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If the Cowboys appeared distracted on Sunday, it was for good reason. It would be impossible for the team to concentrate fully on the game while the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was fresh on everyone’s minds.
Even before the accident occurred, many had doubts about the Cowboys’ chances. Just before the game started, a radio commentator with ESPN said he thought the game would come down to the Cowboys needing a defensive stop. He didn’t think the Cowboys would get one and would lose the game accordingly.
Until the 6:35 mark of the fourth quarter, it was hard to argue with him. Until then, most were just hoping that Jason Garrett would stop Rob Ryan from coming onto the field after the defensive coordinator was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, extending a Cincinnati drive early in the third quarter. (More on the bone-headed move below.)
The Dallas defense indeed made that critical stop, which gave the Cowboys a chance to drive for the game-winning field goal in a 20-19 Dallas win.
Thanks to the win, the Cowboys are not dead in the playoff race. However, wins by the Giants, Seahawks, and Redskins did not help the Cowboys’ chances. At 7-6, the Cowboys are going to need help to take either a wildcard or a division title.
Back to the game.
This Dallas squad just isn’t a first-half team, whatever the reason may be. The Cowboys have trailed at some point in the first halves of 12 of 13 games. The only exception was the Atlanta game, which was a 6-6 tie at the half before the Falcons ran away with the game.
Sunday’s game against the Bengals followed a typical pattern. Dallas moved the ball a little bit early but could not punch it in.
An early 3-0 lead became a 10-3 deficit. Cincinnati led 13-10 at the half as the Dallas offense struggled.
The third quarter should have belonged to the Bengals. The Cowboys had three possessions but could only manage 42 yards with no points.
Had the Bengals not made some critical mistakes, including several drops, Cincinnati’s 19-10 lead may have been much worse.
The Cowboys trailed by nine when they took the ball at their own 32 with 9:47 remaining. Things looked bad again when referees called Doug Free for holding, setting up a 1st-and-20 at the Dallas 35.
On the next play, though, Romo hit Kevin Ogletree on a 23-yard play to give the Cowboys a first down.
Three plays later, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-10 from the Cincinnati 42, but Romo was able to find Miles Austin for 15 yards.
On the next play, Romo hit Dez Bryant over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Dallas suddenly had life.
Cincinnati took over with 6:35 remaining. This was the spot where the Cowboys needed a stop. After one first down, the Bengals stalled. Anthony Spencer had the best play of the day on defense by sacking Andy Dalton on a 3rd-and-4 play, forcing the Bengals to punt.
The Cowboys took over at their own 28 with 3:44 left. They managed to convert three third-down plays on the drive and moved the ball to the Cincinnati 22. Dan Bailey nailed a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give the Cowboys the win.
* * *
It may not be hard to tell that I’m not a Rob Ryan fan.
Yes, the defense helped to win the game today, but this was the same defense that could not generate a pass rush until the very end. Had several Bengal receivers not dropped some critical passes, the game may have been out of reach by the fourth quarter.
Here’s the scenario on Sunday: Cincinnati led 13-10 and had driven inside the Dallas red zone. The Bengals faced a 1st-and-15 after a penalty.
Andy Dalton faced almost no pressure but ran to his right to extend the play. As he moved to his right, Ryan (and other coaches) were already on the field screaming. Here’s the shot:
Maybe Ryan had every right to be mad. However, he continued his rant by shouting some variations of a word that starts with F at tackle Andre Smith.
I’ve now seen Ryan shout f-this and f-that into his headset. I’ve seen him yell at an opposing team’s tackle. I have yet to see Ryan yell at a member of the Cowboys’ defense.
* * *
As for the playoffs, the Cowboys needed the Seahawks, Giants, and Redskins to fall today. Instead, the Seahawks beat the Cardinals 58-0, the Giants beat the Saints 52-27, and the Redskins beat the Ravens 31-28 in overtime.
Because the Cowboys will lose tiebreakers to the Bears and Seahawks (and even the Redskins, depending on a few scenarios), the Cowboys’ best chance may be the division title and not the wildcard. It’s not looking good.