Sep 5, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) gets sacked by Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
On Wednesday night, the Cowboys took on the defending Super Bowl champions, as well all of the naysayers, yet emerged victorious. Here's how.
Well, I guess the experts are going to have to find something new to write about. For the last few days, we've heard everything that was wrong with the Dallas Cowboys. They spent the entire offseason injured. Their top three receiving options are bleeding from their spleen, or hobbling on a hamstring, or gimping on a knee. They didn't fix their offensive line. They are going to be starting a rookie at cornerback.
Tony Romo and the 'Boys weren't having any of that talk. In the inaugural game of the 2012 NFL Season, Jason Garrett's squad rode into Met Life Stadium and walked away triumphant, 24-17.
The victory marked the first time that the defending Super Bowl champions were unable to start the next season at the top of the standings. Instead, a team that no ESPN football expert picked to win (amongst a panel of 12!) and was predicted to finish last by at least in the NFC East by at least one NFL Network talking head now sits alone at the top of the league.
As usual, Romo had to break out some magical moves to avoid the Giants pass rush. By the looks of things, he'll need to do so many times over while the offensive line (hopefully) gels. His new favorite target was none other than the previously maligned Kevin Ogletree. The Tree hauled in eight passes for 114 yards and two scores.
The first was a short 10 yarder when Romo escaped pressure and drew the linebackers up as he moved towards the line of scrimmage. His second score came on a double move down the right sideline when overmatched cornerback Corey Webster was caught peaking at the QB when Ogletree flew by him. The eight receptions, 114 yards and two scores eclipsed anything he had done previously in his career
The true do everything guy seemed to be DeMarco Murray. With a slight 7-3 halftime lead, the Cowboys opened the second half by running six consecutive plays for Murray. Later in the game, he would have seven called plays on one drive (although three were negated by those pesky penalties). Murray repaid the Cowboys faith in him by gaining 140 total yards on 22 touches, 20 of them rush attempts.
He even threw in a signature play for the season; sending hefty LB Mathias Kiwanuka to the turf before regrouping then spinning out of a Justin Tuck grasp (he too, turfbound) and then scampering up the right sideline.
Dez Bryant flourished in the first half; seeming to be unstoppable on slant patterns (as was Ogletree) while catching a big 38 yarder down the right sideline on a third-and-two. He finished with 85 yards. Miles Austin picked up the slack in the second half; gaining 73 yards and scoring the game-clinching touchdown on a 1st and 30 after two frustrating offensive line penalties.
To say it was obvious the offensive line was starting together for the first time all year would be an understatement. The Cowboys committed 13 penalities, including six on one drive alone (a touchdown drive!) and most of them were the fault of the line. To make matters worse, Phil Costa exited the game after the first series after his back spasms flared up. He was replaced by Ryan Cook. Yes, the Ryan Cook that the team traded for right before the cut deadline this past Friday. He contributed to the two delay of game penalties when Romo and he didn't execute snaps in time.
The way the defense was playing, however, maybe this team doesn't need stellar offensive line play. They acquired CB Brandon Carr and drafted first-rounder Morris Claiborne in an attempt to solidify the other weak unit on the team. They added some depth to a decent defensive line and they replaced the weak links at the linebacker position. For this game, everything worked.
The team that hadn't relinquished a touchdown drive in the first half of any preseason game reset the streak for the games that matter at one. Sean Lee forced a fumble by rookie David Wilson to thwart the Giants first extended drive. He finished with 12 tackles on the game. DeMarcus Ware got into the action by sacking Eli Manning early in the second quarter to pass the 100 total career mark. He'd add a second later in the game.
The shining stand from the game had to be when the team was put in a position to fail by a 'bad Romo' moment. In the second quarter, before the Giants D-Line tired, they were getting relentless pressure on Romo. He had escaped the initial pressure but stepped up into more. Instead of stepping left where he could have re-established sight lines, he forced a throw across the middle, directly to Giants linebacker Michael Boley. Boley raced up the sidelines and would have scored had left tackle Tyron Smith not horse-collared him at the two-yard line.
Didn't matter to this Cowboys D. They locked down on two running plays, pushing New York back to the five-yard line with great goal line play. When a third-down pass fell incomplete, the entire Cowboys team was fired up; especially defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who was caught on camera exuding expletive-laced jubilation and daring the Giants to go for the fourth-down. They didn't and settled for a field goal that completely reversed the momentum of the interception.
There were several Cowboys defenders that had stellar performances. Brandon Carr, despite giving up a huge gain when he mistimed a jump, played locked down corner. Not shutdown, but lockdown; that's certainly good enough for Game One. Morris Claiborne also played well in his professional debut. The Cowboys secondary shut down the "Elite" Giants offense. No receiver passed the 60 yard mark.
The Cowboys receivers out-statted the Giants receivers as follows: 16 receptions to 13, 272 yards to 151 and three touchdowns to nothing. The secondary's prowess also improved the pressure up front. Eli Manning is a hard man to sack, but Dallas got him three times, two from Ware and another from Jason Hatcher.
From the goal line stand, the Cowboys offense took over. Jason Garrett engineered four consecutive scoring drives spanning the second through fourth quarters. 73 yards for a touchdown to end the half, 80 yards for a touchdown to start the second half, 65 yards for a field goal to re-establish a decent lead, 82 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.
On the Giants side, the magic behind their vaunted defensive line might have had the curtain pulled up, if only for a game. New York relies on a rotation of D-Linemen to stay fresh and consistently pressure the opposing quarterback. Due to injuries to Chris Canty, Marvin Austin and Shaun Rogers in the interior; everyone had to play more snaps than usual. Combined with this being the first game of the season and they were notably gassed in the second half when the Cowboys offense solidified.
They were also suspect in the secondary. After losing Aaron Ross to free agency, the Giants lost both starting corners to injury. Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara out, Corey Webster and Michael Coe in. Yet, for some reason, not too many focused on the mismatches this created when predicting the game results. When Michael Coe, their fifth-string corner to start the season, went out with a hamstring injury, the Cowboys had no fear. Justin Tryon was the replacement and who Miles Austin snagged the clinching, high-rising catch-and-run on.
Even the Cowboys special teams came out roses on the game. Punter Chris Jones, a concern for many fans, boomed a couple directional kicks that pinned New York deep in their own territory. Place kicking madman Dan Bailey went two for two. The coverage units were solid and the return units didn't make any mistakes.