Thank goodness for the Dallas Cowboys defense.
After most ugly victories, the infamous rallying cry is "a win is a win". Well put that sucker on repeat this week, as the Cowboys escaped their home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers victorious by the score of 16-10.
DeMarcus Ware forced two strip sacks, including one on third down in the fourth-quarter of a one score game. I read ridiculous memes all the time as Dallas' struggles in some areas lead to silly things being said. The one about DeMarcus never comes through on important plays is quickly becoming the 1A to Tony Romo never winning big games. The defense line harassed Tampa all game long, forcing them to basically give up with time still remaining on the clock. When Dallas stretched the lead to two scores, Tampa proceeded to call running plays with time winding down instead of challenging the Cowboys secondary.
After giving up the early lead, Dallas' defense got it's first interception of the season when Sean Lee plucked a tipped third-down pass on Tampa's side of the field. It was Lee's seventh career pick in only 32 professional games. Following, DeMarco Murray worked his way into the end zone on a stretch play to the left to tie the score at 7. The rest of the game consisted of Dallas' defense stonewalling Tampa time and time again.
The offense, though? Scary. Penalties, blocking ineptness, drops, and miscommunications between QB Tony Romo and his receivers led to an embarassing display by Jason Garrett's troops for the second consecutive week. That will likely be the leading storyline throughout the week as Dallas has plenty of things to work on heading into next week's Monday Night tilt against the Chicago Bears.
They need to do something fast, because this offensive line is acting as if they have a hit out on their own quarterback. It's funny that Dallas faces Chicago next. Folks talked all week about Jay Cutler cursing out and bumping his offensive linemen. The ultra-classy Romo has every right to act the same way, except this quarterback takes the high road.
Although they finally succumbed to being placed in a tough spot by an offensive turnover, allowing a touchdown after a Tony Romo interception, Rob Ryan's unit deserves all of the credit today. They completely manhandled the Tampa Bay offense all day long. Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, Tampa's best two wideouts, were held without a catch until the two minute warning of the second half. That's not a typo, the second half.
This was all done without starting free safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who missed the game due to a strained calf. His absence led Ryan to get creative; as he slid star free agent acquisition cornerback Brandon Carr over to safety. When the opposition's leading receiver for most of the game was a backup running back with only an 11 yard catch- one would have to say the move was brilliant. Dallas shut down everything that the Tampa Bay offense wanted to do.
Unfortunately this might become a staple of 2012 as starting strong safety Barry Chuch left the game in the third for a leg injury that has now been deemed a ruptured achilles. He will be done for the year. Fortunately Michael Jenkins showed up today with nice press coverage and a great pass defense when he went up high and knocked the ball away from Vincent Jackson.
Tampa scored early in the first quarter after starting in Dallas' territory following a Romo interception. The ball actually went through Miles Austin's hands and was plucked by Aqib Talib who broke off Dez Bryant to make the play. Still, they had to be aided by two defensive penalties before making it to the one prior to a Josh Freeman to Luke Stocker hookup.
Other than that, the defense was pretty much perfect for the afternoon before a garbage-time field goal drive. That was the bright side for the game. Follow the jump for more, including the dark.
Where to begin. There was some good on the offense when they actually executed the plays. Miles Austin again is immune from the criticism, as he contributed 5 catches for 106 yards. Kevin Ogletree reappeared and caught five for 58. Dez Bryant also gave the team 6 catches for 62 yards. All three players made some tremendous grabs, snatching slightly errant passes out of midair. Dez also contributed a fourth-quarter 44 yard punt return (after frustratingly dancing around on previous attempts) where he zipped up the field to the Tampa 6. He was tripped up by the kicker, but that led to the game-clinching field goal by Dan Bailey. It was Bailey's third of the game.
The offensive line was atrocious. An early exit by their best lineman Nate Livings due to a hand injury was just the first bad sign. Fortunately, he would return soonafter. Unfortunately, the same mates surrounded him. The line gave DeMarco Murray absolutely no room to run; but at least that can be attributed somewhat to Tampa's defense which came into the game ranked third against the run. That wasn't the only problem though.
Doug Free had three false starts and a holding call while trying to match up against Tampa's Michael Bennett. Sixth offensive lineman Jason Witten chipped in two false starts of his own while contributing heartbreaking drop after heartbreaking drop.
The two combined for lunch-purging embarrassment of a block attempt on Bennett that almost got Romo knocked out cold. Late in the third, Bennett steamrolled Witten while Free was dancing around challenging air. This allowed Tony Romo to be completely blindsided... from the front. The drive should have been continued as Bennett smacked Romo in the earhole with the crown of his helmet; but alas the refs missed the call.
Sidebar: What the hell is wrong with Jason Witten? He had at least another three drops to go along with the penalties.. here's a twitter exchange that I feel sums up how every Cowboys fan is feeling.
Real Talk. RT @olddraper: Seeing Witten suck is killing my soul bruh.— KD Drummond (@KDP10for10) September 23, 2012
While Dallas was the benefit of a few missed calls as well, including an intentional grounding call on the very next snap that wasn't, it was hardly the only impact the refs made in the game.
In the first half, after Romo had escaped initial pressure to buy tons of time, a sideline referee inexplicably threw his hat into the end zone and underneath the foot of Kevin Ogletree. Romo has just released the ball when Ogletree stepped on the hat and slipped, forcing an incompletion on a ball that could have been a touchdown. You'd have to see it to believe it, so, here..
Fortunately, Dallas wouldn't really need to capitalize on all of their opportunities to win this game. If they had to, they'd probably be looking at a 1-2 record instead of the temporary reprieve.
The Cowboys had appeared to right the ship to start the second half. Romo and his receivers appeared to rediscover the slant that worked so well against the Giants in Week One. First, Ogletree got a first down on a third. On the next play, Dez Bryant came in from the left on a deep slant with DeMarco Murray's nice blitz pick-up. This was followed by a slant completion to Miles Austin that made it look like the Cowboys correctly made their halftime adjustments.
Nope, the protection broke down on the next play and Michael Bennett sacked Tony Romo. The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but replays clearly showed that Romo lost the ball before moving his arm forward in a push pass motion and it was overturned.
Leading up to the game I mentioned that the Bennett-Free matchup was much more worrisome than the Adrian Clayborn-Tyron Smith duel and that turned out to be correct. Dallas had no answers for him. Bennett would actually sack Romo three times on the day; looking as if he was playing on behalf of his brother Martellus' perceived slights by the Dallas QB.
Dallas would finally secure the game after James Hanna recovered an onside kick attempt (after failing at their own in the first half). Of course, Greg Schiano's Bucs don't quit, so the kneel-downs to end the game held the interest of all watching and leading the remaining fans to cascade boos down to the field.
Despite the win, the boos could have easily been over the Cowboys offensive, offensive effort. A wins a win, without question; but this team will have many of them to answer as the season starts to get deeper. It's a marathon, not a sprint.. we just all have to hope the equipment manager has put them in the correct shoes for the occasion.
When you here people recap the game, know this. I saw several media members question the move to take away the best cornerback and put him at safety instead of Jenkins and Scandrick. While I didn't call for the move in advance, I was immediately behind it due to Carr's superiority at tackling. We'll hear plenty of people questioning this team over the next week, and with plenty of good-reasoned ammunition. This won't be one of those topics.