Monday, December 15, 2008

Pigskin panacea: Dal 20, NYG 8

There's nothing a win cannot cure.

No more doubting that after Sunday's Cowboys 20-8 victory over the defending Super Bowl champs. It's been a 24/7 circus all week long at Valley Ranch. From the media declaring the owner questioned the toughness of a guy nicknamed "the Barbarian," to a QB-TE-WR love triangle that resulted in an ESPN reporter being thrown under the bus with Terrell Owens behind the wheel. Consider this: the team whose receiver shot himself in the leg just one week ago had less distractions coming into this game. Just another week in Dallas.

Not only did the Cowboys get back into the win column one week after giving away a game in Pittsburgh, but they controlled the tempo all night long. Dallas never trailed the Giants, and what can only be described as Doomsday II dominated turned the Big Blue offensive line into a Black & Blue unit.

And after the game, Tony Romo and Jason Witten stood with Owens for an interview with NBC's Andrea Kramer with no signs of discontent or dissension, and no lack of smiles. Turns out, the storm blew over, and now the 9-5 Cowboys find themselves holding down the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture (tiebreaker standings coming Tuesday).

The pre-game drama came on the offensive side of the ball, but the Cowboys earned this win the same way any team anchors a championship, with Big D. Since Wade Phillips became more involved in the defensive scheming, there's no denying the links to the Cowboys success. Yes, it's been nice having Romo back, but the Cowboys are winning by stopping their opponents, not blowing them away with high-octane offense.

It began against Tampa Bay, where the Cowboys held a first place team to nine points, such a dominating performance that the team won with Brad Johnson under center. Including that Week 8 win, the Cowboys defense has held its opponents to 16.1 points per game in its last seven contests, a vast difference to the 25 ppg average through the first seven games. Dallas now leads the NFL in sacks, with DeMarcus Ware (now at 19) seriously challenging Michael Strahan's single-season sack record (22.5).

The Cowboys offense, specifically the trio in the eye of last week's media hurricane, can slip their thank you cards into the lockers of their defensive counterparts. For one week at least, the storm has blown over.

How much of Ed Werder's reporting from this past week was accurate and how much was the lies that Terrell Owens says? My only conclusion is that Werder or his sources may have exaggerated or sensationalized his report, but I don't think he "told a tale" as Owens claimed during his post-game press conference. Werder has the right to cite anonymous sources as a journalist, but with that comes the criticism of people denying your report. Rich Eisen said on NFL Network after the game that knowing Werder, working with him for seven years at ESPN, that he's not a liar, so the report must have clearly come from somewhere. Former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci followed up by saying he worked with Owens for six years, and watching him during his post-game press conference he saw a guy trying to do his best to put his checkered past behind him and show a strong front.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the Sal Paolantonio press conference to come to Ed Werder's defense after TO called Werder a liar:

"It's really unfair. It's really unfair.

That's my coworker. *sniffle* That's our Cowboys beat reporter. And if you do that, it's unfair!

We report as a team. *sniffle* We report as a team."

More notes from a big win in Big D over Big Blue:

+ DeMarcus Ware collected a sack on the Giants' first play from scrimmage, dropping Eli Manning for a nine yard loss. Only problem? He knocked the ball out, but didn't notice because he was too busy doing his sack dance to go after the ball. Hey, three sacks is great, and Ware seemed to become even more focused after that, but you've got to think he's personally kicking himself a little bit for having this highlight reel sack and celebration feature a scramble for a loose ball in the background. Any doubt that Ware should be Defensive Player of the Year? I'm sure Baltimore's Ed Reed will have something to say about that, so whichever player shines brighter in next week's head-to-head match up will have a nice path to the award.

+ The Cowboys teed off on Manning yesterday, recording 8 sacks. The Giants have now allowed 23 sacks in 2008 - 13 of them against Dallas.

+ Terence Newman earned his third and fourth interceptions of 2008, stepping in front of Domenik Hixon for his first and catching a pop fly in the game's waning moments. Newman flat out dominated the young receiver, traveling with him across the field all game long. Anyone who said the Giants wouldn't miss Plaxico Burress might have more screws loose than Plaxico himself. From Newman to Orlando Scandrick, the secondary held strong, allowing Manning only 191 yards through the air.

+ Anyone miss Pacman Jones? In the secondary? The return game? Anyone? All right, moving on.

+ The offense started with consecutive three-and-outs, and the home crowd became a little restless (read: booed). But just as the Cowboys seemed to get a solid drive together in the middle of the first quarter with back to back completions to Owens and Marion Barber, the offensive line allowed consecutive sacks to take the Cowboys out of Nick Folk's amazingly long range, forcing a punt.

+ I guess Patrick Crayton's meeting with Jason Garrett paid off. Romo ran around, escaped the pocket, and found #84 breaking away from coverage for the game's first score, a 34-yard TD. Thank goodness he kept running, unlike last January.

+ Tashard Choice impressed me yesterday. Not for being the Cowboys best weapon for the second straight game, but for how he celebrated his 38-yard TD run to seal the game. Channelling the showmanship from his inner-Terrell-Owens, Choice extended his arms to for a "T" followed by flexing both arms to his left in a "C" - a take off on Owens' T-O celebration. No one ever said this kid lacks bravado. Choice finished with 91 yards on the ground on nine carries and caught four balls for 52 yards (143 total yards). Anyone else excited for the idea of having Choice, Barber and Felix Jones all healthy next season? Me too.

+ Speaking of Barber, clearly he's still got some healing to do. His 8 carries for 2 yards show his toe isn't well yet. But maybe he played to get the owner off his back, right?

+ Fullback Deion Anderson joined Choice in scoring his first career touchdown on Sunday. Choice set up the TD by stretching for a first down on the final play of the third quarter, and breaking off a 22-yard run to start the 4th. On 2nd and 1, I saw TO on the sideline and began ranting that he needs to be on the field, at least to have the defense keep an eye on him. Cue the play fake. Romo fakes a handoff to Choice and lobs a ball to a wide open Anderson for the score. The Giants sure bit on it. Heck, I bit on it from my couch.

+ In related news, Martellus Bennett caught a pass that wasn't a touchdown.

+ All the hoopla surrounding the TO vs. the BFF's Romo & Witten appears to have settled down - at least for now. It is worth pointing out, however, that on the key 3rd down conversion where the Cowboys essentially put the game out of reach (right before Choice's TD scamper), Romo looked to the tough, reliable tight end instead of the guy who dropped a ball off his hands earlier in the game. Buddy system? Not really. I'd say it's just good quarterbacking.

+ Okay, I realize that Burress and bruising running back Brandon Jacobs were out for the Giants. I realize that contributed to the loss, but the Cowboys were missing a big part of their offense at the Meadowlands back in November, so let's call it even.

+ Show of hands. Who threw their Cowboys hat off, punched a hole in a wall, threw the remote, kicked their dog, or slightly died on the inside when Romo went down and clutched at his back? Just the thought of Brad Johnson coming into the game made me do four of the five (probably because I don't have a dog). As long as Romo is under center, anything (for better or worse, anything) can happen, and I can live with that. Great play by him to work to bat the ball just out of the end zone on the safety. A 14-5 ball game is still a two-possession affair. 14-10? I'd worry.

Another win on this roller coaster season that is the 2008 Dallas Cowboys. It's amazing just how low things surrounding this team can seem one week and just how high they feel the next. All season long, it's been up and down so rapidly, so violently, that as a fan I'm starting to suffer from motion sickness. One thing is for sure: when this team plays to its potential, they are the unstoppable force everyone expected them to be. Now at 9-5, the Cowboys control their own destiny and can go a long way toward exorcizing some demons if they close "The Farewell" game at Texas Stadium the way this historic venue deserves.

Post game interview with Romo, Witten, Owens:

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