 25-yard pass on third down to move the ball into Buffalo territory.

After a three and out for the Bills, it took Dallas 12 plays to score its next touchdown. Amazingly, during the 12-play drive, the Cowboys only faced two third downs. The second third-down play resulted in a touchdown.

Following another defensive stop, Romo found Robinson on a deep post for a 58-yard score. Dallas 21, Buffalo 0.

Remember the collapse against the Lions? It wasn’t going to happen today. When Buffalo scored midway through the second quarter, Dallas answered with yet another scoring drive. Murray’s touchdown after a 14-play drive gave Dallas a 28-7 halftime lead.

Dan Bailey continued his amazing streak and hit on all three of his second-half attempts.

* * *

The Cowboys have scored 40 or more points 43 times in franchise history, including today. However, this marks just the sixth time since 2000 that Dallas has achieved this.

The last time the Cowboys scored 40 or more points was 2008, when Dallas edged the Eagles 41-37.

The 37-point differential was the greatest for the Cowboys in a win since 2000, when Dallas beat Arizona 48-7.

* * *

Dallas is right back in the NFC East race. With the win and the New York loss today, the Giants lead the division at 6-3, while Dallas trails by just one.

The Eagles are now 3-6 with their loss to the Cardinals. The Redskins also fell to 3-6 by losing to Miami.