Cowboys Take Giant Step toward Playoff Berth

Dez Bryant and the Cowboys are ecstatic after defeating the Giants on Sunday night. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
Dez Bryant and the Cowboys are ecstatic after defeating the Giants on Sunday night. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Zach Walker 

How did it go for those Cowboys?
That is how the Cowboys do it, big plays for and against them, the names showing up when the game was in pivotal points of the contest, and the win on the road. The game wasn’t a runaway, it was a bar fight, and it was a game where the collection plate for bad vibes was passed around the locker room at halftime, wipe their hands of the first half and scrap together the win.

It’s always such a beautiful sight when the Cowboys go three and out on their opening drive, I mean, it’s such a flat tire feeling. A truly excellent punt by Chris Jones put the ball at the 20 yard line for the Giants’ first possession. The Giants wouldn’t threaten much on first and second downs, but the Giants and Eli Manning would convert three for three on third down before getting down to the doorstep, where Odell Beckham Jr would work the inside route and catch the third and goal pass from Eli Manning, who had nearly been picked off on the previous play. Amazing things happened on the touchdown play, the most unbelievable thing was right tackle Geoff Schwartz was apparently given the “all-clear” to go ahead and get a head start on his blocking and it was a full-blown horrible oversight by the referees. The second was the celebration by Beckham, who threw up the Dez Bryant “X” celebration. Now, I don’t know Dez personally, but something told me that a game was going to pass through Dez at some point, and he was going to remember that.

The Cowboys would piece a drive together with a good start with some DeMarco Murray runs setting up a third and short, and the offense would elaborate on their short yardage formation, with James Hanna sneaking out from the line and Tony Romo hitting him for a 27 yard third down conversion. Romo followed that with a roll right pass to Terrance Williams for 18 yards. But after two short gains by Murray, the ole’ combination would have a misconnection, where Tony Romo would put too much on a pass intended for Jason Witten, who had to pop Antrel Rolle to ensure that the pass was intercepted. The Cowboys would settle for the free three from Dan Bailey. But Dan the Man had to make the tackle on the ensuing kickoff, and while I like the kicker getting in on the tackle, I want Dan Bailey not making those tackles, he’s far too important to the team.

The next drive for the Giants would feature a play that Brandon Carr will never forget. After a third and 12 being converted for 13 yards by the tight end Daniel Fells, the first quarter ended, then a play of the ages was made. The Giants rookie Odell Beckham worked on Brandon Carr, and while the two fought for position, Beckham shucked Brandon Carr, who was holding, and caught the ball while fully extending and caught the ball with only his thumb, index, and middle fingers of his outside hand. Looking back now, and knowing that the Cowboys won the game, that catch might have been the most impressive display of hand, not hands, that I think can only ever be matched, not topped. That was a 43 yard touchdown to make it a 14 to 3 game in favor of the Giants.

But when the Cowboys have needed to score to stay in the game, and this has been a season long thing, the Cowboys did. It started with a throw into a quickly closing window for Dez Bryant and 12 yards. Then four straight DeMarco Murray rushes, soaking up 26 yards and moving the ball into Giants’ territory. The Cowboys converted a third and 2 with a fade-away pass to Jason Witten for 6 yards. After that, the swamping screen pass with Travis Frederick and Zack Martin leading the charge for Lance Dunbar for a 26 yard gain down to the 7 yard line. On what seemed like a quickly failing play, DeMarco Murray cut the ball back into the middle of the field for a 3 yard gain. Then the Cowboys would show some ingenuity with a shovel pass to Jason Witten, who went untouched into the endzone to make it a four point game.

But where the Cowboys answered, the Giants would continue to stack on the points. A Rashad Jennings 12 yard run on the first play of the drive, followed up by 4 yard loss. Then a 6 yard rush to get a more manageable third down. But again, Beckham was in the Manning cross-hairs, this time working on Orlando Scandrick, and gaining 14 yards. Beckham would catch two more passes on the drive, one being a 12 yard catch on third and 6. Andre Williams would rail off an 18 yard rush on first down, then on the next play, a short 2 yard gain by Williams, Jeremy Mincey would get an unnecessary roughness penalty for a hit on Williams’ head while he was on the ground. With the penalty, the ball moved to the 8 yard line. The Giants would continue to hand the ball off, and this time the defense, strictly Barry Church would strip the ball from Andre Williams, while stacked on top of Kyle Wilber making the tackle, and Anthony Hitchens came up with the football. The ball was called down, and a very frustrated looking Jason Garrett would challenge the call of down by contact. The refs never found the right angle and clear evidence to give the Cowboys the ball, and I say bull, it was there. But the Giants would take the next play and score, with 3 yard Andre Williams touchdown. Both teams would just exchange possessions, a punt a piece, a forced fumble on Tony Romo with 18 seconds left, and the Giants would pick up nothing but bonus yards as the half expired.

The second half would open up much better for the Cowboys on defense, forcing the Giants to punt on back to back possessions, with a punt from the Cowboys tucked between. Dwayne Harris set up the Cowboys with a sweet 15 yard return at the Cowboys 35 yard line. DeMarco Murray would take a short pass in the right flat for 15 yards to midfield. Two plays later, Murray would rush for 5 yards on second down. And on third down, Romo would find Cole Beasley, in a shallow out on the left side of the field at the 40 yard line and dodge a tackler at the 35 yard line and score from 45 yards out, a massive play for the offense and it shortened the game back to a four point game.

The Giants’ drive was extended 15 extra yard with a stupid “hot” unsportsmanlike penalty by Orlando Scandrick for slapping Preston Parker across the facemask, after Daniel Fells picked up 13 yards with his reception. The Giants would drive methodically down the field, and get into another third down at the Cowboys 30 yard line. And Eli Manning would, again, find Beckham on third down, but he would calmly jog along the sideline and bait Barry Church into finishing him, and flopped as he was hit along the sideline at the 18 yard line. And the ref said he flopped, and I feel that embellishment should be a penalty because it rarely happens to be so obvious, it’s a two minute minor in the NHL if caught sandbagging, and that’s what he did, real chump move, great no call, better call out by the ref. After a misconnect with Beckham in the endzone, Barry Church would force that turnover that he was overdue. A hot-pass from Manning towards Preston Parker and Parker in his attempt to bring that pass down, tipped the ball into the air and Barry Church ran right under it and had a wave of blockers in place in one motion and returned the ball to the Cowboys 45 yard line.

That would be the swing of the momentum pendulum in the Cowboys favor. A 3 yard run with a great tackle by Jonathan Hankins, then on second, a quick pitch behind Tyron Smith went for 18 yards and Murray barely allowed himself to be escorted out of bounds. After a no gain rush on first down, Romo rolled right and found Dez Bryant on a crossing pattern at the 12 yard line and Dez did his Dez thing and bulled straight into through Stevie Brown for the touchdown, and I thought Dez was reaching for a marker when he was just putting his show back on, still a beast play from Dez Bryant to take the lead.

The Giants next possession was a down moment, when Beckham left the game with a back injury after a third down catch that failed to convert. But, the Cowboys had a major relapse of values, and went back into old, dumb mode on a third and a long three. The Cowboys, after Murray rushed for four straight positive gains, and instead of putting Randle in to rest Murray, because they rested Murray on the play, the Cowboys went 5 wide with two tight ends (Witten, Escobar) and Romo threw the deep comeback towards Terrance Williams, and it just seemed very blank faced, confusing that a very achievable third down, with the lead and needing to drain some clock that, that play was pulled from the deck, if the game went wrong, that play would have been the culprit.

The Giants retook the lead following a 14 play drive that soaked up six minutes, and Giants scored on another third down, with JJ Wilcox getting himself trapped in the play-action, leaving Adrian Robinson uncovered for the 1 yard score and the 28 to 24 lead with three minutes left in the game. Romo found Dez on a 4 yard curl route on first down, a short throw to Witten for 5 yards on second, and a Murray rush for 9 yards on third down to take the game to the two minute warning. After the break, the Giants had a neutral zone infraction and Romo wanted to hit Dez for a free play, but the refs correctly blew it dead, but Romo still nailed Dez in the back with the ball. Then hit Cole Beasley for another huge gain on first and 5, the pass going for 21 yards and getting the ball to the Giants’ 36 yard line. The following play Romo had time to think of something funny to say on the sideline, send a tweet about how awesome his offensive has become, and then look up and find Jason Witten for a 15 yard gain. Romo had 7 seconds to dance in the pocket on the play. Then Romo hooked back Dez, who while side-stepping a tackler and fighting with two defenders to step out of bounds after an 8 yard gain. Romo then had another 7 second clean pocket, so clean he had time to watch how Tyron Smith was dominating Jason Pierre-Paul on the play, and replay that Beckham catch in his head and think just how cool it’ll be when he completes the pass to Dez Bryant, how that catch was in a losing game for the Giants, then he found Dez for the 13 yard touchdown and the lead.

But the Giants had 61 seconds left and three timeouts, and we’ve all seen Eli Manning throw some “MacGyver” passes that just work. Eli tried to get it to Jennings but it was dropped, the Eli found Donnell for 8 yards on second down, then tried to get it back to Donnell but the pass was too high, thanks to Tyrone Crawford’s pressure, bringing up fourth and 2. Eli would fit the ball to Jennings for the first down, but the play was reviewed and the ball correctly went over on downs, and Rolando McClain yielded absolutely zero yards after catch, maybe even negative yards, but the Giants weren’t given the first down and the crowd went wild as the Cowboys would win the game.

That’s a perfect 5 and zero on the road this season. The only undefeated team on the road this season. And Romo’s 143.4 quarterback rating, throwing 4 touchdowns, just as good as it gets.