I think the 2011 season will be remembered as the great manic depressive cycle for Dallas Cowboys fans. Up, down, up, down - the emotional swings have been gut wrenching and exhausting.
But at least this week we are on one of the upward swings. Once again, we can enjoy being alone in first place in the NFC East. And it is always much more fun handing out the Game Ball after a win.
I actually have a special, non-Cowboys supplemental Game Ball to start things out with. The first impulse would be to award it to the Washington Redskins, but that is just wrong on such a variety of levels.
So I am awarding it to Eli Manning and the rest of the New York Giants - for stinking it up and dropping a game behind the Cowboys. Way to go, guys! I was hoping we could depend on you.
Now, to trot out a cliche that has already been extremely overused, the Cowboys control their own destiny. They still have to take care of business - but that is a topic for somewhere else. For now, let's look at what the Cowboys did well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
My ideas on that after the jump.
I have to mention Felix Jones, who had his second straight 100-yard rushing game. He has stepped up and allowed the team to keep going after super-rookie DeMarco Murray went down. There have been several discussions 'round these parts about how he has responded, but all I know for certain is that he has manned up and carried the load. I really like what he is doing, and hope he can carry on - for as long as the team needs him this season.
I looked at the receivers. There were a lot of good performances, but what jumped out at me was how the catches were spread out. Six receivers had at least three catches, with Miles Austin getting five. That is balance. The group as a whole needs to be recognized, I think. So Felix, Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson, Jason Witten, and one other guy who will be discussed later all get recognized here.
And speaking of groups, how about the job the defense did? They gave up one touchdown and held Tampa Bay to 190 total yards. While it is true that the Buccaneers are a pretty dismal team, this is still the NFL, and that is a very impressive job. This week, Rob Ryan and his bunch did not let down the side.
But let's face it, when you talk about the performances, there is one name that stands out. Tony Romo had one of the best halves a Dallas quarterback has ever had, and wound up with a 133.9 overall rating. Three touchdown passes and a quarterback sneak for another score. Pretty impressive.
Even more was the way he threw those touchdowns. All were done in the now familiar fashion of Tony moving around and extending the play while his receivers could come open. He even managed to bounce off a lineman and still find Austin for the first touchdown. Right now, there is no quarterback in the NFL that can make those kinds of plays better than Tony.
So I giving the Game Ball to Tony - so he can hand it off.
Yes, that's right. While I acknowledge just how good Tony was in the game, and that he deserves recognition, I think that the Game Ball actually needs to wind up with someone else. Well, several someones.
They are called backups, or role players. They are not the stars on a team. But no team can succeed without them. Individually, they may play a small role in any victory. But taken together, they are often just as important to the win as the star passer, stud runner, or elite sack artist. And Saturday night, for the Dallas Cowboys, they were crucial.
And besides, the quarterback gets all the glory (at least when the team wins), and Tony already has one Game Ball this season. You may disagree with using that as a consideration, but I am the one being paid the nonexistent bucks to do this, so I get to make the call.
Let's start with the newest Cowboy of them all, Sammy Morris. A 34 year old, twelve year veteran signed off his couch to come in and provide depth with the loss of Murray and Phillip Tanner. Going into the game, he looked to be the Right Kind of Guy, but there was some serious skepticism about how effective he could be on the field.
So he comes in, after three practices, and runs for 53 yards on 12 carries. That is just one yard shy of exactly half what Felix had rushing. That seems to be just about perfect for your second back to give the starter some rest.
And let's also look at someone who gets abused regularly here, Martellus Bennett. There is an ongoing and often acrimonious debate about what his value to the team is as a blocker, but almost everyone wants him to have a bigger role in the passing game. Well, against the Bucs, Marty B was part of that outstanding job by the collective receiving corps, snagging all three of the balls thrown his way, while obviously doing his job to help Felix and Sammy accumulate 161 yards.
Of course, any discussion of the run brings up Tony Fiammetta. Now, he did not have the best night, with some missed blocks - but I still notice that every time he doesn't play, there is no 100 yard rusher, but when he is in the lineup, there is. That is good enough for me.
And don't forget that scary moment at the end of the game when Tyron Smith went out (fortunately, not a serious problem according to preliminary reports). Jermey Parnell only had to play five snaps at RT, but he was laying some wood, making the best of his chance. I think this kid has a future with the team.
But as much as the role players did on offense, it was what the ones on the other side of the ball did defensively that really demands some consideration. In one of the most complete defensive performances (if not the absolute best) of the season, Jay Ratliff played all of nine snaps. And DeMarcus Ware was on the field for seven.
One of the absolute best pass rushers and an extremely good nose tackle sat out for over three quarters of the defensive snaps. And the defense was dominant. How in the world did that happen?
Victor Butler. Alex Albright. Sean Lissemore. Marcus Spears. Clifton Geathers. Even Keith Brooking and Bradie James made key contributions. They stepped up, some for a sizable number of plays, others for just a handful, but all were part of the effort that made the absence of DWare and Rat easy to miss (and the announcers weren't really on top of it, particularly Ratliff being out).
When you add that to the fact that Tony did his damage before halftime and the defense carried the load after, I am asking Mr. Romo to hand that ball off to the guys who backup and fill in. They are the ones who truly deserve the Game Ball this week.