The stage was set for the Dallas Cowboys to take a two game lead in the NFC East. While the now 1-3 Washington Redskins did pull a comeback victory on the Oakland Raiders, – a Raiders team that was missing Terrelle Pryor. Both the
New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles were humiliated in their respective road games, also against AFC West teams. With the way the division was looking, a two game lead could be insurmountable.
The Cowboys were shut out in the second half by a San Diego Chargers defense that ranked 31st in the league coming into the game. The offense managed only 317 yards in the 30-21 defeat.
Perhaps Monte Kiffin’s mind was on his son Lane’s firing from the head coaching job at USC hours earlier, but that’s no excuse for the attempt at def
ense his unit put up on Sunday. The Chargers picked up 506 yards of total offense in the win, and made Philip Rivers look like Dan Fouts. Rivers finished the day 35-of-42 for 401 yards with 3 touchdown passes to earn a magnificent 120.3 rating on the day. Equally vital to the Chargers’ efforts was RB Danny Woodhead. The former Patriot tallied 104 yards though receiving, rushing, and a kick return and scored two touchdowns.
The Cowboys seemed to be in control of the game after the 2nd quarter. Trailing 7-0 after a 1st quarter that featured Woodhead’s first touchdown, via a 26 yard strike from Rivers, the Cowboys scored all of their 21 points in the frame. QB Tony Romo found WR Dez Bryant for two scores, which bookended San Diego’s 36-yard field goal by Nick Novak. Following Bryant’s first score, which came from five yards out, the Cowboys forced the Chargers to punt on the ensuing drive. Dwayne Harris returned the punt into Charger te
rritory. Following a three and out, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 6 on the San Diego 38. Head coach Jason Garrett elected to have D
an Bailey try a 56 yard field goal, despite the fact that Bailey’s career long is 53 yards. Bailey missed the field goal, an
rst half’s final drive, which ended with another Novak field goal, this one from 42 yards out. It didn’t seem important at the time, but the failure to stop the Chargers at the end of the half would come back to shock the Cowd the Chargers, taking advantage of a short field, drove to the Dallas 18 where Novak split the uprights. Shortly after the two minute warning, LB Sean Lee caught a errant Rivers
boys (no pun intended).ass, brought on by pressure from Jason Hatcher, and took it 52 yards for the score to put Dallas up 21-10. Rivers recovered from the turnover to lead the fi
Receiving the ball to start the second half, the Chargers drove 80 yards in 10 plays on a 5 and a half minute drive that ended in Woodhead’s second touchdown of the day. Woodhead blew past Cowboys LB Bruce Carter, and Rivers easily found him from 13 yards out to shrink the Dallas lead to one. After another Cowboys punt, the Chargers again drove deep into Cowboys territory. They were held to another Novak field goal, this one from 23 yards, but earned a 23-21
lead they would not give back. After getting the ball back through yet another Chris Jones punt, the Chargers stuck the dagger in the Cowboys with a 56 yard hook up between Rivers and TE Antonio Gates that made it a two possession game. Gates would finish with 8 recpetions for 136 yards. Romo and the offense almost made it interesting, but rookie WR Terrence Williams fumbled at the San Diego one-yard line, stripped by CB Crezdon Butler. CB Richard Marshall recovered in the end zone, and the Chargers ran out most of the clock it to ice the game. Williams’s fu
mble rendered an 11 play, 78 yard drive useless.
The Cowboys offense has been marketed as being more conservative, and both the positives and negatives of this philosophy exposed themselves on Sunday. Romo did have a solid game (27-37, 244 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s), and he did not turn the ball over. However, in this new cautious approach, Romo has seemed to forget his ability to throw deep downfield. He found six different receivers for at least one reception each on Sunday, but none of them had over 100 yards, and his longest throw was the 34 yard Bryant touchdown that only went so far because of Bryant’s run after the catch. While the system has its benefits…Romo has thrown just one interception this year and ranks 2nd in the NFL in completions.
n percentage (72.2%) behind only Peyton Manning…it wouldn’t hurt the Dallas offense if Romo reverted to his gunslinger approach from time to time. Through the first four games, he has yet to record a 300 yard performance. It certainly didn’t help that once things started to turn sour that the Cowboys abandoned the run game. Coming off a 175 yard performance against the Rams, RB DeMarco Murray ran for 70 yards on just 14 carries. The offensive line did not help matters either, picking up key holding penalties at unwelcome times and allowing Romo to be sacked three times.
The loss is especially crippling for the Cowboys when one considers their next opponent, who just so happens be the Denver Broncos. The near-unanimous Super Bowl favorite in the AFC, the Broncos have skewered their previous two NFC East foes, dealing the Giants a 41-23 loss in the much hyped Manning Bowl before grounding the Eagles by a 52-20 score while the Cowboys were in California.
The good news is that the Cowboys are 2-0 thus far at AT&T Stadium this season, and have a knack for cooling off Peyton Manning. In his last two tilts against the Cowboys, both when he was a member of the Colts, Manning has struggled. In 2006, en route to his victory in Super Bowl XLI, Manning and the then 9-0 Colts made a stop to Dallas. In what was his only trip to Texas Stadium, Manning struggled, throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned by Kevin Burnett to tie the game. He did throw two touchdowns, but two touchdown runs by Marion Barber III were enough to give the Cowboys a 21-14 win over the perfect Colts. More recently, in 2010, Manning doubled his interception total from the last meeting, throwing four picks against a 3-8 Cowboys team at Lucas Oil Stadium. Though he would lead the Colts back from a 17-0 deficit, Manning threw a game-sealing pick to Lee, the former Nittany Lion’s second of the day, in overtime that set up David Buehler’s game winning field goal in a 38-35 victory.
The bad news is…this Manning just might be better.
Check back Thursday for my Cowboys-Broncos preview!