It’s official now. The Dallas Cowboys are finally back as America’s Team. Let the catcalls and booing begin.
Despite a thrilling 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions for their first playoff victory since 2009, no one is talking about the gutsy 4th and 6 call head coach Jason Garrett greenlighted during the team’s go-ahead touchdown drive. Nope, the only thing the Internet and the sports media can focus in on right now is New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s life-long love affair with the Cowboys. And the media just can’t get enough of his cheering of the team’s victory during group hug ceremonies in owner Jerry Jones’ private skybox captured on Fox TV cameras.
Yes, the Cowboys are back. Let the hating begin.
The Detroit Lions have only themselves to blame for their seventh straight playoff loss covering a span of 23 years. Fans of the beleaguered franchise will lament for months about the pass interference call that wasn’t in the fourth quarter. They will completely forget about the “cowardly lion” act of their head coach Jim Caldwell on the very next play. Instead of going for it on fourth and one, Caldwell wanted his crafty signal caller, Matthew Stafford, to try and draw the defense offside. Not only did that play completely backfire on the coach, his punter Sam Martin would add further indignation by kicking the ball only ten yards to put the Cowboys in the hole at their own 41-yard line. It was an omen Jason Garrett would heed on his team’s drive to overtake the Lions.
Detroit came out of the gate swinging to start the game on offense after the league’s No. 1 defense shut the Cowboys down on their opening drive. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had a field day against this team in 2012, continued where he left off. He led his team downfield in just two minutes on four plays. The drive ended when the QB connected with speedy wide receiver, Golden Tate, who weaved his way through the secondary for a 51-yard score.
Tony Romo then led his offense to another quick three and out. This time, however, the punt team downed the ball inside the Detroit one. The defense held its ground forcing the Lions to punt from deep within its own end zone. Cowboy rookie Dakota Watson inexplicably ran into the punter giving Detroit a fresh set of downs. Stafford then did something that hadn’t been accomplished in 12 years of playoff games. He guided his team on a 14-play, 99-yard drive capped off by running back Reggie Bush’s nifty 18-yard scoring run.
The Lions dominance in the first quarter unnerved Dallas. Up to this point, Romo had been completely ineffective in mounting any type of drive for the Cowboys. He often looked lost behind his offensive line as they gave him plenty of time to unload the ball. Unfortunately, his receiving corps couldn’t shake their defenders or they failed to improvise on their routes when Romo did get in trouble. The bleeding continued deep into the second quarter as the sacks, poor throws and ineffective running game continued to plague the offense.
With Detroit dominating the first half, it’s amazing the score didn’t get out of hand. Romo had completed eight passes for 73 yards. DeMarco Murray had been held to 28 yards on the ground. Those stats were all but forgotten on a single play. With just over a minute and a half left in the second quarter, Romo found Terrance Williams on a crossing route. He broke free of his defender and found an alley in the secondary he navigated through for a 76-yard score. Detroit would answer with a drive of their own that netted a field goal and 17-7 lead going into the locker room.
The Cowboys missed a golden opportunity to start the third quarter when they intercepted a tipped pass and returned the ball to the Lions 17. The drive stalled and set the stage for the most prolific kicker in NFL history to take the stage. He missed his 41-yard attempt. Detroit came back after that to add another field goal to their total for a 20-7 lead.
There were certainly doubts at AT&T Stadium as to whether or not the Tony Romo from days of the future past was going to rear its ugly head once again to dash beleaguered fans hopes. The defense had made the necessary adjustments in the second half to surrender only two field goals. Now it was time for the offense to hold up its end of the deal. Up until this point, Detroit’s top ranked defense was living up to its name. The Cowboys only had 152 total offensive yards to its credit (76 of those yards on one play) staring at a two touchdown deficit. Up to this point, it had not been Romo’s best day. That was all about to change.
The Cowboys offensive philosophy this season has been to center the offense on the legs of running back DeMarco Murray. They weren’t going to abandon it even now. Three straight plays involving Murray netted the Cowboys 30 yards. Facing a third and ten, it was time for Dallas’ other playmaker, Dez Bryant, to make his presence felt. Romo found his dangerous receiver on a short crossing pattern over the middle. A powerful stiff-arm on Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy freed the receiver to run 43 yards downfield. DeMarco finished the drive with a seven-yard scoring run around the left side. Unfortunately, it was called back because of a holding penalty against Jason Witten. Romo immediately connected with Cole Beasley over the middle for 15 yards. On fourth and one, Murray got his touchdown.
Detroit went a quick three and out. On this drive, Beasley stepped into the spotlight. Three plays involving the slot receiver moved the ball 47 yards downfield. Unfortunately, two successive Romo sacks by Ndamukong Suh forced the Cowboys to go for a field goal. This time Dan Bailey lived up to his reputation by connecting from 51 yards out bringing his team to within three points.
Stafford finally got his offense moving. Five plays netted the Lions 51 yards to the Dallas 46. On third and one, Stafford attempted a pass to Calvin Johnson. The ball was underthrown and hit linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the small of his back. The back judge initially ruled pass interference and announced it over the intercom. After a brief conference with other officials, the ref reversed himself and it was now fourth and one for the Lions. Instead of running a play to try and get the first down, Stafford tried to draw the Cowboys defense off side. It didn’t work and the Lions were called for a delay of game penalty. Punter Sam Martin then shanked the ball.
This was going to be an all or nothing moment for the Cowboys offense and the moment of truth came the fifth play into the drive. Facing a 4th down and six on the Detroit 42, Romo called a play intended for his favorite target, Jason Witten. The tight end made a brilliant move on safety James Ihedigbo that resulted in a 21-yard completion. Two holding penalties by linebackers Don Carey and Levy aided the drive. The drive ended when the offensive line bought Romo enough time to step up into the pocket where he found a streaking Terrance Williams in the end zone. His catch gave Dallas their first lead of the game, 24-20.
Cowboys’ defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence provided some drama with two minutes left in the contest. He recovered a fumble deep in Detroit territory that would have ended the game. However, instincts instead common sense took over, and he tried to run the ball. He was stripped on a tackle and Detroit recovered getting a new set of downs in the process. Fortunately for Lawrence, he redeemed himself a few plays later when he sacked Stafford and forced a fumble which he recovered. It was time for everyone at AT&T Stadium to do the Christie – and they did.
Cowboy Notes – It seems ridiculous that several Detroit Lions players had tears in their eyes after the game. Matthew Stafford is 0-18 on the road against teams with a winning record. Also, this franchise has only won two playoff games in 58 years – that’s right 58 years – so they should expect the unexpected to derail their hopes in any playoff game they participate in. Their last victory was a 38-6 mauling of Jerry Jones’ 1992 team. The Cowboys didn’t cry after that loss. They turned the incident into a positive as they went about winning the Super Bowl three out of the next four years.
Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the game and his comments were right on the mark. He wondered aloud why nobody is talking about the upcoming playoff games and instead focusing their attention on Chris Christie in Jerry Jones box and the officiating in the Dallas-Detroit game. Those are the two primary topics in social media dominating the news preceding this weekend’s games. You can expect the media to thoroughly scrutinize the Christie victory group hug in Jerry Jones private box all week leading up to the Green Bay. And yes Jerry Jones has insisted that his orange sweater lucky charm join him in Green Bay this weekend, the media be damn.
By the way, Cowboy fans have no problems with Christie’s devotion to the team, and there is a good reason why. He is the perfect buffer to keep Barrack Obama from ever picking Dallas to win the Super Bowl if they are fortunate to get that far. Since he took office, any team he has picked to win a major championship in football or basketball, either professional or collegiate, lost. Having your team get a “shout out” from Obama is akin to a kiss of death and there’s a good bet he’s rooting for Green Bay to knock the Cowboys out come Sunday.
– David Huff
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