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The Dallas Cowboys appeared to do everything they needed to do on Sunday to lose a game to the 1-6 Minnesota Vikings. A loss would have been very difficult for the team to overcome, both in the standings and in terms of rebounding emotionally.
The Vikings had an 89% chance of winning the game with 4:21 remaining. Minnesota led 23-20 and had just picked off Tony Romo in Dallas territory. Minnesota needed less than 10 yards to get into field-goal range.
The Dallas defense that could not stop Adrian Peterson on Minnesota’s previous drive, which resulted in the go-ahead touchdown, held tight. The Vikings punted the ball to Dallas with 2:44 remaining and pinned the Cowboys at their own 10.
The Cowboys needed Romo to play the role of hero, driving the team 90 yards for the game-winning score. He did just that.
Dallas receivers had problems with drops all game but did not during this drive. He threw passes to Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Dwayne Harris. With 1:30 remaining and the Cowboys holding the ball at their own 45, Romo hit Dez Bryant across the middle, and Bryant was able to weave his way through the Viking secondary for a 34-yard gain.
Romo completed two more passes to get the ball down to the Minnesota 7. With 42 seconds left, Romo threw the ball underneath to Harris, who dove into the end zone to give Dallas the lead. The Vikings’ last ditch effort to come back failed, giving Dallas the 27-23 win.
Bryant put the Cowboys in position to win the game, but this will not be a game for him to remember fondly. He dropped a couple of passes that would have put the Cowboys in position to score touchdowns.
Bryant later lost his cool, possibly costing the Cowboys a chance at a field goal late in the third quarter. With Dallas leading 20-17, the Cowboys moved the ball to the Minnesota 29. However, Lance Dunbar lost five yards on a run, setting up a 3rd-and-15 play. Romo tried to get the ball to Bryant, who was called for offensive pass interference. He argued with the referees and removed his helmet in the process, drawing a 15-yard penalty. It forced the Cowboys to punt.
Jason Witten had his best game of the season, catching 8 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. His score came early in the third quarter and gave Dallas a 13-10 lead.
Seconds later, George Selvie stripped the ball from Christian Ponder in the end zone, and Nike Hayden recovered in the end zone to increase the Dallas lead to 20-10.
However, just when it appeared that the Cowboys would run away with the game, the Minnesota offense rebounded, marching 77 yards in just over 3 minutes to cut the Dallas lead to 20-17.
The first half is hardly worth mentioning. The Cowboys played as if they were hung over from last week’s loss to Detroit. A touchdown run by Ponder gave the Vikings a 10-6 halftime lead.
The win allowed Dallas to remain in first place in the NFC East. The Eagles improved to 4-5 with a 49-20 win over Oakland, while the Redskins (now 3-5) beat the Chargers in overtime, 30-24.
This post comes a day late after the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins 31-16 on Sunday night. The win gave the Cowboys a 3-3 record and a tie for the lead in the NFC East.
Tony Romo did not win (or lose) this game. Nor did DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, or even Sean Lee.
Instead, players coming up with big plays included the likes of Kyle Wilber and Cole Beasley. And the player with the biggest plays was returner Dwayne Harris.
Harris returned a punt 86 yards in the second quarter to give Dallas a 14-3 lead. He also returned a kickoff 90 yards in the third quarter to set up a touchdown pass from Romo to Terrance Williams.
Harris’ 222 combined return yards are the fourth most in team history behind Mel Renfro (273 vs. Green Bay in 1964); Felix Jones (247 vs. Philadelphia in 2008); and Reggie Swinton (224 vs. Denver in 2002).
The Redskins held Bryant to 5 receptions for 36 yards, and Austin did not catch a pass. However, Williams scored a big touchdown, and Beasley had 4 receptions for 44 yards. Three of those receptions came on a fourth-quarter drive that ended with a Dallas field goal.
The Cowboys were without Ware for much of the game due to a quad injury, but Wilber and George Selive were able to come up with a huge sack that caused a fumble in the fourth quarter. Wilbur recovered the fumble inside the Washington 5.
Following the recovery, Joseph Randle, who will likely start with Murray out due to injury, scored from 1 yard out to close out the scoring.
The defense gave up 433 yards but managed to record two key turnovers.
It is the third time this season that the Cowboys have held their opponents to less than 20 points. However, in three other games, opponents have scored 30 or more.
Four of the next five games for the Cowboys are on the road, so this win was absolutely necessary.
The Dallas Cowboys managed to play their entire 2012 season by trailing in every single game at some point. The widest margin of victory was 15 points in a 38-23 win over the Eagles. That game was hardly a blowout, given that the Cowboys scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
The last blowout win before today dated back to November 2011, when the Cowboys routed the Bills 44-7. That season also featured a 34-7 win at home over the Rams.
The Cowboys should have defeated the Rams again on Sunday and did so in dominant fashion. By halftime, the Cowboys had 17 points. The Rams had 18 total yards.
As a team in the first two games, the Cowboys had a combined total of 124 rushing yards. By halftime against the Rams, DeMarco Murray had 96 rushing yards.
The day went so well that the bad plays for Dallas meant nothing. Dwayne Harris fumbled a punt early in the game, giving the Rams the ball inside Dallas territory. The Cowboys defense managed to back up the Rams, though, forcing St. Louis to try a fake punt.
Rams returner Tavon Austin returned a punt 84 yards for an apparent touchdown, but the play was called back because of a penalty (actually two) on the Rams. The Cowboys forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive.
Dan Bailey missed a field goal. But the Cowboys did not end up needing the points.
Miles Austin left the game with a hamstring injury. But the Cowboys did not end up needing him, as Harris and Gavin Escobar both scored touchdowns while Austin was on the sideline.
Yep, it was that sort of day.
Murray ran all over the Rams defense, finishing with 175 yards on 26 carries. His running set up a first-quarter drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant.
Murray also led the charge on a drive in the second quarter and then found the end zone by touching the pylon on a run around the end. That gave Dallas a 17-0 lead, and the team barely looked back.
The defense simply suffocated the Rams. Dallas allowed St. Louis to convert only 1 of 13 third-down attempts, and the Cowboys recorded 6 sacks.
DeMarcus Ware recorded 2 of those sacks and became the franchise’s career leader in sacks, surpassing Harvey Martin. More on that later.
The win gives the Cowboys (2-1) sole possession of first place in the NFC East. The Eagles (1-2), Redskins (0-3), and Giants (0-3) each lost on Sunday.
In the Hall of Fame Game on August 4, the Cowboys ran the ball 34 times for 170 yards and committed no turnovers.
That’s a distant memory after this afternoon’s performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
16 rushing attempts.
Granted, three turnovers were interceptions thrown by backup quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Alex Tanney.
Others were fumbles by Dez Bryant, Lance Dunbar, and Dwayne Harris. Those fumbles present more of a concern because all three will likely handle the ball this season.
Bryant otherwise looked like a top-flight receiver once again, catching 4 passes for 74 yards. Dunbar also looked like a good option out of the backfield.
In fact, his fumble came at the end of a 43-yard reception that would have given the Cowboys the ball inside the Arizona 10.
Tony Romo completed 7 of 10 passes for 142 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he missed a wide-open Terrance Williams on what looked like a sure touchdown.
Romo’s immediate replacement, Orton, was awful, completing just 4 of 8 passes for 36 yards with 2 picks.
The Cowboys’ lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter when Tanney hit tight end Gavin Escobar on a five-yard pass.
Tanney also had two chances to lead the team to a game-winning touchdown. The first drive started with 5:07 remaining, but the Cowboys went nowhere. On the last drive, Tanney drove the Cowboys into Arizona territory, but with Dallas needing a touchdown to win, Tanney threw a pass picked off by rookie Tony Jefferson.
The Cowboys host the Cincinnati Bengals on August 24.
Tony Romo said during the week that if the Cowboys were down by 10 or 14 points in the fourth quarter, they would find a way to win the game.
Until lately, this was a laughable thought. The Dallas team was better known for blowing 10- to 14-point leads.
With just under 10 minutes remaining on Sunday, the Cowboys were down by 14 and had to punt. On the previous drive, the Saints had marched 98 yards on 10 plays to take the 2-touchdown lead.
New Orleans moved the ball to midfield but were unable to move further. The Saints punted the ball, and Dallas took over with just under 5 minutes left.
On a 2nd-and-2 play from the Dallas 28, Romo found Dez Bryant, who added to his monster game with a 41-yard reception. Three plays later, Romo hit Dwayne Harris for a touchdown to cut the lead to 31-24.
Dallas needed and got a stop, forcing another punt with less than two minutes left.
Romo drove the team back inside the red zone but faced a 4th and 10 from the New Orleans 19. Romo bought some time and lofted a pass to the right side of the end zone. Miles Austin was there and caught the pass, tying the game and forcing overtime.
From there, it was all Saints. Dallas received the kickoff but could not pick up a first down. The Saints took over after the Dallas punt at the Saint 26-yard line.
The first play was a 26-yarder to Jimmy Graham to move the ball into Dallas territory. Five plays later, Drew Brees hit Marques Colston, who fumbled. However, the ball rolled forward more than 20 yards, and Graham recovered. Referees upheld the play on review, and one play later, the Saints kicked a field goal to win the game.
The loss ruined a career day by Bryant, who finished with 224 yards on 9 receptions. Romo had four touchdowns along with 416 passing yards.
As it turns out, the Cowboys are still in the playoff hunt. The Giants lost to the Ravens, meaning that the winner of the Cowboys-Redskins game next week will win the NFC East. This is the fourth time since 2008 that the Cowboys have faced a division foe on the final week of the season with either the division title or a playoff berth on the line.
The best news from the preseason thus far has come in the first halves of the three games:
Dallas Cowboys 30, Opponents 6
Dwayne Harris showed that the Cowboys may actually have some depth at receiver. He hauled in three passes in the first half, two of which went for touchdowns. He and quarterback Tony Romo allowed the team to jump out to a 17-3 lead in the first half, en route to a 20-19 win over the Rams.
Harris finished the night with three receptions for 118 yards. Romo only played in the first quarter but still completed 9 of 13 for 198 yards, giving him a QB rating of 151.4.
Backup Kyle Orton led the team on a late drive in the first half, setting up Dan Bailey‘s second field goal of the half. The drive featured some nice receptions by Cole Beasley, Kevin Ogletree, and James Hanna.
In fact, Ogletree ended up with the most receptions on the night, hauling in five passes for 75 yards. However, Ogletree could not haul in a pass on a 3rd-and-6 play and forced the team to settle for a field goal.
The four Dallas quarterbacks combined for 333 passing yards. Orton was sacked twice, while the others were not sacked at all.
The defense shut down starter Sam Bradford all night. He completed only 6 of 17 passes for 64 yards, and Morris Claiborne broke up a pass in the end zone late in the first half, denying the Rams a shot at a touchdown.
DeMarco Murray ran five times for 26 yards. He apparently suffered a hand injury, but it does not appear to be serious.
Other potential bad news: nose tackle Jay Ratliff reportedly suffered a high ankle sprain during the game. A few have tweeted that he may miss some regular season games.
Dallas hosts Miami on Wednesday night. Starters are not likely to play.