Sunday, October 16, 2011
Cowboys Fall To The Patriots And It's Not Even Tony Romo's Fault
I will be the first to admit that in the past week, I never once was scared of the Dallas Cowboys or particularly their bipolar quarterback Tony Romo.
I'm not enough of a honk to say I could never imagine Dallas beating New England but can we all admit that the Cowboys are the NFL equivalent of Notre Dame football? Just a completely delusional team and fanbase that think they're championship bound every season.
The Patriots (5-1) had to sweat it out at Gillette Stadium this afternoon against the Cowboys (2-3) but as usual Tom Brady (27 of 41, 289 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) came through with a two-minute drive to clinch it, 20-16 thanks to an 8-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez (8 catches, 68 yards) with 22 seconds remaining.
With its third straight victory, New England has now won 20 straight regular season home games while Brady and Bill Belichick tied Dan Marino/Don Shula's NFL record of 116 wins for a QB/coach combo.
Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 74 yards), Deion Branch (3 catches, 69 yards) and Wes Welker (6 catches, 45 yards) made up for a lackluster running game (101 total yards) that had performed very well the last two weeks.
Ironically, Romo (27 of 41, 317 yards, TD, INT) makes a living of blowing all varieties of games in every way possible but this time, you couldn't really blame Jessica Simpson's ex. Wide receivers Dez Bryant (4 catches, 78 yards) and Miles Austin (7 catches, 74 yards) along with tight end Jason Witten (4 catches, 48 yards) are a formidable trio of weapons in the Cowboys passing game.
I mean if you want to get specific, the Dallas offensive coordinator and head coach Jason Garrett are most to blame as they got the ball back (up 16-13) at their own 28 with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter but they proceeded to run three safe and predictable runs. They knew Romo's late game problems so they basically took it out of his hands; I can't say I blame them but giving Brady the ball at his own 20 with 2:31 left is a recipe for disaster.
Penalty problems didn't help the Cowboys either as they were flagged 10 times for 77 yards. The Patriots only were called for five penalties totaling 35 yards.
Nevermind that New England's offense was sloppy all day (2 interceptions and a fumble, plus a fumbled kickoff), when they had to produce they did: 10 plays, 80 yards and not enough time for Dallas to do anything but have Romo end the game by throwing a hail mary out of bounds (short of the end zone).
The Cowboys defense came in with a good reputation, thanks to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (Rex's brother). It's way too easy to make fun of the Ryans but you have to admit that they know how to coach defense, especially against Belichick. Rob's Browns team last season was the last one before today's effort that held the Patriots under 30 points.
Dallas cornerback Terence Newman had an interception and a fumble recovery while linebacker Sean Lee had 12 tackles, six solo and an interception. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh added a fumble recovery on special teams.
The Patriots much-maligned defense earned some praise with this effort since they showed that they can survive a non-perfect outing from Brady and the offense (unlike Week 3's meltdown in Buffalo). Kyle Arrington (11 tackles, 7 solo) made his fourth interception of the season while Gerard Warren recovered a fumble. Hell, Andre Carter (5 tackles, 4 solo) even provided a semblance of a pass rush with two sacks.
You had to think Romo was in for a long day when he threw a bad interception on the first Dallas drive. New England brought it to the red zone but DeMarcus Ware (5 tackles, 2 sacks) sacked Brady on third down so the Pats had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
The Patriots forced a punt on Dallas' next drive but Brady gave it right back as his pass intended for Branch was picked off by Newman. New England's defense was faced with a short field (at their own 23) but they pushed the Cowboys back as they had to settle for a 48-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
On the ensuing kickoff, Matthew Slater fumbled. Luckily, Tashard Choice fumbled it right back to the Pats five plays later as the teams were tied 3-3 after one quarter.
New England's first drive of the second quarter stalled again in the red zone as Gostkowski hit a 26-yard field goal. After forcing a Dallas punt, the Patriots got the ball back and made it 13-3 with Brady's 5-yard touchdown pass to Welker. On the field he was ruled out but it was clear that was the wrong call so Belichick challenged it and it was reversed.
Romo answered with his best drive of the game, finding his boy Witten for a 1-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds left in the half.
New England got the ball first to start the second half but they couldn't do much so they punted to Dallas.
Romo got the Cowboys down to the 7-yard line but Carter's 11-yard sack on second down forced Dallas to get more conservative (foreshadowing!) as Choice took a dump pass to the 4-yard line. Bailey tied it with a 22-yard field goal.
A 12-play drive seemed promising for Brady and Co. but they were forced to punt yet again. However, Dallas bailed them out by running into Zoltan Mesko. Four plays later, Hernandez fumbled after a hit by Bradie James.
The Cowboys couldn't take advantage of that as they eventually punted on the ensuing drive. The Patriots weren't content with three turnovers as Lee picked off Brady in Dallas territory.
The red zone proved to be a major issue as Dallas couldn't punch it in again. A shovel pass (really?) to Choice on 3rd-and-Goal from the 5-yard line shockingly enough didn't work. Pats linebacker Brandon Spikes (8 tackles, 6 solo) made the play in what was one of his best performances as a pro. Bailey's 26-yard field goal still put the Cowboys up 16-13 and in position to pull off a major upset.
New England went three-and-out on their next possession but no worries since Dallas wouldn't dare let Romo throw the ball no matter what.
You always want a bye week later in the season when injuries have really mounted but at 5-1 and sitting in first place in the AFC East, I can't complain too much about the Patriots having next week off. Their next game is Sunday, October 30 at Pittsburgh and who knows, maybe Jerod Mayo will be back by then. The Steelers are always one of the AFC's top teams but in the last decade, I feel like the Patriots usually find a way to beat them home or away.