“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of hope, the winter of our despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
Somewhere in Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones’ mind, this epic quote written by Charles Dickens 156 years ago was surely bouncing around his head as he witnessed his team totally fall apart in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons, 39-28.
The loss more than ended a season of hope. It began the winter of the Cowboys despair.
Dallas had stunned the Atlanta Falcons to open the game when they took just over a minute to post the game’s first score thanks to a brilliant slice and dice 37-yard run by Joseph Randall. It happened so fast, the Falcons defense never knew what hit them. To prove the quick score was no fluke, the Cowboys defense stuffed Atlanta and backup quarterback Brandon Weeden – starting for the injured Tony Romo – marched the offense 77 yards in eight plays capped by another Joseph Randall touchdown run.
Deftly mixing in runs with short passes, the Cowboys had outgained Atlanta 142 yards to 2 with just eight minutes gone in the contest. Randall had already piled up 86 yards on the ground before Atlanta QB Matt Ryan finally woke up his shocked troops.
Atlanta finally came up with its answer to the Dallas blitzkrieg by mounting an efficient offensive attack of its own. Ryan finally connected with his primary weapon, All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. Further ammo was provided by running back Devonta Freeman who continuously made lightning quick strikes through the Dallas line on his way to an eventual 141-yard rushing day. The Falcons 10-play 80-yard drive ended with the first of what would be Freeman’s three touchdown runs on the day.
The Cowboys were unfazed by the turn of events. They answered the Falcons with an impressive 8-play 67-yard drive powered by the legs of Darren McFadden’s and the hands of slot receiver Cole Beasley. McFadden’s 2-yard score put the Boys in Blue up by 14 once again. Weeden had completed 16 consecutive passes during this run. He was making the pundits that questioned his ability to win in the days leading up to the game to stop and rethink their position. Then came pass number 17!
For some reason, Weeden forced a pass to tight end Jason Witten. It was intercepted by Atlanta safety William Moore. With the ball on the Dallas 23-yard line, the Falcon’s proceeded to once again make this a seven point game with Freeman scoring on a short run. The Cowboys, however, weren’t done teasing their fan base.
On the ensuing drive, Weeden found Beasley for 15 yards. A roughing the passer call added another 15 and suddenly the Cowboys were on the 50 with just over two minutes before half. Lance Dunbar, the almost forgotten running back, was inserted into the two-minute offense drill and paid immediate dividends. He caught two passes for 15 and 22 yards taking the last reception down to the one-yard line. Randall would leap over a pile of defenders for his third touchdown of the half.
It would also be the last scoring highlight the Dallas would enjoy the rest of the day. Atlanta managed to get within field goal range in the last 40 seconds to cut the lead to 28-17 at half time. The 32-yard field goal by Matt Bryant would start a run of 25 consecutive points the Cowboys had no answer for.
Cowboy Notes – Brandon Weeden set a franchise record by completing 23 consecutive passes going back to the Philadelphia game. It will probably be the only lasting memory of this quarterback’s time with the team. His contract expires at the end of the season and will likely not be renewed. With Cowboys down by 11 points with less than two minutes to play in the game, Weeden was flushed from the pocket. Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, the quarterback slid in bounds to avoid contact. Head Coach Jason Garrett had to burn a precious time out.
With an upgraded defense and a fantastic 2015 draft that saw the Cowboys literally snag three first round players for the price of one, it was the best of times for Jerry Jones entering the season. Three games in, it has become the worst of times. With the heart of the Cowboy offense gutted by injury – quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant – Dallas is indeed entering the winter of its despair.
At the end of last year, the Dallas Cowboys were convinced they had found their 21st Century Triplets in Romo, Bryant and DeMarco Murray. Instead of franchising the NFL rushing leader, they let Murray go to the Eagles in free agency. In all probability, had Murray remained with the team, Dez Bryant and Tony Romo would not be sidelined with injuries right now. The reasoning is quite simple. Romo would have been handing the ball off to Murray on the plays both he and Bryant suffered injuries. Dallas leaned heavily on the run last year to protect Romo and his back. The results of this offensive philosophy resulted in a 12-4 season. The Cowboys weren’t about to change that approach entering 2015, especially with an upgraded defense and the return of All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee. So much for wishful thinking!
– David Huff
Enigma's mobile Concert Calendar!