Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cowboy up! DAL 14, WAS 10

Oh thank heavens.

The Dallas got out of Washington with a W for the first time since 2004, and the Cowboys seemed completely rejuvenated after closing out a big come from behind victory, 14-10, over the Redskins. Tony Romo and Terence Newman, both players who missed significant time, both returned to lift this team in a big way on both sides of the ball. Not only did these two make plenty of plays upon their return, but Marion Barber and Jay Ratliff escalated their own games to secure this victory.

The Cowboys are now 6-4, tied with the Redskins in the NFC East. While the Cowboys still have their work cut out for them to reach the playoffs, they drastically improved their chances today. The NFC standings now look as follows:

1. New York Giants ... 9-1 ... (NFC East)
2. Carolina Panthers ...8-2 ... (NFC South)
3. Arizona Cardinals ... 7-3 ... (NFC West)
4. Chicago Bears ... 5-5 ... (NFC North)
5. Tampa Bay Bucs ... 7-3 ... (Wild Card)
6. Washington Redskins ... 6-4 ... (Wild Card)
Dallas Cowboys ... 6-4
Atlanta Falcons ... 6-4
Philadelphia Eagles ... 5-4-1
Minnesota Vikings ... 5-5
Green Bay Packers ... 5-5
New Orleans Saints ... 5-5

Here's why if the playoffs started today, Dallas would be on the outside. The Cowboys are now 4-4 in the NFC with wins over Philly, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Washington and losses to Washington, Arizona, St. Louis (that really happened?), and New York. The Redskins are 5-3 in the NFC (wins: NO, Dal, Ari, Phi, Det; losses: NYG, STL, Dal), giving them a better conference record, which is the tie-breaker that would determine who would earn the final wild card spot. The Falcons are currently 4-3 in the NFC, so as of right now, that record puts them ahead of Dallas.

The Cowboys now must play two games within five days as they host their Turkey Day game after next Sunday's contest. Today's win gives them some great momentum and looks like it put the fun back in the Cowboys organization. Guys were smiling and enjoying this victory. Tony Romo was leaping into teammates' arms. The defense looked like the bunch that held Tampa Bay to 9 points.

With two games coming against a pair of NFC West bottom-feeders (which is what the Rams were, so don't take it lightly), Dallas has a legit chance to improve to 8-4 before they have to leave Texas Stadium again. That's big. So was today's win. While beating Washington in no way guarantees a playoff spot, losing to this team would have surely been the dagger in the Dallas hearts.

Here are some other points from a game that will surely boost the economy of North Texas for the upcoming week:

+ Marion Barber is once again running like Marion the Barbarian. He single-handedly moved the Cowboys down the field on the game's final drive to ice the game. While he was still able to fill the closer role he perfected in 2007, he finished the game with 24 carries and 6 receptions. That's 30 touches for a guy that is most effective late in games when he can wear down an opposing defense. While this probably won't be an issue when Felix Jones returns, Jason Garrett needs to get Tashard Choice the ball a few more times to spell Barber. Choice had one carry tonight for six yards. Maybe Choice can be a fraction of what Jones has shown this season. But at the very least, Choice gives Barber rest and thus a little more burst at the end of games. Dallas was fine tonight despite that, but as the season wears on, it'll be wise to rest Barber more often throughout the game.

Just a look at the Cowboys final drive that took the remaining 6:40 off the clock and give Dallas the win:

1-10-DAL 37 (6:40) 24-M.Barber up the middle to DAL 42 for 5 yards (48-C.Horton, 54-H.Blades).
2-5-DAL 42 (5:58)
24-M.Barber up the middle to DAL 49 for 7 yards (48-C.Horton, 92-D.Evans).
1-10-DAL 49 (5:13)
24-M.Barber left end to WAS 43 for 8 yards (59-L.Fletcher).
2-2-WAS 43 (4:25)
24-M.Barber right tackle to WAS 38 for 5 yards (54-H.Blades, 92-D.Evans).
1-10-WAS 38 (3:41)
24-M.Barber up the middle to WAS 38 for no gain (54-H.Blades, 30-L.Landry).
2-10-WAS 38 (2:57)
24-M.Barber left end to WAS 36 for 2 yards (59-L.Fletcher, 27-F.Smoot).
Timeout #2 by WAS at 02:49.
3-8-WAS 36 (2:49) (Shotgun) 9-T.Romo pass short middle to
24-M.Barber to WAS 26 for 10 yards (30-L.Landry, 52-R.McIntosh).
1-10-WAS 26 (2:03)
24-M.Barber up the middle to WAS 24 for 2 yards (48-C.Horton, 92-D.Evans).
Two-Minute Warning
2-8-WAS 24 (1:59)
24-M.Barber right tackle to WAS 21 for 3 yards (30-L.Landry, 64-K.Golston).
Timeout #3 by WAS at 01:53.
3-5-WAS 21 (1:53)
24-M.Barber right tackle to WAS 17 for 4 yards (59-L.Fletcher, 99-A.Carter).
Timeout #1 by DAL at 01:08.
4-1-WAS 17 (1:08) (Run formation)
24-M.Barber right end pushed ob at WAS 14 for 3 yards (52-R.McIntosh).
1-10-WAS 14 (1:02) 9-T.Romo kneels to WAS 15 for -1 yards.
2-11-WAS 15 (:20) 9-T.Romo kneels to WAS 17 for -2 yards.

+ You can't deny Romo's effect on this team. Maybe it was Romo's ability to move around in the pocket, or maybe it was the O-line knowing they had to really protect their No. 1 guy behind them. The result: zero sacks today. In fact, Romo rarely had to be picked up off the turf. Yes, there were penalties *cough* Flozell Adams *cough* but I'll live with that if it means Dallas doesn't surrender a sack.

+ And how about Romo's effect on the receiving corps? The unit looked revitalized. While the Cowboys only had 198 passing yards, Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Miles Austin each made some big catches - something that lacked the last month while Romo missed games. Owens caught 5 passes for 38 yards, not an eye-popping line as 25 of his yards came on the play that set up Barber's second quarter TD run. Roy Williams seemed to be smiling after a completion from Romo. Once he gets 100% acclimated to this offense, look out! And for anyone who doubts Romo's effect on this offense, how about that shovel to Miles Austin (or as Madden called it, the "push pass") to get out of a jam. Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger should have their feet bolted to the sideline.

+ When Martellus Bennett made his leaping, game-winning touchdown catch, I started screaming the way Martellus did when Jerry Jones called him on draft day. This kid is improving with each game, and that's important when looking at how Anthony Fasano is continuing to develop in Miami. Bennett's TD grab was his only catch of the game, and it illustrated a heightened level of focus from the rookie. And if the Giants proved anything with their championship run last season, it's that rookies must contribute immediately. Bennett also made an interesting analogy in regards to his TD after the game about kissing Oprah versus kissing Halle Berry.

+ Jay Ratliff's third quarter sack of Jason Campbell might be the defensive play of the night. Consider the Redskins started that drive with the ball on their own 39 yard line and moved to the Dallas 17 in just two played. Ratliff's sack on third down pushed Washington out of field goal range as Sean Suisham's kick fell short on the next play. Had the Skins earned 3 more points on that drive, Washington doesn't need a touchdown late in the 14-10 game and could have settled for a field goal with only a 1-point deficit. Two very big sacks for Ratliff today. And was anyone else slightly scared when he yelled after that first one?

+ Hello, Newman. Terence Newman's return was about as evident on defense and Romo's was on offense. His interception of Campbell: ah-thuh-letic. It was only Dallas' second INT from a DB this season. While the Cowboys offense could not get any points off the pick, the turnover halted a Washington second-half opening drive that had already taken 6:31 off the clock. Translation: Washington was moving the ball. Big momentum-changing interception. T-New also broke up the 4th and 4 pass to Santana Moss on Washington's last offensive play.

+ What's was with the radio headset/helmet communication systems? The Cowboys defensively were having problems, and at one point Washington head coach Jim Zorn had to meet his QB on the field to give him a play. Meanwhile, I've got a Motorola cell phone, so I understand as I have plenty of dropped calls as well.

+ When Dallas lined up with three men behind Romo, two split four yards back and Barber as the deep back, the Cowboys had a field day up the middle. Look for more of that in the coming weeks.

+ As many were saying in the past few games when Dallas was sans Romo, a punt isn't necessarily a bad thing. In Sunday's game, the Cowboys punted 4 times in their 9 drives. Two other drives ended in touchdowns. Two in interceptions. And the last one with a sweet kneel down to secure the win. Continue to play the field position game, and let the defense get its stops. No, these low-scoring games aren't as sexy as the 41-37 win over Philly back in Week 2, but it counts for just as much.

+ This regular season game was arguably the most important for the Cowboys since the showdown with Green Bay last season that clinched Dallas' home field throughout the playoffs. Then again, considering how the playoffs went last season, I'd say it's the biggest regular season win since the Sunday night game in Carolina when Tony Romo won his first start in a big way over the Panthers. This game had a similar "everything will be all right" feel to it when the dust cleared.

The Cowboys survived to fight another week. Four of the next five are at home. The next two opponents (49ers, Seahawks) have combined for five wins. Don't step lightly or else the Cowboys could get punched in the mouth again (0-2 vs. NFC West this year). But 8-4 certainly seems possible. And from that point, all it takes is a 2-2 record in the final four games to reach 10-6. Will 10 wins be enough? With such a cluttered wild card picture, more wins can't hurt.

Enjoy this week, Cowboys fans. It's been a while since there's been a reason to celebrate, but this means more than just another victory.


McNabb makes me happy he plays for Philly

After the Eagles tied the formerly 1-8 Cincinnati Bengals this weekend, 13-13, Donovan McNabb shed some light on his understanding of the NFL rules, mainly that the veteran QB did not know you could tie in the NFL. Some Philly fans were, um, less than thrilled with their franchise QB after hearing his remarks. Look out, McNabb, the Philadelphia media won't be too kind with this. They're already up in arms.


Mavs win! Seriously
How good of a night is it for Dallas sports fan? Heck, even the Mavericks got a win tonight. On the road. In overtime. Against a team with a winning record. Okay, it was the Knicks, but still the Mavs put one in the win column tonight as well. Hmm... maybe the sun will in fact come up tomorrow.

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