The Cowboys went to New York to play the meaningful 9/11 anniversary game, knowing that they were taking on a tough team in a tough situation. They might just have outplayed them, too, but in the end that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Dallas had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost. NBC graphics told us that they had led by 14 or more 242 times before and had never lost.
How they lost it will also matter, at least to some. Running hadn’t been easy all night, but Dallas stuck with it more than New York, totaling 26 carries to the Jets’ 16. Passing successfully might have come easier than expected, at least at times. Tony Romo totaled 352 yards despite leading for most of the game, and Dallas hit big plays to Jason Witten for 64, Miles Austin for 36 and a touchdown, and Dez Bryant for 42, plus a three-yard score to Bryant. In all, the Cowboys outgained the Jets 400-360. Their defense collected two huge fourth quarter turnovers, both by Sean Lee. All of that wouldn’t be enough.
With Dallas up by seven with nine minutes remaining, the ball was at the Jets two. Romo thought he saw an opening to run for the score, but the hole closed quickly and Romo fumbled. The Jets recovered, costing Dallas a sure three points. After a defensive stop by each team, Dallas found itself punting from their 41 with five minutes left. A hole opened up in the middle of the Cowboys line and Mat McBriar’s punt was blocked. A fortunate bounce allowed Isaiah Trufant to collect the ball in stride and run it back for a touchdown to even the score.
An exchange of punts later, all seemed to be in place once more as Dallas took over at their 41 with 49 seconds and one timeout remaining – just enough time to drive about 30 yards and win the game. Instead, Romo seemed to miscommunicate with Bryant, but he decided to throw the ball anyway with Bryant’s head turned. Darrelle Revis’ head was not turned, and he caught a pass that might as well have been intended for him.
The Jets moved the ball just two yards from the 34 to the 32, but Nick Folk nailed a 50-yard field goal that would have been good from at least 60 to gain their first lead of the game. There were still 27 seconds for Dallas to get themselves in field goal range, but a big gainer to Austin on their first play was called back on a very questionable offensive pass interference call and the drive sputtered from there.
So, after many months of wondering how good this Cowboys team can be, whether its offensive line and defensive secondary could hold up against strong competition, we learned that they are good enough to beat the Jets in New Jersey, in prime time, with an emotional crowd. That should probably excite Cowboys fans. The fact that they didn’t finish the job, though, will only bring back questions of whether this team is strong enough mentally to win these kinds of games.
Beyond the mark in the loss ledger, the big scar from the game could be an injury to Orlando Scandrick. With Terence Newman already out and Mike Jenkins in and out of the game with shoulder and ankle issues, Scandrick had to be carted from the sideline with an ankle sprain of his own that could cost him multiple weeks and throw the secondary into crisis mode – particularly if one or both of Jenkins and Newman can’t go next week.