When Tony Romo threw an interception to Vikings CB AJ Jefferson with 4:29 to go in Sunday's game, the critics started pouring in. With the Cowboys' fate seemingly sealed in a 23-20 loss to the lowly Vikings, Romo's name popped up in social media sites like wildfire. Never mind that it wasn't Romo's job to stop Adrian Peterson, Minnesota's mighty running back who ended up tallying 140 yards, nor was Romo responsible for allowing Christian Ponder to throw for 236 yards and a score. In the eyes of the unforgiving media, this loss was squarely on the shoulders of the talented but much maligned Cowboys quarterback.
Minutes later, those critics disappeared, if only for the time being.
Given the ball back with 2:44 to go in regulation, Romo engineered a 9 play, 90 yard drive that ended with a 7 yard touchdown pass to WR Dwayne Harris that gave the Cowboys a 27-23 victory. With the win, the Cowboys moved back over .500 at 5-4, keeping their one game lead over Philadelphia. Romo also improved his record to 22-4 in the month of November.
The win did not come easy against the Vikings, who fell to 1-7 on the year. After Dan Bailey and Blair Walsh exchanged field goals in the 1st quarter, Dallas drove to the Minnesota 12 but back to back Brian Robison sacks forced Bailey into another field goal. On the ensuing drive, the Vikings drove 79 yards on 11 plays to score on Ponder's 6 yard scramble, giving them a 10-6 lead going into the locker room.
Dallas appeared to take control by scoring twice in 10 seconds. After they scored on their first drive after a halftime on a 26 yard hook up between Romo and TE Jason Witten, the Cowboys defense took advantage of a Cordarrelle Patterson fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Vikings recovered, but were backed up on their own 5. On the very next play, Ponder was stripped and sacked by DE George Selvie in the end zone. DT Nick Hayden fell on the ball immediately after, and the Cowboys had a 20-10 lead. The Cowboys escaped the quarter with a 20-17 lead after Ponder found TE Kyle Rudolph for a 31 yard score (Rudolph left the game afterwards and did not return due to a foot injury). Minnesota finally retook the lead on a 4th and 1 at the Dallas 11, as he carried several defenders with him into the end zone. Romo's interception on Dallas's ensuing possession seemed to end it.
The defense, however, was able to hold strong, denying the Vikings a 1st down. The situation still looked bleak, however, as P Jeff Locke pinned the Cowboys on their own 10. Romo went to work quickly, finding Witten and Cole Beasley for first downs just before the two minute warning. On 2nd and 10 from the Dallas 45, Romo found Dez Bryant, who made up for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he picked up in the 3rd quarter that took Dallas out of field goal range. Bryant rallied 34 yards to the Minnesota 21, and four plays later, Romo found Harris for the game winning score with 35 seconds left on the clock.
Despite the return of DeMarco Murray, Dallas's offense relied heavily on Romo. He would finish the game 34-51 for 337 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. It was the 43rd 300+ yard game of his career. The Cowboys ran the ball just eight times throughout the game, and half of those carries went to Murray who picked up 31 yards (27 of them on a single 1st quarter run) Witten was the game's top receiver, nabbing 8 ball for 102 yards and a score, his second game of the season with 100+ receiving yards. Also impressive was Beasley, who tied a career high with 68 receiving yards on 6 receptions. After his notorious sideline “outbursts” in Detroit, Bryant had 6 receptions for 64 yards. Notably absent from the scoring was Terrence Williams (2 receptions, 33 yards) who saw his touchdown streak come to an end at four games.
On the other side, Peterson had his highest carry total since September 29 against Pittsburgh…the Vikings' only win. After being held to just 10, 13 and 13 carries in the previous 3 games…all multiple possession losses…Peterson carried the ball 25 times for 140 yards, matching the season high in yards he obtained during the Pittsburgh game. Ponder, who is still fighting off Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman for the starting quarterback job, finished 25-37 for 236 yards and a touchdown, along with an interception to Dallas CB Orlando Scandrick. The Vikings will face another NFC East opponent this Thursday when the Washington Redskins come to the Metrodome.
As for the Cowboys, they have a huge opportunity to prove they're a true Super Bowl contender when they travel to New Orleans for next week's Sunday Night game. While the last three meetings between the two teams have been very exciting, this meeting takes on even greater importance, as the Cowboys face off against former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who has joined up with another former Cowboys coordinator, Sean Payton, to lead the Saints to a 6-2 record a one game lead in the NFC South. Be sure to check back later this week for my full preview.