Dallas Cowboys 24, New York Giants 17.
I couldn’t have been more wrong on my prediction for this game, and boy am I glad for that! I had picked a 27-24 Giants win as I figured it was too steep of a mountain for Dallas to climb to win this game. But it turns out, these aren’t your 2011 Cowboys. And thank goodness for that. The 2011 version of the Cowboys, which had problems closing out games, have been exorcised, as the 2012 Cowboys closed out the opener in convincing fashion.
But it wasn’t all roses for the Cowboys at the start. After both teams got off to a rough first quarter where it was clear that both teams were shaking off the rust, the scoring finally got going in the second quarter. Tony Romo saw pressure and hurried a pass, throwing it to Michael Boley, who took the pick the other way for a first and goal. When I saw Romo throw the interception, I honestly thought it was going to be one of those nights. Yet the Cowboys defense surprised me, coming up with a huge goal line stand to hold the Giants to a field goal.
Later in the quarter, Jason Garrett really opened up the playbook, calling for a deep ball to Dez Bryant, which was caught for a 38 yard gain. That would lead to a TD pass from Romo to Kevin Ogletree to give the Cowboys a 7-3 lead, a lead they’d take into the half.
For as good as Romo and the offense played, it was really DeMarcus Ware and the defense that flexed their muscles against Eli Manning and the Giants on Wednesday night.
Coming into the third quarter, the Cowboys started with the football. Another deep ball from Romo to Ogletree would yield a 40-yd TD on the opening possession of the second half. It was at this point that I knew things would be different with this Cowboys team. I would get further confirmation of that, as the Cowboys of old would have folded under the weight of penalties that turned a 1st and 10 into a 1st and 30. Yet Romo stayed poised, and connected on a ridiculous pass to Miles Austin that converted a 1st and 30 into not just a first down, but a TD, turning a 17-10 Cowboys lead into 24-10.
Yet despite all that, the Cowboys made it interesting. Being penalized a total of 13 times for 86 yards, the Cowboys were sputtering to the finish. They allowed a late 4th quarter TD by the Giants to cut the deficit to 24-17. Then the penalties started piling up again for the Cowboys. Yet no penalty was bigger than the hold by Witten on a 3rd and 2 that turned a game clinching first down into a 3rd and 12.
That was when I began telling myself that the collapse would finally follow. Not this time. Romo would hit his safety valve, Kevin Ogletree, for a 15-yd reception to clinch the first down and the win. Ogletree finished with 8 catches, 114 yards, and 2 TDs. Definitely player of the game.
Romo also played well, throwing for 307 yards, and 3 TDs, on 22/29 passing. Yet it was probably the things that didn’t show up on the stat sheet that made this performance even better for Romo. All night long, he was evading the pass rush, and he was mainly doing it himself. Every time the offensive line would break down and it would appear Romo would go down, somehow a white uniform with a blue #9 on it would find a way to stay upright and deliver with his legs or his arm. Romo was sacked in this game, but only twice, a huge upgrade from 9 times in 2 games last year.
Yet for all of the outstanding play by Romo, there was one player, or rather unit, that played better than I thought they would. For those who may not have watched the game or haven’t heard, the Cowboys finally have a defense. Sean Lee forced an early fumble on David Wilson, creating a turnover and stopping any momentum the Giants were trying to build in that first half. Also, the secondary held up, really only getting beaten on one play, and I counted three near interceptions that probably should have happened: Sensabaugh dropped a pick in the endzone during the goal line stand by the Boys; Barry Church nearly had an INT in the third quarter, and Brandon Carr mistimed a pass in the second half, otherwise he would have had a pick.
But most importantly, the cowboys defense held the vaunted Eli offense to 269 yards. That’s right. That first number is a 2, not a 3. They held the Giants to 187 passing yards, and 82 rushing yards for the entire game. The Cowboys had more rushing yards in the second half (115), than the Giants got all game.
This win gives the Cowboys a 6-0 record all-time in openers against the Giants, and the Cowboys also improved to 6-0 when DeMarco Murray carries the ball at least 20 times. Also, DeMarcus Ware got sack #100 last night in the victory, becoming the second quickest player to get there (in 113 games).
Really, this was as complete a game as you could get. The offense looked solid, the defense is stout, and the Cowboys are finally closing games. This performance gives me confidence that the Cowboys are poised to have a monster year. And with a couple of cupcake teams coming up (@ Seattle in Week 2, vs Tampa Bay in Week 3), the Cowboys could potentially start 3-0, something I never figured to be possible.