A win for the Dallas Cowboys. Take a moment and savor that. It has been so long, and now we can finally enjoy a few days of celebration. Yes, the fading playoff hopes are still alive, but just getting back to a win is far more important for a team that has been suffering from the seemingly endless string of losses. While there were mistakes made by the Cowboys, there was still good news in the 24-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
If there was a key development, it was that Dallas showed it could indeed close a game. With a ten point lead late in the fourth, Dallas took the ball and just would not let go, burning clock as it pushed down the field. The Dolphins defense, which had given the Cowboys fits all day, finally began to wear down. Darren McFadden went well over 100 yards in the effort. The Cowboys simply exerted their will. And yes, a lot of credit goes to the quarterback, but it was truly a team win.
The expectations for many were that having Tony Romo back would fix all the problems for the Dallas Cowboys. The offense would play better, the defense would start closing that last step it was coming up short, and the team would get on the roll it needed to fight its way into the playoffs. It was, of course, unrealistic. Romo was coming off an eight game layoff, and the mistakes by so many other players were not going to be solved just by having him back on the field. All was not suddenly rainbows and unicorns for Dallas, but it can be argued that having Romo was just the lift the team needed.
It certainly looked like he might have inspired the team on the first score of the game, a twelve yard interception and touchdown return by Rolando McClain. but that was set up, so to say, by an interception thrown by Romo. It was not the only one he would throw, either. There was some rust for the quarterback, it turned out, and he made some mistakes, especially as the Miami pass rush began to get to him and administer a little punishment. His second pick came after Dallas took the kickoff to begin the second half, and the Dolphins quickly capitalized on it to tie the game up at 14 all in the third.
But unlike in past weeks, the Cowboys would rebound effectively, and one of the most encouraging signs was that the Cowboys got into the red zone and cashed in with a sixteen yard Romo to Dez Bryant touchdown. It was the second touchdown pass of the game for Romo, and Bryant was not the only receiver to benefit from having the star quarterback return, as Terrance Williams had the first touchdown reception of the game for the Cowboys, catching a 31 yard score in the second quarter. It capped a huge 93 yard drive where the Cowboys benefited from a defensive holding call to keep the drive alive deep in their own territory, and then faced a second and 27 just before Romo made a completion to get back to third and 10, which was the play that the touchdown came on.
Dallas looked like it was going to take control of the game early since that led to a 14-0 lead, but Williams and Bryant were flagged for taunting as they (somewhat understandably) engaged in some exuberant celebrations. It was likely not meant at all to insult the Dolphins, but was almost certainly just an emotional release about having Romo back and throwing scores. However, the league does not like such things, and the Cowboys were penalized fifteen yards on the ensuing kickoff. The kick was squibbed, apparently on purpose, and the Dolphins quickly drove the short field to get a touchdown. It was a disturbing bit of evidence that the team still was quite capable of making bad mistakes, no matter who the quarterback is.
And the team would again miss on a red zone possession in the fourth quarter. Romo got sacked after barely missing a scoring completion to Cole Beasley, but it was a smart sack as the ensuing Dan Bailey field goal gave the Cowboys a two score lead with just under nine and a half minutes left in the game.
Now the Cowboys would find out if they could close out a game. The defense had been very good all game, and to that point the Dolphins had only converted one of eight third downs. But the team has lost leads in so many games this season. It turned out to be a perfect time for a Jack Crawford sack, Dallas' first of the game, which led to a punt two plays later. Now there was only 6:29 on the clock, with Romo, McFadden, and an at times impressive Robert Turbin to run down the clock and preserve the win. McFadden kept the drive alive on a third and long, forcing the Dolphins to start using timeouts. It was just enough at the right time to get the Cowboys out of Miami with a badly needed win. Dallas finally rediscovered the way to close out a game. Miami would not get the ball back until there was just over a minute left, and the defense immediately got a sack to put things totally out of reach.
But there were certainly some warts in the game, as the Cowboy' offensive line continued to look disappointing. Ndamukong Suh was often very disruptive up the middle, and both Doug Free and Tyron Smith had issues stopping the pass rush, particularly from Olivier Vernon. Still, ending the losing streak was what was important.
And meanwhile, with the Giants on a bye, both the Eagles and Washington were getting absolutely crushed in their games. It was everything the Cowboys and their fans could have hoped for on the day, at least as far as wins and losses.
Now, however, the short week comes leading up to the Thanksgiving game against the Carolina Panthers, who were the ones administering that butt-whipping to Washington. The road is still long and has to be taken one game at a time. Only now, for the first time in over two months, the Cowboys are celebrating a win.