The Dallas Cowboys refuse to give up on the 2012 season, no matter how bad they look early in the games. How'd they pull this one off?
In a game that the Cowboys players and coaches had to enter with tremendously heavy hearts after the tragic loss of teammate Jerry Brown, Jr., an uplifting ending to a miserable, soggy day was deserved. Dallas didn't do much to inspire confidence throughout much of the contest, but as has been their custom over the last month, they showed tremendous resolve. Battered, bruised, but never considering themselves beaten Dallas scored 10 points in the games final seven minutes to eke out a victory and keep themselves in a heated NFC playoff picture.
The Bengals refused to win this game. In a contest where the opponent did everything in their power to mimic the issues that plague the good guys, Dallas overcame a nine-point second-half deficit to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on a last second field goal, 20-19. Dan Bailey hit his second field goal of the game, his sixth game-winning kick in a career less than two season's old, and pushed Dallas to above .500 for the first time since Week 3. Both teams now have a record of 7-6 as Dallas snapped the Bengals four game winning streak. Bailey's kick was his third game-winning attempt in three games against AFC North opponents; a possible preview to what next week's game with the rival Steelers might come down to.
Cincinnati dropped several key passes, most occurred on third downs throughout the game. They dropped several interception possibilities (Hello, Newman!) They had eight penalties including one block in the back on what could have been a game-sealing run by BenJarvus Green Ellis up 19-10 in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys were able to hold on that drive without giving up any points and used that momentum to turn things around.
Turning things around is what the offensive line had to do after another porous performance. Geno Atkins and his band of merry men harassed Romo relentlessly even though they only registered three sacks. The Cowboys had five of Dalton but the difference in pressure generated seems lopsided in the opposite direction. Atkins had one sack and three tackles for loss as the Bengals were in the backfield relentlessly. The Cowboys alternated right tackles Doug Free and Jermey Parnell on every other posession, but both they and Tyron Smith allowed pressures on Romo for the first three quarters. At one point late in the game, Nate Livings was injured but thankfully the Cowboys didn't put Derrick Dockery in, they put Parnell at left guard and earned a first down on a run by DeMarco Murray to the left side.
The Cowboys switched their offensive philosophy which created opportunities deep that were missed by Tony Romo earlier in the game, and finally got a drive going again. Dallas earned a first down, then on 1st and 20 after a Doug Free hold, Romo found Kevin Ogletree who fought through a hit to earn another first down. Two plays later Romo was finding Miles Austin for a huge third down completion to keep the drive going with a crossing pattern. On the very next play, Romo found Dez Bryant on a crossing pattern behind the corner and in front of the safety for the touchdown to cut the lead to 19-17.
It was Dez Bryant's ninth touchdown of the season. Remember last season, when Dez disappeared in the second half of a number of games? Not in 2012. Dez's ninth score was his ninth in the second halves of games and fifth in the fourth quarter. This clutch catch to bring the Cowboys within striking distance was another huge grab for the team's biggest receiving threat.
Now things were on the Cowboys defense, who to this point had only forced Cincinnati to punt twice and had allowed five scoring drives on the game (albeit four field goals). The team had escaped touchdowns mostly thanks to miscues by the Bengals. They stiffened in the fourth quarter though, when Anthony Spencer shot in to sack Andy Dalton on third and five.
Spencer's second sack of the afternoon came when Dallas played press coverage on all five Bengals receiving options and forced the third consecutive punt of the game for the Cowboys defense. Romo and the Cowboys had the ball inside their 30 with just under four minutes to pull off the comeback. Dallas had scored 28, 23, 28 and 28 second half points in their last four games, but would only need to reach 10 to turn this from a maddening loss into a cathartic victory.
The drive started with a Murray run, then a dropped Terence Newman interception to bring up third and five. Romo split two defenders to find trusty Jason Witten (four catches, 62 yards) for the first down. Romo would find Dez Bryant on the next play for nine and then DeMarco Murray forced his way over the yellow-line after running into the back of his linemen. Murray put in serious work on the drive, catching a dump off on the next pass. He scored Dallas' first touchdown of the game in the first half on a goal line dive that had tied the score at 10. This came after Brandon Carr's second interception of the game kept things close as Cincinnati was driving to push the lead to double digits.
Murray got the ball again on the next two runs to get another first down and the ball to Cincinnati's 35. After a throwaway in Murray's direction, Romo dumped it off to Murray again for 5 yards. On what might have been the playcall of the game, Jason Garret ran a shotgun handoff to DeMarco Murray who broke through a tackle and hand planted his way to the first down. It was a brilliant play-call as even if the run didn't gain the first down, it would have run down the clock as Cincinnati had wasted all of their timeouts on defensive alignment/personnel issues earlier in the half.
The Cowboys ran the eighth straight play to Murray to put the ball in prime field position for Dan "Split'Em" Bailey to nail a 40 yard field goal; which he did.
With the Redskins victory, both teams are now tied a half game behind the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East. They are also a half game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the final wild card berth. Both teams being chased play in late afternoon games. We'll be back with more as the week goes on, but for now, enjoy this heart attack win.