The Dallas Cowboys were re-born - again - Sunday afternoon in a 21-14 win over the previously undefeated Indianapolis Colts. After stumbling through most of three quarters with uninspired play on offense, the Cowboys finally woke up and put together two late drives that ended in TD's and one drive that killed the clock and sealed a victory. The success of the Cowboys running game was a foregone conclusion before the game, but the Colts defense put up a stiff resistance and the Cowboys were unable to get untracked early. The Cowboys didn't abandon running the ball and it finally paid off as the bigger Cowboys' line began to wear down the Colts and Julius Jones found some room to run. JJ ended up with 79 yards on 22 carries and Marion Barber did what he does best, score touchdowns, with two on the day.
Tony Romo had a rough start after being sacked early and fumbling the ball, then throwing a bad interception when the Cowboys were driving. True to form, even after having two scoring opportunities squandered by Mike Vanderjagt misses, Romo remained poised and calmly led the Cowboys to 14 unanswered points in the second half lifting the Cowboys to victory. Statistically, it wasn't his best performance, but results-wise, he's never had a bigger win.
Much of the credit in the victory goes to a defense that held the high-powered Colts offense to 14 points. They managed to get four turnovers in the game, and turned one interception into seven points. Credit goes to many different players, including Bradie James who caused a fumble that Jay Ratliff recovered, and in a nice piece of symmetry, Ratliff caused a fumble that James recovered. Roy Williams made an interception at the goal line after he decked Dallas Clark just before Manning threw the pass. But the big one was the interception and score by Kevin Burnett, set up by Aaron Glenn tipping the ball, Roy Williams hitting Marvin Harrison and Burnett catching the ball and having the presence of mind to get up and run it. He got some good downfield blocks from DeMarcus Ware and Pat Watkins, and a final one from Jason Hatcher on Peyton Manning. The play was a microcosm of the Cowboys' defense on the day, never giving up and determined to keep Dallas in the game until the Cowboys offense got going.
The defensive line also managed to get pressure on Manning, securing two sacks and forcing Manning to throw passes under duress. DeMarcus Ware was very active, as was Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher. They also managed to hold the Colts to 88 yards rushing, even though on a couple of drives they let the Colts move the ball on the ground. The Cowboys actually showed a few new looks on defense, they blitzed some, but more than anything else the line just look more determined to create pressure. They were using bull-rushes and strength moves to back up Colt linemen into Manning's pocket space on the inside, while Ware showed his speed to the outside.
On the negative side of the ledger, there's Mike Vanderjagt. Every kick goes to the right, even the extra-points. I have no idea what his problem is, but they need to get it fixed quick. Luckily, Terence Newman wasn't seriously injured on a punt return, but he did give up a TD when he read a play wrong and dropped coverage on Reggie Wayne. Roy Williams got beat for a TD, but he did deliver some crushing hits and he picked off a pass to snuff a scoring drive. Some of the Colts bigger runs came when Bobby Carpenter was on the field and he struggled to get off blocks. But I won't say too much about that until I can watch the game again.
Terry Glenn came alive in the second-half for several crucial catches. The offensive line struggled in run blocking early, but stuck with it and dominated the Colts line late in the game. They also only gave up one sack when Dwight Freeney smoked Flozell Adams on a speed rush. But they held it together and managed to give the skill players the time and the room to get the victory.
In the overall scheme of things, this game was huge for Dallas. They won while many other contenders/pretenders in the NFC lost. They beat what was widely considered the best team in the league, which should give this team confidence that they are as talented as any team they'll play. With four homes games remaining out of the last six, Dallas has put itself in position to get 10 wins, the magic number. They also are still in contention for the NFC East crown, with the Giants playing on Monday night.
Just a huge win for the Cowboys. After a shaky start they stayed with their gameplan, they believed in their own talent, and they wore down a very good team. They finished the game the way you're supposed to, by running out the clock protecting a lead.
It's a stunning turnaround considering how badly they looked in their last home game, a lopsided loss to the New York Giants. But a halftime quarterback change that game, from Drew Bledsoe to Romo, has transformed the club. The Cowboys have won two in a row and three of four.
He was at his best on the final three drives, taking Dallas on drives of 68 yards to tie it, 80 yards to go ahead, and making enough first downs to burn the final 2:59 without letting Indianapolis get another snap.
Tony Romo is making a name for himself. Here's the box score.