They were throwing footballs with three fingers. The All-Pro tight end had the dropsies but the rookie backup tight end caught a miracle. They were getting sacks from their nose tackle, physical play from their skinny cornerback and bulldozer dominance from their late-game one-dimensional running game.
The Cowboys’ creative-by-necessity 14-10 win at Washington on Sunday night seemed to have been coordinated not by Phillips and Garrett and Stewart, but instead by Richard and Dean and Anderson. You know. … MacGyver.
This was paper clips and Elmer’s Glue and rubber bands and duct tape and aspirin, somehow facilitating an unlikely victory that pushes Dallas – given up for dead by 99 percent of the holders of press credentials – to 6-4.
Is 6-4 good? It is when you get a road win, against a divisional opponent, against a team vying with you for a wild-card berth, with a favorable bend in the schedule forthcoming.
“That,’’ said coach Wade Phillips, “kind of epitomizes the kind of team we think we are, and can be.’’
Critical on the defensive side of the ball?
Let’s credit nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who recorded two sacks but did much more than that, triggering a pass rush that battered Redskins QB Jason Campbell (somehow, he almost never threw deep but was nevertheless under constant pressure) and manhandling the interior of the Washington offensive line. How good was Ratliff? Throughout the NBC prime-time broadcast, the network would go to break by showing black-and-white Glamour Shots of stars Romo and Owens and Campbell and Portis. By the fourth quarter, there was a fifth guy getting Glamour Shotted: Big, thick, who-the-hell-is-that Jay Ratliff.
And let’s get Terence Newman his due. He hasn’t been healthy all year long, but this was a game in which he simply had to strap it on and be better than Washington’s wideouts. They are quick and small and elusive and shifty. T-New – quick and small and elusive and shifty himself – needed to stick with them. Or better. … out-do them.
Newman crushed Santana Moss on one quick-out completion and stole away an interception on another short throw. And on Washington’s last-gasp fourth-down throw, it was Newman again, zipping into the picture for the deflection.
That play left it to the Dallas offense to hang onto the four-point lead with 6:40 remaining. On paper, this offensive line – often called the NFL’s biggest, most-experienced, even “best’’ – should be capable of burrowing its way downfield. … especially with Marion Barber III burrowing behind it.
But NBC tossed up a worrisome stat: MB3, the non-starter and “closer’’ a year ago, led the NFL in fourth-quarter rushing. This season, as the full-timer? MB3 as a fourth-quarter rusher is ranked 32nd in the 32-team league.
Would Barber do something to justify his status as the highest-paid runner in Cowboys history?
He was money.
On 11 straight plays, MB3 was given the ball. He performed his demanding duties while featuring the rare triple-combo of toughness, pass-catching ability and intellect. On third-and-8, Dallas opted to throw – to Barber, who slashed into the Washington defense for a 10-yard catch. On fourth-and-1 from Washington’s 17 with 1:08 remaining, it was back to MB3, who found his way around the right end for three yards.
And notably (for you young kids at home, as the announcers like to say), Barber didn’t finish his carries with dips to the outside to pad stats, or worse, with tiptoes out of bounds to avoid contact. At least three times, as he approached the clock-stopping sideline, he collapsed to the turf, unselfishly saving time.
Said teammate Jason Witten of Barber: “He imposed his will.’’
And then let’s hand it to Tony Romo. He’s been rather grim of late – and I mean even when he was playing. There was a noticeable absence of joy. Was it because, as I’ve been advised, his superiors told him to cut down on the Favreishness?
Here, the combination of a broken pinkie, plus all that tape on his hand, plus some understandable rust, may have created some natural boundaries for his talent. Romo – in his first game back after missing a month – tossed some Niekros. Not all of the concerted (and creative) effort to feature T.O. was effective. He was justifiably tentative when scrambling opportunities seemed to unfold.
But for critics who think Dallas is “overly reliant on one guy’’ … well, since when shouldn’t a good offense rely on its Pro Bowl QB? Besides, Tony Romo can be that “one-guy’’ good. (And Brad Johnson was certainly that “one-guy’’ bad.)
Romo made what coulda/shoulda been the game-winning throw midway through the fourth quarter when he sprinted out and tossed a bullet to his buddy Witten. The tight end’s paws couldn’t hang on, though. And a Cowboys fan could be forgiven for here-we-go-again despair.
But Romo bounced right back a moment later, throwing to the other side of the field, and throwing to the other tight end, rookie Martellus Bennett, who climbed above his defender for a circus catch in the front of the end zone.
“Very, very important,” Romo summarized “This was to see what direction we were going to go the rest of the season. We’re resilient. We kept grinding. Our goal here is to finish.”
The Cowboys’ next two outings? Home games against have-nots San Francisco and Seattle. Should we could on 8-4 heading into December? Should we have faith in the possibility of December success against Pittsburgh and Baltimore and Philly?
The Cowboys have the players to stay in contention. At the moment, just as encouragingly, they might just have enough paper clips and Elmer’s Glue and rubber bands and duct tape and aspirin, too.
... written by Austin , November 18, 2008
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