Another harsh Monday for Cowboys nation follows another heart-breaking loss. This time, Dallas could not manage to hold onto a 12-point lead over their division rival, couldn't complete the last-second rally to force overtime, and ultimately lost hold of the NFC East. For those that still believe in the team, the path to the playoffs has become more treacherous and the Cowboys will have to rally and win their final three games or at the least the rematches with the Eagles and Giants. For those that no longer believe, the Cowboys have once again begun their December slump that will end with shame and without a playoff berth.
While I am never one to lose hope and am often called an optimist to a fault, I certainly understand why many fans may have given up on the 2011 season. Time after time it seems these Cowboys can't closeout a victory that seems well in hand. The Cowboys continue to lose games that a real playoff contender would have won with over a seven point margin. The halftime of games has become some strange magic trick where the solid team of the first half disappears and is replaced with a far more inadequate version.
There will be tons of blame that befalls the Dallas Cowboys after such a tragic loss, and Valley Ranch best pass out umbrellas since it will all hit the fan. However, this will not be one of those reads. If you feel like venting frustration and trying to find out what is wrong with the team, you may not want to continue reading after the link. Here we will go through a far more painful exercise...giving credit to the opponent where it is due.
At the end of the first half, the Cowboys overcame a turnover and the defense held on two redzone drives to force field goals. With little over a minute left in the half, the Cowboys managed to drive down the field and again take the lead to end the first half. Yet at the end of the game, the team could not accomplish the same, giving up touchdowns and failing in their last minute comeback. There were certainly plenty of mistakes made by the Cowboys that helped the Giants win the game - missed opportunity on the pass to Miles Austin, DeMarcus Ware's (and others') penalties, blown coverages, and, of course, the blocked field goal that would have forced overtime.
But the Cowboys did not lose this game on their own. The Giants were not an inept team that just got lucky. Dan Bailey didn't simply miss the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, it was blocked by an impressive players making a big play. As much as it pains me, there are Giants that deserve a lot of credit for defeating the Cowboys.
New York ranked as the worst rushing offense in the league coming into Dallas on Sunday night. The Cowboys defense managed to keep the dynamic Ahmad Bradshaw to a measly twelve yards on eight carries. D.J. Ware actually lost a yard on two carries. But a usual suspect stepped up for the Giants. The bruising running back with a bad attitude and poor enough character to launch his helmet into the opponent's stands was once again a bane for the Cowboys. Brandon Jacobs managed to surpass 100 yards rushing on only 19 carries - just over 5.3 yards a carry. As the game wore on, it seemed Jacobs was gaining more yards after contact and breaking more tackles. Personal feelings aside, I must give Jacobs credit for his performance. He has never averaged over 100 yards per game over a full season, and in fact has averaged less than 55 per game the past three, but he always manages to do damage to the Cowboys.
Speaking of Giants players I dislike, there was one that has bugged me since his rookie year when he whined about the team that drafted him and inevitably forced a trade. As difficult as it is to put in writing, I must now respect Eli Manning. Not because he managed to win a Super Bowl nor because he can somehow win games in the fourth quarter and have his teammates believe in him despite continually pouting like a six year-old. Eli Manning played remarkably well in the face of constant pressure and the relentless blitzing from the Cowboys.
Looking simply at the stat sheet, you would think the Giants had a better pass-rush and their offensive-line played better than the Cowboys' young unit with a backup center. However, it isn't true. Tony Romo did have some pressure to contend with and was sacked three times, including once for a safety. But for most of the game he had plenty of time to scan the field and the majority of sacks would be considered coverage sacks. On the other hand, Eli Manning rarely had more than three seconds to throw the ball, and somehow he always found the open receiver or managed to throw the ball away. The entire game I was infuriated by how close a play seemed to being a sack only to suddenly become a big play for the Giants.
Yes, there were a few blown coverages that led to easy touchdowns. But all night, Eli Manning managed to make something out of nothing, throwing off his back foot or with a defender bearing down on him. Yes, tighter coverage in the secondary by the Cowboys would have certainly been welcome, but credit must be given to Eli. He is the single biggest reason the Cowboys did not get a sack on the stat sheet, not to mention, the biggest reason the Giants managed to win that game.
Even with all the mistakes, most quarterbacks do not get out of this game without being sacked and with 400 yards passing. The Cowboys pressure was impressive, even though there were no sacks. Eli Manning simply managed to always find a way to beat the blitz or get rid of the ball. He didn't manage to complete even 60% of his passes and blown coverages were required for him to throw two touchdowns, but Eli Manning was very impressive against Rob Ryan's persistent blitz packages.
1st Quarter: NYG 2 - DAL 0
On the Giants second drive, following the safety against Romo, the Giants find themselves in trouble on a 3rd and 7. With DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher bearing down, Eli stands tall in the face of pressure and throws deep to Hakim Nicks for 66 yards. This play led to the Giants opening points as Nicks reached the five yard line.
3rd Quarter: NYG 15 - DAL 20
Giants face 2nd and 22 and the Cowboys send only three rushers but Ware is on Eli in a blink of an eye. In less than two seconds, Eli manages to get rid of the ball and take advantage of blown coverage for a 17 yard gain.
On the ensuing 3rd down, the Cowboys blitz and have Eli backpedaling from the word go. He hangs in there as he scans deep, and again takes advantage of blown coverage for a TD strike.
It is true that on all three of these plays the Cowboys coverage had failed in some way, usually leaving someone wide open. However, not every quarterback will be able to identify those opportunities in under three seconds with rushers breathing down their necks. The Cowboys secondary was by far the weakest part of the team Sunday night, but Eli Manning made the Cowboys pay on virtually every opportunity while other quarterbacks may have been running for their lives.
The Cowboys made plenty of mistakes Sunday night, but they would have actually beat a lot of teams with that performance. They ran well, threw the ball fairly well, and the defense had several three-and-outs and forced field goals on redzone attempts. It should be recognized that the Cowboys weren't terrible in every aspect of the game during the entire game. Also, the Giants were not some scrub team that won only because of the Cowboys' mistakes. It takes a good team to take advantage and capitalize on your every mistake. It takes a gutsy and smart quarterback to make big plays instead of trying to duck & cover in the face of Ware and Co. The Cowboys got outplayed because they allowed themselves to make too many mistakes. But I still believe they have the ability to win out and make the playoffs if they simply start playing with consistency and minimize those mistakes. Eli won't be so lucky/good every game.