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Until the very end of the first quarter of Saturday night’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, Dez Bryant had one reception for one yard. He was also the intended receiver on a play where the Bengals were called for pass interference.
Then came a 12-yard reception on a 2nd-and-9 play, giving Dallas a first down in Cincinnati territory.
Same drive: Romo to Bryant for 15 to the Cincinnati 26,.
Same drive (very next play): Romo to Bryant for 15 to the Cincinnati 11.
Same drive (very next play): Romo to Bryant for 5 yards to the Cincinnati 6.
Same drive (two plays later): Romo to Bryant on a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Bryant finished with 6 receptions for 54 yards, with five of those receptions coming on a total of seven plays. The Bengals did not appear to have any answers.
Tony Romo threw another touchdown to Miles Austin late in the first half to give the Cowboys a 14-7 halftime lead. Romo completed 13 of 18 passes for 137 yards with 2 TDs.
DeMarco Murray fumbled early in the game, and though he recovered his own fumble, Phillip Tanner had most of the carries for the rest of the first half.
Murray returned in the second half with backup QB Kyle Orton, the backup receivers, and the first-team line. He picked up 51 rushing yards and had a nice touchdown reception, juking several Bengal defenders after catching a pass in the flat on a 3rd-and-goal play from the Cincinnati 7.
The Bengals cut the Dallas lead to 21-18 in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys put together a late drive to kill most of the clock. Xavier Brewer picked off a Josh Johnson pass with less than a minute remaining, giving Dallas its second interception and fourth turnover.
The Cowboys finish their preseason against the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
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.
Though the Cincinnati Bengals became a franchise in 1968, the Dallas Cowboys did not face the new Cincinnati team until 1973. That was because the Bengals were part of the AFL until 1970, and the teams were in different conferences when the leagues merged in 1970.
The teams finally met on November 4, 1973 at Texas Stadium. It was Cincinnati head coach Paul Brown’s first visit to Dallas since he coached the Browns in 1962 and turned out to be his last visit to Dallas during his 25-year NFL career.
In 1962, his Browns lost in a 45-21 blowout to the Cowboys, who were two years removed from their inaugural year. In 1973, the Dallas team was two years removed from its first Super Bowl title, and the result of the game was another blowout win for the Cowboys.
The video highlights and story of the game are below. Interesting note: the loss to Dallas dropped the Bengals to 4-4. Nevertheless, the team rebounded with six consecutive wins to finish the season at 10-4. They made the playoffs but eventually lost to the Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.
As for the Cowboys, they also finished at 10-4 and made it to the NFC championship game before losing to the Minnesota Vikings.
By BOB ST. JOHN / The Dallas Morning News
Actually, it all started earlier in the week, though the records will show it ended very impressively for the Dallas Cowboys on a mostly gray Sunday afternoon at Texas Stadium.
“We started working with the right kind of attitude last Wednesday,” said middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, shortly after he’d made a tour of the Cowboys dressing room, shaking hands with every member of the team.
“Since we lost to Washington we really hadn’t had the consistent attitude and concentration. This week we made up our minds. We played well in practice. We were making interceptions and so that meant we were moving better. We felt the same thing would continue in the game.”
It did … in the game, Jordan intercepted three passes in the first period off the arm of Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson, ran one 31 yards for a touchdown and set up a score with anther one. These interceptions sent the Bengals reeling and they never really recovered as Dallas stormed off with an impressive 38-10 victory over a good team before a crowd of 54,944. There were 3,658 no shows.
So Dallas, perhaps, has turned the corner once again, heading for another playoff berth. Anyway, the Cowboys can do worse than remain a single game behind Washington in the NFC Eastern race and could move into a tie for the lead, should Pittsburgh top the Redskins on Monday night.
“We’ve got it started and we’re not going to do the same thing we did after beating the Giants a couple of weeks ago,” continued Jordan. “We were up for that one and then came back in practice the following week and let it get away. So the Eagles beat us. This time we’ll go back out there this week and keep it going.
“We’re not even thinking about a wild card berth. We’re going for the championship.”
The most impressive thing was the Cowboy defense, which did everything it had not been doing. What happened basically was that they had their collars loosened, Cowboy linemen were turned loose more, instead of reading so much and then rushing the passer. Thus there was more pressure than there had been since the Redskin game. And Dallas blitzed 7-3 times, very un-Cowboy like. Conservatism was thrown to the wind.
“They turned us loose, let us go and we went after them,” said cornerback Mel Renfro. “I hope we do it from now on.”
The Cowboy defense was so impressive that Dallas had such fine field positions on the Cincinnati 42, 17, 42, 44 and 7 yard lines. The Cowboy offense only had to go 42, 44, 55, and 7 yards for touchdowns.
“It wasn’t an offensive day,” said quarterback Roger Staubach, who had a fine personal day with 14 hits on 18 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. And he threw no interceptions, the thing that had killed Anderson … killed the Bengals. “Our defense just gave us great field position all day.
“Cincinnati has a fine defense and we needed everything we could get. I’d rate the Bengals on defense right up there next to Washington.”
Jordan first struck with Dallas leading 3-0 on Toni Fritsch’s 34-yard field goal and with neither team seeming able to move. But Anderson threw for wide receiver Chip Myers on the sideline and Lee Roy, whose man was blocking and didn’t go out, ran across field and picked off the throw, following practically the entire defensive entourage to the end zone. The second interception was tipped as free safety Cliff Harris crunched into tight end Bob Trumpy, causing him to cough up a ball he never had control of in the first place. Jordan got the third one by reaching up, one-handing it, and bringing it into control and setting up Dallas in TD business at the Cincy 42.
“On the first interception we blitzed,” said Lee Roy, “I just looked up and he was throwing a down-and-out. It was so hard I didn’t think I could hold it.”
“Jordan has range, experience and is a fine player,” said Anderson. “The first interception was very impressive because he ran a long way to get there. He just seemed to get to the right place at the right time. But that’s what it takes to make a good linebacker.”
Renfro and tackle Jethro Pugh combined to set up the final Cowboy TD. Renfro jarred running back Essex Johnson loose from the ball as Anderson, in trouble, dropped the football off to his back. Pugh picked up the ball and ran 30 yards in about 30 minutes to the Cincy seven, from which Dallas scored. Pugh has never scored a touchdown and was zooming in on the end zone but just couldn’t make it. “If it had been downhill I believe I’d have scored,” said Pugh.
The defense also held the Bengals out of the end zone on four downs from the Dallas four just before the half when a TD could have put them back into the game. Tackle Bob Lilly led two of the charges and Jordan, Pugh, Cole, Rodrigo Burnes and others stopped a final play from a half yard out.
Cincinnati got 10 points in the third period, the big one being much like big ones of recent weeks. Wide receiver Isaac Curtis got behind cornerback Charlie Waters and took a perfect throw for a 50-yard touchdown. A less than perfect throw and Waters of Harrison would have knocked it down.
Anderson was also not pressured on the bomb after faking play action. This was not what he became accustomed to during this day. He was trapped five times for 45 yards in losses. End Larry Cole got him twice and assisted tackle Bill Gregory on another trap, rookie end Harvey Martin banged him down once and Cornell Green got him on a safety blitz.
Cincinnati shut down Calvin Hill which was one of their prime purposes. Hill had a season low of just 39 yards on 16 carries and Dallas wasn’t able to run that well, netting 119 yards.
Split end Bobby Hayes and tight end Billy Joe DuPree each caught five passes, each scoring a touchdown as did flanker Mike Montgomery, taking a Staubach pass over the middle and racing 32 yards for a TD.
But there was a long one to Hayes. Staubach had been blitzed a great deal on this afternoon and this time he spotted it coming with the Cowboys at the Cincy 39. Roger called an audible, which meant Hayes streaked deep. Bobby ran between the two Bengal safeties and took the throw on his finger tips for six.
The specialty teams, a great source of embarrassment for Dallas in recent weeks, perked up greatly. Montgomery’s fine 63-yard opening kickoff return set up Fritsch’s field goal, and Marv Bateman, back from never-never, averaged 53 yards on five punts, and a 57-yarder which backed up Cincy to its own four eventually put Dallas in field position for a TD. Dallas also got boost by Mike Clark, booming all his kickoffs.
But in the end this day belonged to the defense. There were traps, turnovers, interceptions, fine individual plays such as Waters twice throwing Bengals for losses on screens and Dallas was doing what it had not been doing.
“The turnovers were big plays for us today,” said Tom Landry. “We’ve been talking about these since before the Washington game and we got them back today.”
“I hope we continue to cut loose and not play so conservatively,” added Jordan. “We might get hit with a big play and give up some yardage but we’ll also be coming up with the big play.”
So at this time it appears the Dallas Cowboys are not depending on somebody beating Washington. It appears they are depending on themselves.