By Jay Betsill
After winning at the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and suffering a 20-point loss at Seattle, the Cowboys welcomed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Cowboys Stadium for their home opener and escaped with a 16-10 victory. The offense sputtered as Tampa Bay’s defensive line pressured Tony Romo all game long and their only touchdown came on an 11-yard run by DeMarco Murray in the first quarter
“To win this game, with the way our defense played, and grind it out,” Romo said. “This is a very, very satisfying win, even though it will kind of get lost in the shuffle as you move into the season. …These are the kind of wins you have to have.”
Dallas continued its sloppy play with 13 penalties for 105 yards, including four against right tackle Doug Free. There were also more dropped passes, including a likely touchdown that went off the fingers of tight end Jason Witten running alone on the final play of the third quarter. While Witten is undoubtedly still recovering from the lacerated spleen he suffered in the preseason, Free’s play has simply been less-than-stellar since signing a four-year, $32 million deal with $17 million guaranteed.
While the offense struggled, the Cowboys defense thrived against Josh Freeman and the Bucs. Dallas’ defense held the Bucs to 166 total yards (the fewest allowed by Dallas since 2005), with most coming on the final drive in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas lost starting safety Barry Church for the remainder of the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“The game was far from artistic,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I was proud of our team when you don’t have your best fastball and don’t have your best stuff to find ways to win the game.”
The hard-fought victory put the Cowboys in a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants at 2-1 atop the NFC East.
“The big thing is we won one, even though there were a lot of things that could cause you to lose one,” owner Jerry Jones said. “Romo told me that was a Pittsburgh game out there, not looking pretty but finding a way to get a win. The defense bailed us out.”
Next up for the Cowboys is a Monday night home contest against the Chicago Bears. Chicago is coming off a 23-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams that saw its defense dominate the game while its offensive unit is still struggling to find it identity…sound familiar? Running back Michael Bush has filled in for the injured Matt Forte admirably while quarterback Jay Cutler has been reunited with his former Bronco teammate, wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The lingering question for offensive coordinator Mike Tice is to decide if they are a grind it out running team or a team that is going to win through the air? The Bears defense sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times, 2.5 of those courtesy of veteran defensive end Israel Idonije. Cornerback Tim Jennings has been playing great all season and recorded his fourth interception of the year with a pick against the Rams.
Look for the Bears defense to use Tampa Bay’s plan as a guide to pressure Romo while Chicago’s offense will likely lean on Cutler’s arm to try and take advantage of the Cowboys depleted safety position.
BRANDON CARR GETS PLAYING TIME AT SAFETY
Prized free agent cornerback Brandon Carr played free safety for several snaps in the Cowboys’ victory over the Bucs on Sunday. The move came as a result of the injuries to Barry Church (injured Achilles during the game) and Gerald Sensabaugh (missed Sunday’s game with a calf injury) and the extended playing time of cornerback Mike Jenkins. Mana Silva originally replaced Church at safety and was called for a pass interference penalty on his second snap. The Cowboys did not have any other active safeties after cutting Mario Butler to make room to sign linebacker Orie Lemon from the practice squad.
“I was for it,” Carr said. “Whatever it takes coming in they talked about if it comes down to it, they got me back there. I was working my butt off in practice and I was working with the scout team back there just to get a feel for how it is because it is different.”