It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. How did the Cowboys fall behind to the Browns and how did they fight their way back?
Quick, someone get the lipstick for that pig!
In a game that needed plenty of makeup to mask several warts that appeared all over the surface, Dallas somehow dug deep enough against a seemingly inferior Browns team to win 23-20 in overtime. On the boot of a 38-yard field goal by Dan "Split'Em" Bailey, Dallas has somehow forced it's way back to .500 on the season. Although they did what they needed in order to remain viable for a playoff spot; the performance by the team in the first half says otherwise.
The fact that Dallas was taken to an extra period by the now 2-8 Browns, at home no less, speaks for itself. The team with no noticeable homefield advantage saw things get pretty comical in Cowboys Stadium in regards to their fans. When overtime kicked off, the amount of fans that had fled to beat the traffic was highly visible from the comfort of the couch for a television viewing audience. At one point in the third quarter, the public address announcer tried to get the crowd fired up for a defensive third down; something that Dallas' D had failed miserably on the day to stop. All you heard through the television was crickets.
However, for the first time all day Dallas' D did step up and DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher split a sack on the play and forced a punt. The ensuing drive led to the first of three Dan Bailey field goals and finally got Dallas on the scoreboard after trailing 13-0 at halftime.
The Cowboys fell into a hole due to the inability of the offense to create anything. Already down to their third-string center, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dallas also lost left tackle Tyron Smith to an ankle injury early in the game. The third and final tackle, Jermey Parnell took over for him and the line's play did nothing to instill comfort and calm. Romo was sacked a season-high seven times on the day and also had to engineer a couple nice escapes to keep things from being worse.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who made no secret about his disdain for the Cleveland organization that didn't give him a shot at being their head coach two years ago, wasn't doing a great job of making them regret things early on. Dallas again, due to numerous injuries on that side of the ball as well, chose to barely rush Cleveland on third downs and only rush three players. Choosing coverage instead of pressure, Dallas allowed Cleveland to consistently convert third downs of all varieties: catches over the middle, flares to wide open running backs... they were all there.
It appeared that Dallas was on the way to reliving a painful 2008 blowout to the St. Louis Rams in a game against an inferior opponent. Down 13-0, Dallas only mustered 68 yards of offense in the first half and was shutout going into the break for the first time in 2012. Something changed at halftime, however, and not a moment too soon.
This is when the Cowboys offense turned it on. Cleveland was without their top corner, Joe Haden and it was thought that Dallas would be able to feast on the remaining Browns secondary. It didn't start out that way, with the line not giving the pass patterns any chance to develop and Romo being off target. Things finally started to click, however.
Romo began the second half by completing his first 9 passes. After Dallas scored the field goal to cut the lead to 10, the Dallas defense continued it's transformation and forced a Cleveland three and out. With a mixture of passes to Dez Bryant and defensive penalties, Dallas moved down the field 87 yards through the air game. Felix Jones bullied his way into the end zone for the final two yards of the drive to cut the lead down to 13-10 a couple minutes into the fourth quarter.
Dallas' defense then turned in another three and out stop when got Dallas the ball back. This sequence included an almost fumble on a kick return where Cribbs elbow was down, and then an actual fumble when Gerald Sensabaugh laid the smack down on Trent Richardson in the open field. The Browns recovered but would have to punt.
Dallas' next possession ended successfully as well with Romo finding Bryant on a beautiful throw and catch behind the Browns secondary for a 17-13 lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the game. When the Dallas defense converged on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to force a strip sack courtesy of Anthony Spencer and his outstanding 2012 campaign, it appeared that Dallas had swung momentum and would cruise to the victory.
Not so fast my friend. Just as quickly, Romo was sacked for the sixth of the seven times and he coughed up the ball to the opposition. Cleveland would drive down to the Cowboys 1-yard line before being stopped on a goal line stand by a Dallas team that used two timeouts in case they needed to score again. With the ball at the one and just under two minutes left, Dallas traded three, one-yard runs for the Browns contingent of timeouts. A horrible punt by Brian Moorman was made worse when the refs blew a dreadlock tackle on Josh Cribbs by John Phillips and called it a horse collar. In the debate, the bumbling Cowboys had to race two defenders onto the field at the last second and the Browns took advantage with a 20 yard strike to Ben Watson to take the lead with just over a minute left.
Dallas would counter, driving down the field on the strength of another pair of crucial Browns defensive penalties. Cleveland gave Dallas an amazing 10 first downs via defensive penalties on the day. The first on this drive was a 15-yard personal foul for TJ Ward aiming and connecting with Kevin Ogletree's head; defenseless receiver. Two plays later, a defensive pass interference was called when Dwayne Harris had beat Sheldon Brown on a sideline route. That put Dallas at the Cleveland 15 with 23 seconds to go.
A close-call Romo scramble almost saw another fumble, but Bailey was able to hit his second field goal to force overtime.
Dallas won the toss, made some headway but eventually had to punt after a third and two pass to Dez Bryant was broken up. Dallas' defense turned in another three and out and on the ensuing drive, Dallas was able to get into field goal range. Bailey booted his third and Dallas fortunately escaped the game with the victory.
Dez Bryant clearly was the offensive star for the game. He reeled in 12 catches for 145 yards and a score. He probably earned better, but a play where he broke free from a group tackle was quickly whistled dead for the completion of forward progress. Not much else worked for Dallas except for the standard "Jason Witten for 7" plays until the final few drives where Miles Austin was featured. Again, there was very little running game to speak of whether it was Felix Jones or Lance Dunbar. Romo ended up 35 for 50 for 313 yards, 1 TD and his third straight game without an interception.
The offensive line was again, like a broken record, a problem. Doug Free let rushers free several times, and Romo was under duress for pretty much the entire first half. They were able to stem the tide for much of the second half, but leaks appeared at several times. The defensive strategy was again tested without DE Kenyon Coleman, who anchored the Cowboys run game. Trent Richardson and Montario Hardesty both had some healthy runs on their ledger for the day.
The Cowboys defense did hold Weeden under wraps for most of the game, allowing two touchdowns to the tight end but only 210 yards on the game. The biggest issue was that the pressure was non-existant. Dallas will have to do much better in their next game against Washington and Robert Griffin III.
That game is only four days away, as Dallas will prepare for their annual Thanksgiving Day game. They'll host their most hated division rival with a chance to pull within a half-game of the division leading Giants who will face a 7-3 Packers team next Sunday after the bye. Washington defeated Philadelphia today to improve to 4-6 on the year and did so convincingly. Dallas will only have a couple of days to prepare for a team that they squeaked by twice in 2011 that now appears with a legitimate player at quarterback.
For now, though, Dallas is 5-5 and has won back-to-back games for the first time this season.