Sunday, September 13, 2009
Chicks dig the long ball: Dal 34, TB 21
The 2009 season is underway, and the Dallas Cowboys earned a win despite sloppy football to open the game. Quarterback Tony Romo and Co. seemed off-balance in the first half - save for a long TD pass in the closing minutes - and the defense allowed the Bucs backs an automatic five-yards or so with each run of the ball. Despite the poor play early in the game, Dallas bounced back with a solid second half more representative of the Cowboys potential in 2009. Yes, the Cowboys were not ever in serious jeopardy of dropping the game to Tampa Bay, but what is a team with the Cowboys' talent level even staying close to Tampa Bay? Turns out the Bucs were helping the Cowboys stay ahead in the first half, but Dallas finally was able to ride without training wheels in the second half en route to a 34-21 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Romo finished the game 16 for 27 for a career-high 353 and three touchdowns after starting slow, frequently throwing behind his targets. Perhaps the ball wasn't getting out fast enough, or maybe he was just off the mark. Whatever the problem, Romo seemed to correct it in the second half. While he doesn't have Terrell Owens anymore - and the debate will rage all season over whether or not the Cowboys are better without him - Romo and receiver Roy Williams hooked up three times for 86 yards and a 66-yard touchdown to give its winning points in the third quarter. Romo's TD passes were all big plays, a 42-yard strike to Miles Austin, a 66-yarder to Roy Williams, and the 80-yard run-away to Patrick Crayton. What can I say? Chicks dig the long ball.
Romo didn't turn the ball over in the game, but at times he flirted with interception after interception, especially late in the third quarter on three straight incompletions. He does have that gunslinger mentality at times, but offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to make sure Romo protects the ball better, especially when protecting a lead.
That sort of sloppy play that the Cowboys demonstrated early in the game is okay against the likes of Tampa Bay, a team that even the inept Brad Johnson was able to defeat last season, but what about against NFC East foes like the Eagles, Giants and Redskins? Would you trust that effort against an Eagles team that forced six turnovers today?
Some notes on the season-opening win in Tampa Bay
+ Was the Cowboys most heads up play of the first half when center Andre Gurode snapped the ball early when he saw the Bucs defensive end jump offsides? I believe so. Until Romo hit Miles Austin for the first Dallas touchdown of the game, that was the Cowboys biggest offensive highlight. If a center can get a stat credit for a first down, Gurode deserves one.
+ New strong safety (read: new Roy Williams) Gerald Sensabaugh blocked an early Bucs field goal attempt to keep the Cowboys ahead, 3-0. Sensabaugh got a good jump, and Dallas overwhelmed the left side of the Tampa Bay line to get into the backfield. Dallas wasn't exactly strong in the special teams game last season, especially after Felix Jones went down for the season with injury. In fact, other than Felix Jones' kickoff return for a touchdown, perhaps the best play Dallas saw on special teams was from backup punter Sam Paulescu who rocked Clifton Smith on a punt return last season.
+ It wasn't all positive for Sensabaugh. He did launch himself at Bucs receiver Michael Clayton, knocking himself to the ground on the play. Anyone else reminded of the man he replaced, Roy Williams, who would often transform into a frequently misguided heat-seeking missile. As long as Sensabaugh doesn't go full-Roy and copy that hands-on-his-hip-and-looking-for-a-teammate-to-blame-for-that-last-touchdown pose, Dallas should be all right.
+ Also in the secondary, Mike Jenkins appears to be ready for another season of making business decisions. How about someone in the Cowboys secondary step up and cover someone. Even Terence Newman got burned deep late in the first half to set up a scoring chance for the Tampa Bay. Fortunately for Dallas, Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich overthrew a receiver who had slipped behind Jenkins, and the Bucs missed their field goal attempt as the half ended as the Cowboys dodged a bullet.
+ Rookie kicker David Buehler - former USC Trojan - had three touchbacks on kickoffs in the game. Last season the Cowboys didn't have one. Placekicker Nick Folk did connect from 51 yards in his first action of the season, making all his kicks in this game.
+ I didn't know that intentionally kicking a ball on the ground was a 10-yard penalty. Secondly, Patrick Crayton lost more manliness than yardage when booting the muffed punt by Newman out of bounds. Fall on the ball, or drop to the ground and slap it out, but toeing the ball away from you seems a bit dainty. Yes, Crayton caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Romo in the 4th quarter, but I'd like to see a little more toughness from a receiving corps that lost perhaps one of the most dangerous receivers in the league this offseason. Yes, the receivers got a lot of chances as Romo passed for a career-high in yards, but don't confuse big stats with consistent production. A great showing for week 1, but that's only what we're at: week 1. And as the Cowboys found out last season, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Not a bad win today for the Cowboys, but not a good win. If the Cowboys are going to contend for a playoff berth - let alone win its first playoff game since 1996 - Dallas will need to play a much tougher, much more consistent and on-point game next week when the team opens its new home against the rival New York Giants on Sunday night.