Playoff life on the line? Check. Injuries to every level of the defense? Check. Play the first half like zombies? Check. Have offensive line play rewrite the definition of offensive? Check. Come back in the second half like a recurring case of acid reflux (hell, causing acid reflux)? Check. Once again, the stumbling, bumbling Dallas Cowboys receive the halftime speech of champions and right the ship in the third and fourth quarters. This time, the return to competency was complete as they dismantled the greater ineptitude of the equally injured Philadelphia Eagles 38-33.
Before the Eagles final drive fizzled out on a failed fourth down, trailing by 11 with less than two minutes remaining, the two teams had scored on nine straight possessions. Points haven't been a problem for the Dallas Cowboys as of late, averaging 32.5 points a game in their last four contests (3-1). Unfortunately, the defense, once the strongest unit of the three, has given up 28.8 per game in becoming a suspect, leaky complement. Well, complement is being quite complimentary.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the first half, the Dallas defense was being eaten alive by back-up running back Bryce Brown. LeSean McCoy's understudy gained over 100 yards with two scores in the first half as he ran through autobahn-style lanes in the Dallas D. To top it off, Eagles receivers found themselves in solitude in a sea of green over and over throughout the game. The Dallas defenders could have found $6 in change in between the cushions they were providing the Eagles receivers.
Fortunately, the defense didn't get down on themselves. Josh Brent, filling in for Jay Ratliff who was out with a groin, continued his strong second half play (when he wasn't being blatantly held by Evan Mathis) and stripped Bryce Brown on a big third down run with Dallas up four. Rookie Morris Claiborne scooped up the ball and raced past the Eagles offense for the game clinching score.
They'd need every point after giving up a late 98-yard punt return that made the game's final margin.
Tony Romo's first of three touchdowns on the night pushed him out of a tie with all-time great Troy Aikman for the Cowboys career record. He now sits with 168. After going 10 for 10 in the second half with those three scores, he also surpassed 300 yards for the evening. This is the fifth time in the last six games that he's reached that total. This was the fourth time in five games that Romo did not throw an interception. He has 1584 yards, 10 TDs and 2 interceptions over that stretch and is well on his way to his fourth 4,000 yard passing season.
In what is becoming wash, rinse, repeat, Romo's top targets were Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Bryant has solidified himself as the Cowboys number one receiver, with gusto. His first catch was a great corral on a big third down in the first half. His other catches were huge. On the second half's opening drive, Romo performed his usual magic. Escaping the rush, he found Dez who was changing direction. Bryant raced up the field and juked the last line of the Eagles D to make it into the end zone and tie the score at 17. When Bryant scored his second touchdown of the game on a 5 yard wideout screen where he overpowered Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, he stamped the fact that he is here to stay. Hi haters.
Bryant finished with six catches for 98 yards and the two scores. Miles Austin only had two catches on the day, but he accounted for the other Romo passing touchdown. Austin caught a slant from Romo and raced 27 yards upfield for the score. The middle of the field was wide open all evening for the Cowboys; something Eagles opponents have enjoyed with frequency this season.
The wideouts were complimented by the steady Senator, who did his best Jason Witten impression once again. Witten totaled six catches for 108 yards with crucial catches throughout the game. The offense hummed starting midway through the second quarter. Before that, though, it was all bad.
The Dallas Cowboys problems are numerous. They begin with the myriad of injuries the team has suffered throughout the season; they're missing two defensive linemen, two linebackers and a safety on defense. They don't end there though. The team continues to have time management issues, penalty issues and blocking issues. While they all reared their head tonight, it appears that the defense trying to compensate for the injury problem has finally worn out every trick in Rob Ryan's playbook.
While rookie runners commonly have success in the NFL, allowing Bryce Brown to run through and around them on a repeated basis should be unacceptable. Of course, there was no support in the run game from the corners because they were giving yards of space to the wideouts, scared of being burned deep. They were anyway, but fortunately rookie Nick Foles missed on a one play that might have broken their backs, a bomb to Maclin who had burned Brandon Carr.
I make it a habit of DVR'ing one of my favorite shows, AMC's The Walking Dead, so I can watch Sunday Night Football uninterrupted. However, the Dallas Cowboys continue to put on their way-off Broadway interpretation of the zombie-heavy show with their first half performances, Today was no different as Dallas fell behind the Eagles early and were down by as many as 11 before they finally kicked into gear and moved down the field for a touchdown.
That touchdown was scored by DeMarco Murray, playing in his first game in six weeks. Murray was a sight for sore eyes and the Cowboys used his return to not only spark the running game, but also to bring back the play-action which Romo used beautifully on the touchdown pass to Austin. Murray totaled 83 yards and a score; it would have been more if he didn't donate a dozen by running backwards to kill clock late in the game.
Unfortunately, due to a questionable time management decision to call a timeout on 1st and goal from the 1/2 yard line with 45 seconds left in the first half, Philadelphia had enough time to march down the field on the now porous Dallas defense. Philly managed a field goal. to stretch the lead back to seven at the break.
Break is what a lot of fans probably did while watching Doug Free's blocking attempts on the Eagles Wide 9. He was routinely beaten; relinquishing sacks, holds, embarassment, frustration and curse words. Head coach Jason Garrett says that he demands accountability, but folks were hard pressed to understand why Jermey Parnell didn't get a shot at right tackle with Free playing so brutally. He wasn't the only problem in the first half; the Cowboys line just couldn't contain the Eagles pass rush. They were opening running lanes, but that seemed to favor the left-hand side; behind Tyron Smith and Nate Livings.
All in all, the Cowboys did enough to escape with a home victory; complete with moments where you could actually hear the Cowboys Stadium crowd. They even caused a Eagles timeout in a crucial third down situation, imagine that. The Cowboys have pulled themselves up .500 yet again and now face a crucial stretch with the playoffs still unlikely due to the way they play, but at least still possible.
We'll have more to come in the morning, but for now, revel, rant... do what you do. Cowboys win, 38-33.