By Will Martin
If you want to make a case about the level of parity in the NFL, one where on any given Sunday two teams with diametrically opposing records meet and the very minimal happens…then be very happy.
One week after a heartbreaking one point defeat on the road. One week before the biggest game of the year will take place on NBC in the Big Easy you would think that the Dallas Cowboys would come in loaded for bear and eager to make a statement about how impactful a team they can be when scoring.
Perhaps trap game plays into this. Perhaps there’s a mental challenge that permeates the mind when you are beaten up and quarterbacks have launched into you for over 400 yards four times in a season.
No names come up with key plays at crunch time. A quarterback-ever so vilified since signing a huge contract extension-who did exactly what needed to be done with under a minute to go-in a game the 4-4 Cowboys trailed the 1-6 Minnesota Vikings 23-20 and came out with a win 27-23.
This wasn’t a game to place on the wall if a hunter. If certainly wasn’t a trophy to hold if you were on a date. Once again a typical example of a game that fans get apprehensive about seeing going into the holidays amid the fears and the history of what happens when you get to the colder months.
Tony Romo was clutch in that last minute to engineer a ten play 90 yard drive to get the first place Cowboys to 5-4 in the victory as he found Jason Witten 8 times for 102 yards along with Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant six times apiece for 68 and 64 yards. Tony Romo 34 of 51 passing in this passable victory.
A more telling tale: Only nine touches running the ball? Ouch! One can only wonder what the 85,360 in attendance at the open roofed AT&T Stadium were pondering as the game ended.
Tony Romo had this particular take:
“Honestly, you’ve got to disregard everything and just say, ‘What do we need to do to win the football game, and what do we feel like gives us the best chance to go do that?” Romo said. “I know as a quarterback, you love to be in those situations.”
That 51/9 ratio isn’t something to get you fired up for a rematch with two Southlake guys with Cowboys ties in the Bayou who are waiting to let you have it before a national audience Sunday night.
“You have to bring your best every play on every Sunday in this league,” Garrett said. “I thought we did a good job hanging in there in this ballgame finding a way to win it. We’ve got to learn from it, move forward and get ready for New Orleans.”
The first half Sunday it seemed like Colleyville alum Christian Ponder was going to upset the apple cart of the Silver and Blue. In properly utilizing the moxie and moves of Adrian Peterson (25 carries for 140 yards and another 37 on three catches) Minnesota was able to take a 10-6 halftime lead. Ponder was 25 of 37 passing for 236 yards while the Cowboys seemingly kept the Purple People Posse in check.
Jason Garrett spoke highly of AP postgame.
“He’s exactly what you want an NFL player to be,” Garrett said. “He represents himself as a person so well and he is just awfully good. He’s big, strong, fast, explosive, he breaks tackles, he’s relentless.”
That first half was a yawning mix of field goals before the Vikings engineered a 79 yard drive that resulted on a score when Christian Ponder scrambled from six yards in for a 10-6 halftime lead. In the second half Tony Romo came out of the locker room and proceeded to mix runs and passes to Beasley, Terrence Williams, and Jason Witten down the length of the field. A 26-yard scoring strike to Witten gave Dallas a 13-10 lead.
The defense of the Cowboys came up big on the very next possession when George Selvie sacked Ponder to force a fumble, recovered in the end zone by Nick Hayden to give Dallas a 20-10 lead 4 minutes into the 3rd period.
That was the first ever career touchdown for Nick Hayden, who was grateful.
“I give all the credit to George on that play,” Hayden said. “He’s the one that got the strip sack fumble. I was just lucky enough to be there at the right time and scoop it up.”
Of course with this team as the Cowboys giveth the team also taketh away. Minnesota would then bounce back as Christian Ponder found success in the air on a 77 yard drive. The final 31 on a pass to Kyle Rudolph. Dallas’ lead reduced to 20-17. It was then that the ever rare ‘Emmitt Smith Rule’ came into play in Arlington.
With Tony Romo moving the offense deep into Viking territory Dez Bryant would get popped for an offensive pass interference call. Dez Bryant then proceeded to remove his helmet for an added penalty for such actions on the field. That sequence killed what looked to be a promising drive.
“A bad play by him, you can’t do that,” Garrett said. “That was a big sequence for us. We needed to get points on that drive.”
Now into the 4th quarter and Minnesota on the move it was an interception by Orlando Scandrick that thwarted another Viking drive. The Cowboys would then move the pigskin to the 38 of Minnesota before Jason Witten was called for pass interference. Another drive denied by penalty!
With about five minutes left in regulation it finally happened. Adrian Peterson-the pride of Palastine, Texas-finally broke loose on a 52-yard jaunt deep into Cowboys territory. The Vikings would then claim a 23-20 lead as AP took a cluster of Cowboys into the end zone. The play brought back memories of Robert Newhouse doing the same thing 35 years ago.
Incredibly kicker Blair Walsh missed the extra point. That was all that Dallas needed to channel their inner John Elway to engineer a 9 play 90 yard drive for a game winning 27-23 victory for the Dallas Cowboys. Key completions went to Jason Witten for 11 yards, Cole Beasley for 18, Dez for 34 before Dwayne Harris caught the game winning touchdown grab for seven yards as the game was about to expire.
Any sense of relief in that last drive, Tony?
“Relief is never a term I would use,” Romo said. “It’s a joy. You feel like you won the football game and you feel like you gave yourself a chance to win at that point. More than anything, it’s a little more competitive than that, if that makes sense. I just picture a Michael Jordan over Xavier McDaniel kind of look, where he’s just kind of aggressive being, ‘Yes!’ That’s the feeling you have.”
I have a feeling that there is a lot of apprehension leading into this weekend with Sean Payton and Rob Ryan. My fear is that Drew Brees goes for 500 yards and Jimmy Graham goes wild on Sean Lee in the secondary. It may not be pretty. Come Sunday the world will find out pretty quickly if the Dallas Cowboys will successfully be able to go toe to toe with the juggernaut that is Darren Sproles, Drew Brees, and the Graham Master.
It could also be a long night for Tony Romo and Rob Ryan’s 3-4 eight in the box approach. For the record since 1998 the Saints have won 8 of 9 meetings with the Cowboys lone win back in 2009 after a tough home loss to the Chargers. A game DeMarcus Ware left on a stretcher and then kicked booty in Nawlins one week later.
Get that spice and gumbo ready Texas. I feel some WhoDat Hoodoo Voodoo a coming.