Lots of things stand out from the game against the Dolphins, both positive and negative. The main thing though is that the Cowboys now stand at 7-4 and lead the division by half a game ahead of the Giants, who'll face the Saints in New Orleans on Monday night.
The win marked the fourth gamewinning drive and fourth quarter comeback for Tony Romo this season. For his career, Romo now has 13 fourth quarter comebacks and 14 game-winning drives
Incidentally, the Cowboys have now also won four straight games, the longest winning streak since they won seven consecutive games in 2007.
After the break, a couple of thoughts on things we learned from this game.
The Cowboys have found themselves a complete back. DeMarco Murray is 176 yards away from breaking Tony Dorsett's rookie rush record. That is pretty impressive all by itself. There's no question that Murray's emergence has been a season-saving transformation for the Cowboys. But what impressed me even more than his long breakaway plays against the Rams is what he showed in the last two games where his performance did not light up the stat sheet but proved critical nonetheless.
Take Murray's fourth quarter performance yesterday. After two Witten catches on the final drive, Murray got the ball five consecutive times. He ran for between three and nine yards on each run against a defense stacked against the run and bled the clock from 2:41 to :17, forcing the Dolphins to use up their final two timeouts in the process.
Even more impressively, Murray had the presence of mind to fall down on runs to the outside instead of trying for some extra yards that may have forced him out of bounds and stopped the clock. Incidentally, Felix Jones did not get a single carry in the game.
Where was DeMarcus Ware? Everywhere. Ware only shows up on the stat sheet with one assisted tackle and and one fumble recovery. Many fans and observers who're caught up in the number of sacks Ware has and could have by the end of the season consider that stat line pretty disappointing.
But Ware was as disruptive as ever, just differently. The Dolphins' All-Pro left Tackle Jake Long got flagged three times for a false start and once for holding ('tackle' was the words the announcers used). Ryan also used Ware in coverage a lot, and Ware was critical in disrupting a potential TD pass to Reggie Bush at the end of the second quarter.
Shades of 81. Laurent Robinson has played in nine games for the Cowboys this season. He has now caught a TD in five consecutive games, bringing his TD total for the season to seven. If Robinson continues at this pace, he'll come very close to match the season TD total of another player who wore the 81 for the Cowboys a few years back.
Yesterday, Robinson once again proved to be Romo's favorite target, getting 12 balls thrown his way and catching seven of them. But it's not just Robinson's route running skills that make him Romo's preferred target. For one thing, Bryant and Witten are receiving a lot of double coverage from opposing defenses, which leaves Robinson with more favorable matchups. But the other thing seems to be that Robinson looks to be similar to Romo in his uncanny ability to keep plays alive. Robinson calls that ability the I-AA connection:
"He seems like he always finds me. It’s kind of crazy," Robinson said. "I call it a little I-AA connection because he went to Eastern Illinois and I went to Illinois State."
"When I see him scramble, I’m scrambling," Robinson said. "I’m running the same direction as him so he can see me. He made a great throw, and it was an easy catch for me because he put the throw right on the money."
Now imagine what could happen if Austin rejoins the mix.
Imagine a game where a Tom Brady throws two interceptions and then comes back to win a close game by driving the length of the field on the last drive of the game for a comeback win. Do you think the headlines would have been about 'another scare' or an 'escape'? Seriously?
Oh wait, I just described Brady's game against the Cowboys in week six of this year. Brady threw two interceptions in that game, at home, and led the final drive to beat the Cowboys 20-16 with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Sound familiar? Eery similarity to yesterday's game intended.
Sample headlines after that game: Difficult to stop Brady in the clutch - Tom Brady & Co save the best for last, cool under pressure - Brady, Pats shine in clutch - Tom Brady is the NFL's most clutch player - you get the drift.
You can only play the cards you're dealt. The Cowboys have now won five of their last six games. While there's nothing to be done about the way the NFL has scheduled the games this year, those last six opponents are a combined 21-40 for the season. None of them currently have a winning record, none of them are serious playoff contenders at this point. The Cowboys are 1-2 against teams with a winning record (won against 49ers, lost to Patriots & Lions). The Giants are the only team left on the schedule with a winning record, so the Cowboys could conceivably play just good enough to win against some bad teams and still make the playoffs. But they will have to significantly elevate their game to have a chance once in the playoffs.
Then again, every team has a slump every once in a while. Might as well get it out of the way in the middle of the season, and if you come out of the slump a couple of wins ahead of where you were, so much the better.
The Cowboys may or may not have a working red zone defense: The Cowboys gave up three red-zone touchdowns in three chances last week against Washington, and it left defensive coordinator Rob Ryan shaking his head.
"By now we should be a top-10 red zone defense like we always are," Ryan said last week. "Right now, we’re not. Obviously, we need more focus there."
Apparently, the Cowboys did focus on that in the little time they had, because the Cowboys did not allow a TD on four red zone trips by the Dolphins. That's nothing to sneeze at.
After ten games, the Cowboys had allowed 17 touchdowns on 29 opponent red zone possessions. That 58.6% defensive red zone TD percentage ranked them 13th in the NFC, so any improvement there is highly welcome.
BTB's Brandon Worley speaks from the heart:
You know, at some point I would like to just enjoy a Cowboys win.
The ridiculous standard some have for this team is frustrating. The Cowboys are 7-4…..enjoy the win, and eat a damn turkey leg.
Stone Cold Bailey - Dan "Split'Em" Bailey - "Dan Bailey Rocks" - Dan "The Bondsman" Bailey - Steely Dan - Dan The Man - Darth Bailey - ???