Remember, it is only one game. That sentence was written before the kickoff of the Dallas Cowboys’ home opener against the New York Giants. It is always important to keep in mind that the NFL season is a marathon.
But having said that, it sure is better to start things off with a win. And despite some difficulty finishing off drives, the Cowboys were able to build up a two score lead in the first half and then just sit on New York to notch a 19-3 win over what looks to be the strongest challenger they have in the NFC East after a really bad looking game played earlier by the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington, won by the guys in green.
The game saw some significant firsts and achievements. The Jaylon Smith story is one we have all been following intently, and he started the game at middle linebacker, and had a good game that was absolutely amazing when you consider where he was and how far he has come. He would wind up the second leading tackler on the team with seven, trailing only the superb Sean Lee, who notched eight. Jason Witten passed Michael Irvin to become the team’s all time leading receiver in total yards. Charles Tapper, like Smith, would see his first game since being drafted and would also get his first sack. And Cole Beasley would make up for the absence of the injured Odell Beckham, Jr. with a simply incredible behind the back, one handed grab to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter. Oh, and Dak Prescott now has at least one victory over every NFL team he has ever played.
And, oh, that defense. They not only held the Giants off the scoreboard in the first half, they were getting sacks. They only had one in the first half, by DeMarcus Lawrence, but it is not easy to get more than that when the opposing offense is only on the field for less than 20 plays. They would add two more, a second by Lawrence and that initial one by Tapper, in the Giant’s first drive of the second half. And they got robbed of a fourth one by Benson Mayowa when the referees missed that Eli Manning’s knee hit the ground before he released the ball late in the game. The pass rush was supported by generally good coverage in the secondary. It certainly didn’t hurt that Beckham missed the contest due to his injury, but Dallas still outplayed the Giants on both sides of the ball. For much of the game, they just frustrated Manning and the Giants. And after a fumble was blown dead prematurely by the referees in the first half to rob Dallas of a turnover, Anthony Brown finally broke through with a remarkable interception where he got the ball and then had to wrestle it away from Roger Lewis in a reversal of roles. It was a crucial moment, coming with under eight minutes to go in the game and Dallas protecting a 13 point lead. That allowed last year’s dynamic duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to burn up the clock and just drain away any chance New York had of coming back. It would let the lead the Cowboys built up in the first half stand up for the win.
In lieu of a lot of offensive fireworks, the Cowboys largely played a game of field position and ball control. The Giants started every drive in their own end zone, most of them inside their own 20. Chris Jones showed why the team extended him with punts that repeatedly dropped down at the ten yard line. Oh, and the fact that Dan Bailey went a perfect four for four on field goals is almost unremarkable, because that is just what we expect from him.
The first Sunday of the NFL season saw a lot of teams struggling with things. The Cowboys weren’t totally immune, as Prescott was high on several throws and two promising drives stalled. But the Giants were completely impotent, especially in the first half. They were only able to muster two first downs in the entire half, and never crossed midfield. They didn’t even cross their own 35 in the first two quarters. That was part of the reason Dallas ran 47 plays to only 19 by New York before halftime. The overall effect was that the Giant’s defense looked to be wearing down already in the second quarter, and after being forced to settle for field goals twice, the Cowboys finally broke through with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten, that also make him only the third player in league history to have 150 or more receptions in a career against the same team. Someone once said (and was immortalized in one of OCC’s great Trailing the Nation posts) that Witten would still be wide open if he was in a wheelchair on the field. Ezekiel Elliott had 61 yards rushing, and was starting to get them in bigger chunks, another sign that the Giant’s defense was getting a bit gassed. The Cowboys used the no huddle to just increase the pressure. It was a totally dominating half of football everywhere except the scoreboard, and taking a 16-0 score into halftime was still a good result, if not as much as it could have been.
The second half saw the Giants finally get something going on offense, getting down inside the four yard line on a drive where Eli Manning finally began to find his receivers. But the defense rose up again, with Tapper getting the first sack of his career to push them back. It was enough to limit New York to a field goal. And as it turned out, those would be the only points the visitors would score.
It was both a satisfying win and a very encouraging showing by a defense that we were all a bit worried about. It is just one game, true. But it was a very good one.