On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys managed to do what they couldn't do last year. The 2005 Dallas Cowboys had a chance to work their way into the playoffs when they went to the Meadowlands as a 7-4 team, they lost that day and never recovered the rest of the season. This year the 7-4 Cowboys were not about to let that chance slip away. They met up with a wounded Giants team that came out fighting and put together a very credible game. A game almost good enough to turn the tables on the high-flying Cowboys, one that could've changed the fortunes of two franchises. Instead, this year's Cowboys team fought back, and prevailed with a determined effort from its QB, hard running from an emerging RB, and a rejuvenating kick from a forgotten kicker.
Tony Romo entered Sunday's game with five incredible starts under his belt. He was doing it with such ease that Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach felt compelled to comment that it's not as easy as he was making it look. It almost felt like Romo would never have anything except a flawless stat line. On Sunday, he had to live the life of a mere mortal QB. He had an interception early that wasn't entirely his fault, but he was fortunate enough to get the ball back immediately. He had another interception that was entirely his fault and he also managed to put the ball on the turf on a 3rd and 2 play that the Cowboys recovered. He couldn't find the endzone through the air all day, his first drive was wasted by a missed FG, and the offense wasn't moving as effortlessly as it had been in previous games. This was a game where a QB has to find a way to win. They have to remain confident that they can get the job done. The Giants kept the pressure up by matching scores with the Cowboys and the defense gave up 10 4th-quarter points, forcing Romo to dig deep to win the game.
It wasn't like Romo played badly; he did complete close to 60% of his passes and had 257 yards. But he wasn't able to throw for any TD's and he played a little careless with the ball in the first half. Still, when everything mattered in the 4th-quarter, he twice lead us to go-ahead scores, sealing the game with a 5-play, 40-yard drive in the last minute. This was a growth game for Romo. To win a game on the road, inside the division, with the NFC East lead hanging in the balance, all while having one of your poorer outings of the year, is a learning experience for the kid. And one that should serve him well over the rest of the season.
Marion Barber III is slowly becoming more than a 3rd-down back and a goal line specialist. He's now pushing Julius Jones for the featured back spot. Barber is money on the goal line; he has 13 TD's and is leading the NFC in that category. He's also getting around 50% of the carries over the last few games. He's been the leading rusher over the past two weeks and is the guy the Cowboys use to close the deal at the end of games. It's always nice to be the starter, but when it matters down at the goal line or at the end of the game; the Cowboys are turning to the closer.
When Parcells rolled the dice on Romo, he came up a winner. Never one to be content, Parcells rolled the dice again when he cut Mike Vanderjagt and signed Martin Gramatica. He came up a winner, again. At this rate, he should make a side trip to Las Vegas and put some real money on the table. It didn't look good to start with when Gramatica pushed his first kick to the right, the Tuna was probably already flipping through his mental Rolodex of kickers searching for a replacement. By the end of the night, Gramatica put a smile on Parcells face so big that Matt Bahr should be worried about remaining the only member of Parcells' personal Kicker Hall of Fame. Gramtica's got a lot of work to do on his kickoffs, but when the chips were on the table, he was holding pocket aces. Of course, a kicker is only as good as his last week, especially when the Tuna is the coach, so as the coach is fond of saying, "we'll see."
The Cowboys are the hot team in the NFC along with the Saints. They are the two teams with all the momentum. After next Sunday, only one of them will still be the hot team. Next week, Romo might go back to playing in the rarified-air of the elite QB's, piling up stats that have people thinking Pro Bowl, but if he doesn't, we now know he's still capable of winning games. If he's struggling, he can turn to MB3, who is getting stronger as the season wears on. And if things get bad, and it looks like the Cowboys may lose, just call on Martin Gramatica. He'll bring a smile to your face, just ask the Tuna.