Once again a Dallas Cowboys game went the way exactly nobody thought it would. A defensive first half, and repeated mistakes by Dallas made the game against the Houston Texans a much closer and more difficult one than Cowboys fans were hoping for.
But, as the saying goes, you are what your record says you are. Both teams, after all, came into the game at 3-1, and with them going strength against strength. Given that, the final 20-17 overtime win by the Cowboys should not be such a big surprise.
The first score of the game came with 11 seconds left in the first half, and Dallas had to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal after Terrance Williams had not one but two potential touchdowns go off his hands. The low score was despite the Cowboys clearly outplaying the Texans most of the half. Tony Romo was sharp, the offensive line was good, and the defense was very, very effective. But terrible play by the special teams, including a Dwayne Harris fumble and illegal blocking flags on every Dallas punt returns, combined with another DeMarco Murray first quarter fumble to keep the Cowboys out of the end zone. The Cowboys outgained Houston almost two to one, 165 yards to 86. The Texans have a fairly impotent offense, and Rod Marinelli had his charges playing extremely well. J.J. Wilcox had two outstanding plays on screens, knifing through the blocks and snuffing them out. Once again the pressure on the quarterback was not resulting in sacks, but clearly affected Ryan Fitzpatrick. Wilcox was in on that as well, almost getting to Fitzpatick on a blitz during the first series of the game.
The inability to score because of the mistakes made was the bad news. The way the defense kept Houston from having anything like a scoring threat throughout the first half was the good.
It got a little shaky to open the second half, with Dallas stalling on the first possession and the Texans finding their running game. Arian Foster took them to the end zone, carrying the ball on five of six plays for 59 yards, including the 15 yard touchdown.
Then the Cowboys answered, marching smartly down the field with two highlight plays. Jason Witten went over 10,000 yards for his career with a 34 yard catch to convert a third down, and Romo had the play of day a couple snaps later. J.J. Watt beat Tyron Smith with a jump that looked just like one of the ones DeMarcus Ware used to have, only minus the offsides flag. Romo spun out of Watt's grasp and found Terrance Williams, who redeemed himself with the 43 yard touchdown reception.
Dallas would be unable to finish the game in regulation. The defense got a three-and-out, and the Cowboys drove, only to have Romo throw a red zone interception. But Marinelli's charges came through again, and forced another three-and-out. Special teams finally came up with a good play, as Harris returned the ball 38 yards to the Texans 30. Murray took over, getting his fifth 100 yard game of the season, before Romo found Dez Bryant just inside the left pylon for a two yard touchdown.
With a 17-7 lead, the Dallas defense was unable to shut Houston down, and they drove to get a 29 yard field goal to make the make the score 17-10. But they were able to force the Texans to use up over seven minutes, leaving only 2:27 on the clock. The question became whether the Cowboys could get a first down and run the clock out.
The answer turned out to be no, as Dallas came up with a boneheaded mistake, taking a delay of game penalty after the Texans called a time out. That was followed by an intentional grounding call when Romo threw the ball away under heavy pressure. This pushed the Cowboys back to the 14 yard line for the punt. With 1:59 left on the clock, Houston got the ball at the Dallas 45, with one time out left. Fitzpatrick suddenly found his rhythm, and Houston only needed four plays to score a touchdown and tie the game at 17-17. Another late game collapse loomed.
The one mistake that Houston may have made was to leave 41 seconds on the clock, with Dallas having all three of its timeouts. Harris wasted five seconds and field position, but Romo was still able to get the ball to the Houston 35, setting up a Dan Bailey 53 yard field goal attempt. But he hooked it to the left, and we had overtime.
Houston got the ball to start overtime, and the first play, Foster gashed the defense again. It looked like the Dallas defense had finally faded late in this game. But once more, pressure on the quarterback, this time by Jeremy Mincey, forced a punt. Dallas was pushed back to their own 10 by yet another special teams penalty. A Murray run converted a third down, then on another third down, Romo threw up a prayer for Bryant.
Well, if you are going to put your game on a jump ball, Dez Bryant is a pretty good target. He put the ball in place to give Bailey another chance, this time from 49. And Split 'em wasn't going to miss a game winner twice in a row.
It was an uneven performance. Dallas had to overcome a -2 differential in turnovers, but in the end, the Cowboys are 4-1. And we'll take that any way we can.