The Dallas Cowboys needed to go into Tennessee to play the Titans and show they were not the team that got beaten up in the first game of the season.
That was accomplished. The defense showed up in a major way in the first half, and came very close to closing things out by halftime. They held the Titans to a paltry 68 yards and two first downs, making Jake Locker look absolutely hopeless. DeMarco Murray was a total beast, getting 111 yards in the first half alone, and finishing with 167 on 29 carries. The only negative was that Tony Romo still did not look sharp, and the Cowboys had too many drives stall in close, settling for three Dan Bailey field goals when at least one of the possessions should have resulted in touchdowns.
For a brief time after half, things got a little dicey. It was reminiscent of huge leads blown last year, as the Titans surged to 10 quick points. Locker looked like a completely different quarterback with the help of a bad tackle by Morris Claiborne that let Delanie Walker go 61 yards for a touchdown. But the Cowboys answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive (that might have gotten a wee bit of help from the zebras) and then Rolando McClain made an incredible juggling interception of a pass tipped by Henry Melton. The whistle was blown, robbing McClain of what probably was an easy touchdown, but the call was reviewed and the ball awarded to Dallas, leading to another filed goal by the supremely reliable Bailey.
Tennessee would mount another charge in the fourth quarter, moving quickly down the field, but the drive stalled after a near touchdown where Brandon Carr managed to knock the ball loose just as Nate Washington was going to the ground. Locker's fourth down pass was just out of bounds, Dallas took over, and with some gutsy running from Murray on a day that will go down as one of his best performances, Dallas ate up enough clock to finish things up and preserve the win.
The big story, though, was the repeated stops the worst defense in the history of professional football, as it was dubbed by so many, kept getting. They kept the Titans totally bottled up for a half, and managed to do just enough in the second half. Barry Church got the first turnover of the season for Dallas with his interception on the second play of the second quarter. Rolando McClain established that he is the new star of the defense. His acrobatic interception was just part of his day. He was consistently making jarring hits and was credited with a sack.
One problem remains defensively, as the pass rush still had trouble getting to the quarterback. Although the team was credited with two sacks, it was not coming primarily from the down linemen, with McClain's sack above added to one split by Melton and Kyle Wilber, who was in as a defensive end.
Offensively, there are going to be lingering questions about Tony Romo, who just does not look sharp. It did not appear that he had as many problems with seeing the field, but there was a definite lack of velocity on his passes. He would only wind up with 176 yards through the air, which was overshadowed by the 220 rushing yards accumulated by Murray, Joseph Randle, and Lance Dunbar. It remains to be seen just whether Romo is really back, or his back is still an issue. He was not helped by the four sacks the offensive line surrendered, with Doug Free having major problems in pass protection.
But the positives far outweigh any negatives. In addition to the big plays mentioned above, the defensive backs had a lot better coverage this game. Dez Bryant was still doing Dez things, getting 103 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line was consistently gashing huge holes in the defense.
And Dallas is 1-1. Things look far, far brighter for the Star.