Final Score: 49ers 28 - Cowboys 17.
You have to keep telling yourself it is just one game. But how do you keep from wondering if this will be the season the Dallas Cowboys fall apart after the horrendous showing they had against the San Francisco 49ers on opening day?
The disasters starting coming early, as DeMarco Murray fumbled the ball on the third play of the game, leading to an instant touchdown for the 49ers' defense. Then things started to come unglued for Tony Romo as he repeatedly threw into coverage and gave up three interceptions in the first half. On two of the passes, he had almost certain touchdowns to wide open receivers that he simply missed. On one play, he had a wide open Terrance Williams running free for the end zone, but he went for a triple-covered Dez Bryant, leaving Dez to take a big shot in the back. Then, down in the red zone, he missed a quick and easy touchdown to Dwayne Harris and got picked again trying to find Jason Witten.
The strength of the Cowboys was supposed to be the offense, particularly the line. They had a few breakdowns in pass protection, but one thing that did work out the way we had hoped: The running game was working all game long. DeMarco Murray had 95 yards at the half, and went over 100 two plays in to the second half, finishing with 118 yards on 22 carries (blowing that tired meme apart). The offensive balance everyone has pined for was clearly there. Midway through the third quarter, the Cowboys had run 22 passing plays and 23 running plays. The problem was all those turnovers, and all the points they led to.
One place where the Cowboys got away from the running game was in close to the goal line. Twice the Cowboys had the ball on the two, and both times instead of running the ball in, they went to the pass. The end zone interception was of course a disaster, and the second one, on 3rd and 1, could have cost them, but fell incomplete, allowing the Cowboys to get their first touchdown of the game by using Murray to bash it in.
Outside of those puzzling plays, Scott Linehan did call a pretty good game. He did clearly stick with the run through most of the game, and the problems with the passing game seemed to fall squarely in Romo's lap.
Surprisingly, the defense actually held up fairly well. The line, with the help of some blitzing, was able to get some pressure. The mix and match linebacking unit seems to have found a winning combination, as Bruce Carter, Rolando McClain, and Justin Durant all had some good pays, and were arguably the best part of the defense. (Durant went out with injury in the fourth quarter, however, along with Barry Church.) The problem was the secondary, which stayed in zone out of fear of Colin Kaepernick and his running ability. And we all know that playing zone is not the best way to utilize these defensive backs. There were too many times the 'niners had wide open receivers for easy completions, letting them convert third downs and get big chunks of yardage.
The 49ers running game was not the problem many had anticipated early, but it started to show up big late in the game, when they used it to eat up clock and move down the field. By the time they missed a field goal that was fairly immaterial, there was not enough time left. The Cowboys would grind their way down the field for a late touchdown, but the hole they dug for themselves was far, far too deep. After a failed onside kick, all the Cowboys could do was watch the 49ers burn the clock to the final 28-17 score.
Coming into this game, there was much that was unknown. Some things are now known about the Cowboys. But one huge, major question now looms: What happened with Tony Romo? Was this a problem of not getting enough reps in training camp as they tried to protect his back? There has been a lot of talk about Romo having his best years ahead of him, but unless something changes, and changes fast, then you can forget that. He did not look like he did in his prime. If this is just something that developed because he was idle for so many practices and snaps in the preseason games, then things are not totally lost. But if this is sign that his skills, or his confidence, has started to seriously wane, then this could be a major, major issue. The Cowboys have gone all in on him.
For now, it is just one game. It may be merely a team and quarterback that needs to get its act together. But if it is a sign of things to come, then this will be a long, long season. And if this is the start of a decline for Romo, then the problems will extend for several years to come.