First, a disclaimer. The opening week of the NFL season is not always an indicator of how the remaining 15 weeks are going to go. Fans of the Dallas Cowboys don't have to remember any further back than a year ago, when the San Francisco 49ers (and a bunch of their fans) came in to AT&T Stadium and embarrassed Dallas. Tony Romo was simply not ready to play that game. All results this week must be looked at with a healthy dose of skepticism.
But it is hard not to be bitterly disappointed by the way the Cowboys very nearly bumbled away this game. Turnovers and an incredibly stupid penalty by Jeremy Mincey just before the final two minute warning made the game almost impossible to win for Dallas. After an offside penalty inside the two minute warning, Eli Manning tried to put the dagger in the Cowboys' heart with a completion to Odell Beckham Jr that put the ball inside the five that set up the field goal by the Giants to push the score to 26-20. It gave the Cowboys the ball back with 1:29 at the 28 yard line after a Tyler Patmon return. They had no time outs. Dez Bryant was in the locker room getting evaluated for a foot injury.
And it was time for some Romo magic, He marched the ball down the field, completing balls to Lance Dunbar and Terrance Williams, then finished with a touchdown to Jason Witten with only seven seconds on the clock. It was a miracle finish that depended on some very poor clock management by the Giants on the previous drive, leaving Romodini just enough time.
The Cowboys won the battle at the line almost all night long, but made devastating mistakes. Tony Romo was protected well on almost every play, and did not even get hit or hurried in the entire first half. But he did not take many shots downfield, working almost exclusively underneath. Still, the Cowboys moved the ball more effectively than the Giants. The defense stood up well most of the game. But turnovers trump everything, and the two inside the two minute warning of the first half were crushing. Cole Beasley had a first down and a chance to go out of bounds to stop the clock, but elected to fight for more yards. The ball was ripped from his grasp and returned by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie for a gift touchdown. Then on the ensuing possession Romo threw the ball behind Jason Witten, and it bounced off Witten's outstretched hand to land in the arms of Uani' Unga. Even worse, with about eight minutes left in the game, Romo threw a ball to Devn Street deep in its own end of the field, and the ball was popped loose by a well-placed helmet, and went right into the arms of Trumaine McBride who streaked into the end zone, although he stepped out of bounds at the one. It just delayed the inevitable, and the Cowboys were down by 10, 23-13.
Dallas was down 13-6 at the half, despite a massive advantage in time of possession, holding the ball a stunning 22:06. But the Giants got the ball to open the second half and pushed the lead to 16-6. Dallas was able to answer with the first offensive touchdown for either side, but it had to get help from a very questionable pass interference call.
The Giants used a lot of quick passes to neutralize the Dallas pass rush, although Manning was banged around a few times. Beckham was largely shut down during the game. But the New York defense kept Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams from becoming significant factors until Williams started to make some plays in the fourth quarter.
Finally things started to click, as Dallas put together a masterful drive in the fourth quarter during which Williams had a couple of key catches and Beasley gained a measure of redemption (although he again turned back to the inside to get down to the one, but he dove to the sideline to end the play). It was capped off by a Jason Witten touchdown reception. But the defense was not able to get a stop, allowing a 27 yard run that got the Giants into the Dallas end of the field. Fortunately, the D held, and Dallas escaped with the most improbable of wins.
Injury issues did surface for Dallas. Randy Gregory, who was looking very good and drawing double teams, injured an ankle. The seriousness is unknown. Ronald Leary was reported to have a groin strain. Bryant left in the fourth quarter with the previously mentioned foot injury.
There were some good things. Gavin Escobar not only scored the touchdown in the third quarter, but he was the receiver on Romo's first completion of the season. Lance Dunbar saw a lot of action. Both Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden saw plenty of work, with Randle getting the most touches. Both were used as receivers to good effect. Tyrone Crawford got the first sack of the season. Romo was described by Cris Collinsworth on the NBC broadcast as calling protections like he was in the defensive huddle. Sean Lee looked like the Sean Lee of old.
Dallas did not deserve to win this game. Their mistakes should have cost them. But all that matters is that they got the win. No matter how unlikely it seemed, right up until it was real.