Things looked really bad. With only 1:56 remaining in the first half, the Oakland Raiders took a 21-7 lead on the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas had been ineffectual on offense, had given up a gift touchdown on the opening kickoff, and only a return of the favor on a Matt McGloin fumble recovered on the Oakland 2 yard line had given the Cowboys any points at all.
The team was flat, and as was revealed after the game, Tony Romo was not well.
Tony Romo said he has the flu and took some meds to fight through it.
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) November 29, 2013
If you felt doubt at that moment that the game was pretty much over and the Cowboys were about to descend once again into .500 hell, it is understandable. That has been the pattern the past couple of years. But, as he did to pull out the win against the New York Giants the previous week, Romo rallied the offense and they drove 73 yards for a touchdown before the, um, exciting halftime festivities. The team came out of the prolonged halftime and looked completely different. 24 unanswered points gave them enough lead to withstand a last minute Oakland rally and win 31-24.
As Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News observed, this was a case of the Cowboys beating a bad team, but every win matters in the NFL. And given the state of the race in the NFC East, this is especially true for them, whether or not they cover the point spread.
And they beat the trend of not being able to keep momentum that has plagued them the past couple of years. They even beat two jinxes, with Tony Romo on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the team wearing the dreaded blue jerseys. (Personally, I like the way they looked, and would like to see more of the blue.) This was a gut check game, coming from 14 down. I am not sure the recent editions of the team could have done it the way this year's did.
There was mental toughness on display in AT&T stadium. And all three phases of the team rallied.
The offense got going. Most impressive was the running by DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, who were a true two-headed monster. Tyron Smith was superb, and saved the team (and Dez Bryant) from disaster by recovering Bryant's fumble on the drive to close the fist half. The rest of the line had a good night, with Ronald Leary getting mention for having his best game by some writers (although Doug Free got absolutely schooled on one play, which you can see here.) And Romo fought through his illness to give a typical November display of his leadership and talent.
The Raiders came into the game seen as primarily a running threat, but that is one aspect of the game Monte Kiffin was ready for, holding the fourth best rushing attack in the league to an anemic 50 yards. But McGloin played the first half like he was that other UDFA quarterback in the stadium, and Andre Holmes was suddenly the player Jerry Jones had always thought he was going to be. Unlike some other games, however, Kiffin came up with answers for the uncannily good passing game (and a mysterious inability of the referees to see DeMarcus Ware getting his jersey ripped off his back). With Sean Lee and Justin Durant still out of the lineup, Kyle Wilber continues to be a very pleasant surprise at strongside linebacker, recovering the fumble at the 2 and showing up several other times with good plays. Once again, the defense won the turnover battle, and now has taken the ball away 25 times this season.
Even the special teams got their feet back under them after Terrance Williams' fumble to open the game gave the Raiders an instant seven point lead. Cole Beasley did not have a lot of return yards filling in for the extremely valuable Dwayne Harris, but he is certainly exciting to watch. And is there any better feeling than needing a field goal to help put the game in the win column than knowing Dan Bailey is ready to split 'em?
One thing that the team had in this game to turn things around was leadership. You know, that thing that the Cowboys lacked, at least according to the popular meme? Well things are changing. Not the character of the team, which has always been there for those who really looked. No, now the real story is being reported, here by Clarence Hill, Jr.
But one thing is clear after Sunday's victory against the Giants: if they fall back, it won't be from a lack of leadership.
Quarterback Tony Romo's play, guidance and calm demeanor on that final drive in New York was the epitome of leadership.
And that was clear to the players on the field against the Raiders.
Dez on Romo and TD drive before half: ‘You see it on his face. You want to go to battle with him. You don’t want to screw it up.’
— Carlos A. Mendez (@calexmendez) November 29, 2013
It wound up a win. It was gutsy, gritty, and by the time it was over, the Cowboys were looking like the clearly better team. Coming back like that takes resilience and determination. Those are two qualities that Dallas will need if they are to keep the trend going and get into the playoffs. It was good to see them on display this Thanksgiving.
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