2011 Season

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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.

An Odd Twist to a Cowboys-Redskins Trivia Question

Three weeks ago, I posted a question about which running backs played for both the Cowboys and the Redskins. At that point, the Redskins had just signed Tashard Choice after Dallas had waived the running back.

On Sunday, Choice became the seventh running back to have played for both teams. Here is the complete list:

J.W. Lockett– Dallas 1961-1962; Washington 1964
A.D. Whitfield– Dallas 1965; Washington 1966-1968
Calvin Hill– Dallas 1969-1974; Washington 1976-1977
Duane Thomas– Dallas 1970-1971; Washington 1973-1974
Timmy Smith– Washington 1987-1988; Dallas 1990
Adrian Murrell– Washington 2000; Dallas 2003
Tashard Choice– Dallas 2008-2011, Washington 2011

As it turns out, Choice’s only game with the Redskins will have been the Cowboys game. Washington waived the back today after Choice gained just 7 yards on 6 carries. He had a decent run of 9 yards early the game (after which he made some gesture to the Dallas sideline), but he had trouble for the rest of the game.

In four seasons, he has gained 1,146 yards with 8 touchdowns.

* * *

Two individuals with ties to the Cowboys are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Charles Haley once again made the list, as did Bill Parcells. This is Parcells’ first year of eligibility after retiring following the 2006 season.

* * *

Not good news: Gerald Sensabaugh may have to miss Thursday’s game against Miami with a foot injury. He joins Tony Fiammetta, Miles Austin,  and Mike Jenkins among the starters on the injury report.

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.

And the NFC East Is a Race After All

Two weeks ago, the Giants had a 6-2 record after beating the Patriots on the road. Dallas rebounded from a loss to the Eagles during the previous week to beat the Seahawks. Nevertheless, the Giants’ two-game lead seemed to be a pretty wide gap that the Cowboys would struggle to make up.

It’s two weeks later, and the Cowboys are now sitting with the Giants on top of the NFC East. Dallas faces Miami and Arizona before playing the Giants on December 11. The Giants, in turn, face New Orleans and Green Bay. Dallas ends the season against the Giants on the road.

The Eagles’ win was the best-case-scenario for Dallas, but Philadelphia is not out of the race. The Eagles play New England next Sunday but then have games against Miami and Seattle, along with the Jets, who are struggling. The Cowboys face the Eagles on December 24.

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.

Predictor: Cowboys’ Playoff Odds are 63.37%

ESPN ran a post today showing the odds that contending teams have for making the playoffs. The 5-4 Cowboys are certainly in the mix, given that the team only trails the Giants by one game.

According to the ESPN report, which relies on a website known as numberFire, Dallas has a 63.37% chance of making the playoffs. The predictions also indicate that the Giants will have a collapse and miss the playoff altogether.

The summary:

The Cowboys looked truly dominant against Buffalo and find themselves right in the thick of things in the NFC East. Dallas will benefit from a soft schedule the rest of the way, including games against the Redskins, Dolphins, Cardinals and Bucs.

Thus, though the Cowboys are predicted to finish at 9-7, Dallas will win the NFC East and enter the playoffs with the #4 seed. The Cowboys under this scenario would host Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.

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.

Dallas 23, Seattle 13: Dallas Overcomes Malaise in Win

Dan Bailey continues to be money. He made three field goals against the Seahawks and has now made 19 consecutive attempts.

On paper, the Cowboys put together what looks like a solid win over the Seahawks on Sunday. Dallas broke a 6-6 halftime tie by forcing three second-half interceptions and finally managing a couple of touchdowns.

The big positive: DeMarco Murray is for real. He had 22 carries for 139 yards. He should have had more chances to score, but he looked solid all game.

However, by the time the Cowboys started looking good in the second half, many fans had to have a hand over their eyes. Most of the performances other than Murray’s were tough to watch.

Dallas saved some its worst plays for the return game.

Example #1: Dez Bryant decided to field a punt at his own 6. He had to catch the ball while running backward and ended up losing 4 yards.

Example #2: Last play of the first quarter. Kevin Ogletree took a kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone and tried to run it out. He made it to the 12.

Example #3: After Dallas took a 6-3 in the second, Leon Washington muffed the catch on the kickoff return. He recovered the ball but would have been stopped at the Seattle 5. But Jesse Holley stupidly committed an unnecessary roughness penalty, which gave Seattle the ball at the 20.

Example #4: After Seattle cut the Dallas lead to 23-13, Ogletree watched the ball bounce in the middle of the end zone. The problem: that’s a live ball. Fortunately, the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone, but it was a dumb play nevertheless.

The Cowboys also continued to have red zone woes. They managed to get the ball inside the 5 on their opening drive of the game, but Seattle held. Dan Bailey continued his streak with a 20-yard field goal.

After Seattle tied it at 3, Dallas got the ball to the Seattle 2 in the second quarter thanks to a 22-yard run by DeMarco Murray. Jason Garrett decided to call two play-action passes instead of having Murray try to run the ball in. The result: 20-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

Tony Romo threw a slant to Dez Bryant in the middle of the second quarter, and Bryant looked like he would score. He fumbled instead. And though it was clear he fumbled, Garrett challenged the call. Sigh.

Seattle tied the game. Halftime: Dallas 6, Seattle 6. It should have been 17-3.

But the Cowboys managed to wake up. Their first offensive drive of the second half resulted in a touchdown from Romo to Jason Witten.

Then Jason Hatcher caught an interception off an odd deflection and returned the ball to the Seattle 40. That led to a six-play drive that resulted in another touchdown, this time from Romo to Laurent Robinson.

Terence Newman picked off Tarvaris Jackson on the next drive, leading to another field goal by Bailey.

With the Cowboys leading 23-6, some odd tension emerged, though. Brad Sham said on the radio that those three points could be critical, which was odd given that Dallas led by 17 with 11:22 left, has the self-professed best defensive coordinator in the league, and had not allowed a touchdown all game.

So, of course, Seattle marched 70 yards and scored its first touchdown of the game. Fortunately for Dallas, the drive took a total of five minutes. By the time Dallas punted on the next drive, just over two minutes were left.

The Seahawks put together a late drive, but Gerald Sensabaugh got his second pick of the year to end the drive and the game.

Dallas improves to 4-4 and will face Buffalo next week. The Bills struggled against the Jets today in a 27-11 loss.

Mastering Mediocrity

I’ve written about this before, but there were a number of similarities between the 1991 Cowboys and the 2009 Cowboys. A short summary: both teams went 11-5, and both teams won playoff games for the first time in several years. And both lost badly in the divisional round of the playoffs to end their seasons.

The team followed up on its success in 1991 in amazing fashion. Between 1992 and 1995, the Cowboys had a combined regular season record of 49-15.  We all know about the three Super Bowl titles.

The 2010 and 2011 Cowboys have already managed 14 losses in less than a season and a half. I know everyone can count, but that’s one fewer loss in a season and a half than the 1990s team had over four full seasons.

I fully realize that what happened during the dynasty years has nothing to do with today’s team. But fans are not the only ones who make frequent comparisons with the glory days. It would be impossible to count how many references Jerry Jones has made to the 1990s team while trying to create hype for this mediocre mess he’s created much more recently.

Jerry’s comment about Sunday’s game against Philadelphia:

Owner Jerry Jones told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio that the Eagles game in Philly has been circled on the calendar since training camp.  Jones said he sees it as a significant opportunity to make a statement about who the Cowboys are as a football team.  Jones also believes the game could possibly be a spring board toward a special season.

Please. Jerry is entitled to say whatever he wants, but there is simply no reason at all to listen to anything coming out of Valley Ranch. Someone try to explain why I’m wrong. You can have my blog if you can do so.

There also may not be any reason to listen to anything coming from Jason Garrett. He isn’t the bumbling fool in the press conferences that Wade Phillips was, but what Garrett says is all too predictable. He apparently liked the effort against the Eagles. He said he had no concerns about Keith Brooking and Bradie James playing the inside linebacker positions. His team needs to execute better.

Super. Maybe the team can then win more than two in a row. That hasn’t happened since the 2009 season, which seems so long ago right now.

Philadelphia 34, Dallas 7: Thoroughly Stomped

Rob Ryan introduced his version of the Can’t Stop Anyone defense that the ’10 Cowboys made so famous.

When the Eagles signed Nnambi Asomugha in July, I wrote:

[H]ere’s a picture when Dallas travels to Philly on October 30:

Asomugha lines up on Miles Austin and completely takes Austin out of the game.

Asante Samuel lines up on Dez Bryant and holds the second-year receiver to an average game.

Rodgers-Cromartie might not have anyone to cover, given that the Cowboys’ slot receiver right now is…

Wait, who is the Cowboys’ third receiver? Kevin Ogletree and his ten career receptions? Manny Johnson and his one career catch? 6th-round pick Dwayne Harris?

So Rodgers-Cromartie superfluously double-teams a receiver or lines up on Jason Witten.

Tonight was October 30. Austin didn’t catch a pass until the third quarter, and he finished with only 3 receptions for 27 yards. Bryant caught 3 for 28. Witten caught 4 for 28.

As for the Cowboys’ third receiver, it is now Laurent Robinson, who saved Dallas from its first shutout since 2003 when he got behind the secondary in the fourth quarter and hauled in a 70-yard touchdown pass. That cut the Eagle lead to 34-7.

Before that (and after), the Eagles did anything they wanted against the Cowboys. LeSean McCoy rushed for 185 yards on 30 carries, often making four- or five-yard gains out of nothing. Michael Vick added 50 rushing yards to go with 279 passing yards with 2 passing touchdowns. Brent Celek ran free over the middle for much of the night, and he caught 7 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.

This game marks the eighth time that the Eagles have beaten the Cowboys by 27 or more points. Half of those games took place between 2000 and 2004, and the last was the 44-6 drubbing to end the Cowboys’ 2008 season. Tonight’s game had a feeling quite similar to that 2008 game.

The Eagles’ first-half drives:

8 plays, 84 yards, touchdown.

7 plays, 90 yards, touchdown.

11 plays, 67 yards, touchdown.

13 plays, 83 yards, field goal.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys gained a total of 79 yards in the first half on 19 plays.

Good luck finding a highlight in the first half.

And nothing got better in the third quarter. Dallas touched the ball twice. After getting a first down on the opening drive of the game, Dallas went nowhere.

The Cowboys punted with more than 12 minutes left and didn’t get the ball back until 5:55 remained in the third quarter. The second drive of the third quarter resulted in two yards on three plays.

By the time Romo hit Robinson on the long touchdown pass, Philadelphia led 34-0. Romo managed to drive the team inside the 5 later in the fourth, but two passes to Witten near the goal line failed, as did a pass to Bryant (though to be fair, Asomugha interfered on the play).

On defense, the Cowboys lost Sean Lee to a wrist injury early, and Keith Brooking and Bradie James had to man both inside linebacker spots. Brooking looked like he was nine games away from retirement. James won’t be far behind him. It was sad.

DeMarcus Ware somehow recorded four sacks. Most had to agree with Al Michaels’ comment that those were the quietest four sacks imaginable.

On offense, DeMarco Murray looked pretty good with limited opportunities. He had 74 yards on only eight carries.

Dallas hosts Seattle next Sunday.