I am mostly a rational man, but there are times I see things in this world and wonder if there are not some strange, unseen forces beyond our ken that influence things in mysterious ways. At times I believe in magic. In one particular kind, at least. There is a strange, supernatural force that causes NFL teams and players to have performances beyond their normal abilities when they face the Dallas Cowboys. If they are good, they become almost superhuman, as we have seen Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Calvin Johnson do this season. And if they are bad, they suddenly find a way to play like legitimate contenders, as the entire Minnesota Vikings team did.
I don't know how else to explain it, but I swear it is true. The Vikings have been very bad, one of the worst in the league this year, and yet they played the Cowboys right to the end. Only a brilliant final drive, after a fourth quarter interception that could easily have led to a stunning defeat, managed to save the day and pull out a narrow four point win.
Many say it is Dallas playing to the level of its opponent, but I don't think that explains how some elevate themselves. I just accept that it is.
Having gotten that out of my system, I wonder what the win over the Vikings means in this strange yet so typical season for the Cowboys. The offense again sputtered for much of the game. The line had obvious problems protecting Tony Romo for much of the game, making it clear that losing Brian Waters is an issue. Bill Callahan gave up totally on running the ball, despite having DeMarco Murray back. Murray only got four carries, and the team set a franchise record for fewest rushing attempts in a game with nine, despite Murray having a 27 yard run early in the game. And the receivers, who for the most part have done a very good job catching the ball this season, had far too many drops, killing drives.
The defense gave up 140 yards to Adrian Peterson. AD showed he is still one of the great running backs and the game calling itself showed a sudden return to rationality for Minnesota, which had been giving him very few touches in the weeks leading up to this game. Dallas also let Christian Ponder get loose on some key runs, including a touchdown where Ernie Sims was in position to stop him, and raising questions as to just whose cornflakes Bruce Carter has urinated in to keep him on the sidelines so much when he was clearly playing much better. Ponder was also much more successful passing the ball at times than normal, which indirectly leads to questions about the secondary. Of course, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox being inactive with injuries did not help.
In the end, though, the Cowboys managed a win. And they did it, once again, with some big plays when they needed them.
The patchwork, street-player defensive line came up with one of the biggest, the George Selvie strip and Nick Hayden recovery for a touchdown. I will be very curious to see what the scores at Pro Football Focus are like this week for this bunch, but it looks like the team is building a group of Rushmen that can get the job done, one signing at a time. Everette Brown is the latest addition, and he showed up with a sack and a quarterback hit. And Jarius Wynn may have only been credited with one tackle in the game, but on Selvie's strip sack in the end zone, he laid some wood on Ponder. Despite the never ending streak of injuries, including another one today that took Jason Hatcher, the best Rushman available today, off the field late, this bunch keeps fighting and somehow is slowly getting better.
And Romo started to look like the Romo we need. It was not consistent, but he had a couple of Romodini type scrambles. He put a scare into Cowboys fans with his fourth-quarter interception that could have been the end of things, but the defense rose to the occasion and forced a three and out. Then Romo had one of the best series of the season, taking the team 90 yards in nine plays, and capping it with an improvised scramble and pass to Dwayne Harris. Harris' touchdown put the team in position to close it out with 35 seconds left, and also solidified his membership in the "Receivers Who Make Miles Austin Superfluous" club.
This time, the Cowboys had milked the clock down, perhaps inadvertently, and were not facing Peyton Manning or Matthew Stafford. The game ended on a pass falling harmlessly to the field inside the 10 as time ran out.
And instead of having the most embarrassing loss of the weekend, the Cowboys cling to the lead in the NFC East. It is not going to be easy to keep, as the Washington Redskins are starting to win some games, and Nick Foles went insane against the Oakland Raiders, tying the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game with seven. The next game for the Cowboys is against the New Orleans Saints, who were exposed a bit by the New York Jets. There is now video on how to beat the Saints.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, it shows you do it by running the ball down their throats.
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