Talk about a game of inches. Cowboys wind up two fingers shy of a win.
By Matthew Postins
Gargantuan offensive numbers.
Great defensive performance.
Six Dallas turnovers.
Dallas fell behind 23-0 and rallied to take a 24-23 lead. It would have been the biggest comeback in team history. If it had held up. But it didn’t. The Giants did just enough to win. The Cowboys did more than enough to lose.
Here’s how it all broke down.
Run Offense: The Cowboys gained 19 yards on the ground, so the running game was non-existent. It’s hard to blame the Cowboys for running the ball just 17 times, since they were down by 23 points in the second quarter. The Cowboys’ best run play of the game was a play-action naked bootleg by quarterback Tony Romo for a touchdown. The worst run play of the game was the Felix Jones fumble, the result of Jones not taking care of the football in a key situation. The fumble led to the Giants’ final field goal. When Dallas ran the football, the Giants clogged the running lanes, both inside and outside. The longest rushing gain of the day was 5 yards. There’s enough evidence to show that the Cowboys are not a good offensive line without Phil Costa.
Pass Offense: The passing numbers were crazy. Romo had 437 yards passing. Three receivers – Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten – had more than 100 yards receiving. Witten set a team record with 18 receptions. It was Witten who settled the Cowboys passing game in the second quarter as he caught everything thrown his way. It forced the Giants to key their secondary on him and opened up single coverage for Austin and Bryant. The Cowboys also used a little more designed movement in the passing game. But, ultimately, this game is remembered for the four interceptions Romo threw. The first came with crossed signals with Phillip Tanner on the play action fake and a less-than-sharp route by Bryant. The second interception was on Romo, as he threw the ball to Austin’s outside shoulder when Austin clearly had inside position. The third was just a great defensive play by the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, who used an offensive lineman to hide himself from Romo on a well-designed screen pass. Paul returned it for a touchdown. That gave the Giants the 23-0 lead. Romo’s final interception was a result of great Giants defense. The Giants had tight coverage and the Giants’ front four didn’t let Romo escape from the pocket, so he had to force a throw. The play came on fourth-and-1. The pass itself wasn’t bad. The fact that Dallas couldn’t gain one yard in three tries to move the chains was the problem. Romo threw all three times, a result of the poor running game. The Cowboys offensive line protected Romo well at times, but didn’t have much of an answer for defensive tackle Chris Canty, who was all over the backfield. It’s difficult to give the pass offense a passing grade in the wake of the four interceptions.
Run Defense: Just like the first game the Cowboys slowed the Giants’ run game down. The Giants had only 103 rushing yards and found them tough to get after the first quarter. The Cowboys’ front four did a great job of collapsing the Giants offensive line and getting to the running back quickly and slowing down Ahmad Bradshaw. Tackle Jay Ratliff was a big part of that, as was linebacker Bruce Carter. In his first game running the Cowboys defense in the place of Sean Lee he appeared to have a firm grasp of what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wanted to do all day.
Pass Defense: The Giants got one big play early in the game, but after that the Cowboys secondary clamped down on the Giants receiving corps. Morris Claiborne broke up a couple of passes, as did Brandon Carr and Ernie Sims. Carr and Sims broke up passes on back-to-back plays. The problem the Cowboys should have had without Lee – underneath intermediate routes – wasn’t an issue. The Cowboys defended those well. Gerald Sensabaugh delivered a big hit on Victor Cruz to and Danny McCray turned it into an interception. The Cowboys didn’t get a great pass rush on Eli Manning, as DeMarcus Ware had just one sack. But the coverage on the back row was so good that Manning found completing passes just as tough as their first meeting. The pass defense did everything it could to keep Dallas in the game as the offense made its comeback.
Special Teams: The Cowboys used Lance Dunbar on kickoff returns. Dunbar averaged 23.7 yards per return with a long of 44. Bryant may no longer be the Cowboys’ regular punt returner as he fumbled his first return and didn’t return another punt until late in the game. Dwayne Harris took over and had one return for 14 yards. Punter Brian Moorman averaged 41.2 yards per punt and Dan Bailey was perfect on field goals. The Cowboys contained Giants kickoff returner David Wilson and made punt returner Rueben Randle irrelevant. Of course, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes was 5-for-5 on field goals.
Coaching: Overall, head coach Jason Garrett called a solid game. The one bad call was on the last play of the game, as Garrett seemed to call a play that chunked all the receivers in the same general area. Romo also threw the pass way too high. Defensively, Ryan called a great game and got great execution out of his unit.
Injuries: The Cowboys lost linebacker Dan Conner, Lee’s replacement, in the second quarter to a shoulder stinger. He didn’t return.
One more thing: Romo passed Roger Staubach for second place all-time in passing yards in Cowboys history. The three Cowboys with 100-yard receiving game was the first time that had happened in Cowboys history since 1963.