So a funny thing happened on the way to a loss in San Francisco. Tony Romo, broken rib(s) and all, completed a furious late-game comeback and led the Dallas Cowboys to their first win of the young season, a 27-24 road victory against the San Francisco 49ers.
A 77-yard play-action pass to unheralded backup receiver Jesse Holley immediately had Twitter reminiscing back to an Aikman-Ismail connection. OK, I led that discussion, but it still brought the team down to San Francisco's 1-yard line. Rookie K Dan Bailey then split the uprights for the win a few moments after tying the score at 24 with no time remaining in the fourth. Bailey had missed a 21-yard chip shot on the Cowboys first drive of the game that appeared to have a great chance to come back and haunt the team.
Holley, you say? Yes, Jesse Holley.
Already playing the entire game without Dez Bryant, Miles Austin tweaked his hamstring (on a ridiculous pitch call to him out the RB position) as Dallas positioned itself for the tying field goal. Holley, who had never caught an NFL pass until back-to-back catches on the tying drive, evoked memories from the fateful comeback against the Redskins in September 1999. Lined up opposite Kevin Ogletree, the former reality show star made his mark in the NFL. The winner of Michael Irvin's TV show 4th & Long punched the clock to begin his next round of 15 minutes of fame.
Dallas lost the overtime toss, but after San Francisco gained a quick first down and another eight yards, imposed their will on the 49ers. On second down, DeMarcus Ware read a screen pass to Frank Gore so well that Smith didn't release and ate a sack by Jay Ratliff. A third down pass to Ted Ginn was ruled incomplete after a bobble and catch after his knee was down out of bounds. A punt by the 49ers and on the first play of overtime, Holley was streaking down the field to set up the winning kick.
The story of this game though is Tony Romo's toughness and resiliency. After a week of both national media and some Cowboys fans questioning his ability to lead this team to a victory in a clutch situation, Romo calmly and methodically marched the Cowboys down the field on two fourth-quarter scoring drives bringing the Cowboys back from a ten-point deficit.
Romo actually missed several series in the middle of the game, as Jon Kitna entered and threw a touchdown and two interceptions. The Cowboys announced that Romo wouldn't be returning to the field, but he talked his way back into the lineup and did his best to write a new chapter to the novella on his career.
With a little over seven minutes remaining, on fourth and five from the SF 34, the hobbled Romo completed a pass to Witten on the right sideline, despite another hit as he threw. On the very next play, Romo faked a handoff and tossed it to Miles Austin on the right sideline who jumped in front of the defender, snared the ball and then somehow crawled into the endzone without a knee touching turf. It was Austin's 3rd touchdown of the day, and put him over 100 yards for the 7th time in his last 13 games with Romo. Austin now leads the NFL with 4 touchdown receptions.
The Cowboys defense held when it needed to, getting pressure on 49ers QB Alex Smith on several occasions, including six sacks (Hatcher-2, Ware-2, Ratliff-1, Spencer-1). Alan Ball, clearly a target of Harbaugh's offense as he was repeatedly beat on third downs, exacted his revenge with a pick of Smith on a third down play. Rob Ryan's troops turned in another stout performance against the run game, holding the 49ers to 74 yards on 24 carries despite holding the lead for the entire game.
There was much doom and gloom hovering over Cowboys Nation in the first half. After Bailey missed the field goal attempt, a cloud seemed to settle in over the Cowboys sideline. Romo and his receivers lost all synchronicity, and he misfired on seven consecutive passes before leading a touchdown drive right before halftime. That 53-yard catch and run by Miles Austin brought the Cowboys to within seven at the break. Romo was lucky on a few passes that could have, and probably should have been intercepted by the 49ers, but he remained resilient and calm despite his injury.
Some say that great players focus even more when they are physically limited, and it appeared that way for Romo after his early injury. BTB will have much more in the coming days, and there were plenty of things to complain about, but for now revel in the win. After all, if none of Romo's good before the loss counted last week, none of the bad is allowed to matter this week, right? Jokes! It's a happy day right now.
Side note... It's now Redskins week!!
Raw Game Stats (per NFL.com):
Romo: 20/33 345 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Kitna: 6/10 87 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
Jones: 9 carries, 25 yards | Murray 6 carries, 21 yards | Choice 5 carries 5 yards
Austin: 9 receptions, 143 yards, 3 TD
Witten: 7 receptions, 102 yards
Holley: 3 receptions, 96 yards
S. Lee: 10 tackles (8 solo)
6 sacks (Hatcher-2, Ware-2, Ratliff-1, Spencer-1)