The Dallas Cowboys overcame a three turnover deficit to win their first game of the season over the New York Giants. But they were unable to do it a second time, as Matt Cassel was intercepted three times in his first start for Dallas, and they fell to the Giants in the rematch, 27-20 for their fourth loss in a row. The defense only gave up one touchdown, but a kickoff return for a touchdown and one pick six were difference makers in the score. Even one last chance with a little under a minute and a half went up in smoke when Cole Beasley muffed the punt inside the 15 yard line, and the Giants just went into the victory formation since Dallas had used up all its time outs. The worst part was that the Cowboys could have won, if not for the mistakes.
The season is not over for the Cowboys, but they now are dead last in the NFC East. There are some signs of hope, but they have to turn them into a couple of wins quickly or the season may be too far gone.
There were some unexpected players who certainly stepped up for Dallas. Darren McFadden had his first 100 yard game of his Cowboys tenure, getting 152 total. Brice Butler had some very key catches, and Devin Street made a beautiful catch in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The running game finally found itself as it began to wear the Giants down late, and Dallas had 233 yards on the ground.
Once again the Cowboys' defense was unable to get any takeaways of its own, and only managed two sacks.
It became clear early on why the Cowboys went with Cassel over Brandon Weeden, and it certainly looked like the correct move before halftime. In the first half, Cassel had already completed two passes for over 20 yards, a 27 yard completion to Terrance Williams and a 35 yard strike to Jason Witten that set up Dallas' second quarter touchdown. He also showed that he is pretty smart as Witten became his favorite target, connecting with him for six completions in the first half. No other receiver had more than two. He was not perfect by any means, and barely escaped a pick six on an ill-advised attempt to connect with Cole Beasley. But he showed he was a real threat to go more than five or ten yards downfield. Most importantly, the team did not go three and out with him once before halftime, which kept the defense from getting worn down early.
A very effective running game was also a part of the equation, as the kinds of holes that have been missing for so much of the season started opening up. The Cowboys amassed 98 yards before halftime. Christine Michael was not a significant part of the first half game plan, which no doubt surprised many. However, pre-game remarks from some of the beat reporters indicated that Michael had just not been able to prove to the team that he should replace Joseph Randle as the starter. Randle came out running hard, getting 24 yards on two carries, but he went to the sideline with a back problem. McFadden replaced him, and looked better than he had up to this game. He had 53 yards by half, including a one yard touchdown plunge where he went low rather than trying to leap over the pile. Perhaps he pays more attention to the coaches.
The Cowboys won the toss but elected to defer to let the defense try to stop the Giants. It paid off as they held around midfield and then drove for a punt. But the defense was not getting to Eli Manning as well as it had hoped, partly because the unheralded Orleans Darkwa was extremely effective in his first action of the day, running the ball for 47 yards and a touchdown to put the defense back on its heels. But Greg Hardy did get his third sack of the season, giving him the team lead with only six quarters of play under his belt.
Dallas got the ball to open the second half with a 13-10 lead, but disaster struck early after the Cowboys got to midfield. Cassel threw a ball towards Terrance Williams, but he appeared to stumble a bit breaking towards the sideline and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted the ball, streaking 58 yards down the sideline for the pick-six. The interception my not have been really on Cassel, but it put the Cowboys behind by four. On the next possession, the Cowboys were driving but Cassel put too much air under a deep throw to try and score, and the fall was picked off at the one yard line. It was one case where Cassel's relative lack of arm strength and perhaps some rust cost him. Rueben Randle then went all Odell Beckham to pull in a one-handed grab that got the Giants out to midfield. Then Shane Vereen got loose for a 39 yard run. The defense was gashed on several occasions by the New York running game.
A touchdown would have put the Cowboys down by two scores, but Jack Crawford and Hardy combined for the second sack of the game, holding the Giants to a field goal and keeping the deficit at seven.
But the turnovers kept coming, as Cassel threw his third pick on the first play of the fourth quarter. That is the downside that comes with him. He is willing to challenge the defense, but sometimes he loses on those plays. Giving up three interceptions put his team in a big hole. The defense had some plays where it let the Giants get good gains, but it also had several times it stood up and held them when it had to.
Then Cassel had his finest drive of the game, despite one ball that bounced dangerously off Cole Beasley's helmet. After running the ball several times, including the first meaningful carries for Michael, Cassel completed two perfectly placed passes. One was to Williams, who got his feet planted just inbounds and waited for the pass, and the second was to Devin Street, who did the same in the back corner of the end zone for his first touchdown as a Cowboy. It was now 20-20 with 7:25 left in the game.
Former Cowboy Dwayne Harris came back to haunt his old team on the ensuing kickoff as he found a lane up the middle and scored a touchdown. Dallas was now down seven again, with seven minutes left. Did the Cowboys have another drive in them?
It would come down to a fourth and eight on the NYG 31 yard line. Cassel would complete a pass to James Hanna, but leave it was short of the sticks. It all came down to too many turnovers in the end, and it does not bode well for the Cowboys chances at making the postseason.