It's impossible to understand what happens behind the scenes in the NFL. Sure, there are NFL films and Hard Knocks, but even those get filtered down and provide a minute glimpse into the heart of an NFL team. Knowing how a group of athletes handle the death of one teammate and the jailing of another -- the second accused of causing the death of the first -- is even harder to gauge.
Depending on which pundit is punditing, the Cowboys either channeled their grief or used football as a distraction -- or maybe both -- to deliver a comeback against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Thanks to numerous Bengals drops, both offensively and defensively, and some precise execution in crunch time, the Cowboys erased a nine-point deficit in the final quarter and emerged victorious. A game that offered its share of opportunities for disappointment turned out instead to offer a ray of hope to a team that, to its credit, doesn't stop fighting. Let's observe and award, shall we?
More Defenders Out, Less Excuses Given: Going into the contest, it was well-known that Josh Brent would not be in the lineup, leaving the Cowboys without yet another starting defensive tackle. Midway through, Morris Claiborne left the game with the harshest cut lip of all time. By the end of the game, the number of Cowboys who started the season at the top of the depth chart clocked in at four (Ware, Spencer, Sensabaugh and Carr). Each of those guys made huge plays at one point in the game, delivering what seemed for much of the afternoon to be an unattainable win.
While the Bengals seemed to have their way with the defense early, Dallas stiffened up at the right times, preventing Cincy from gaining momentum down the stretch. The most team display, however, was on the Bengals' final drive. We've seen time and again Rob Ryan's crew whiff when they need just one stop. Sunday that stop came, as Anthony Spencer sacked Andy Dalton on 3rd and 4, sending a surge of momentum toward Romo and company.
Romo Must Drive a Stick Shift He's So Clutch: Coming into the game, it was fairly well documented that the Cowboys offensive line is terrible and the Cincinnati defensive line is amazing. With those two static elements mapped out, it seemed as though Romo would be in for a long day. Over the course of the game, Tony faced more and more pressure, as Geno Atkins and his band of portly soldiers terrorized the backfield.
With two drives to get at least 10 points, Romo delivered, hitting Witten, Bryant and Austin with pinpoint accuracy. It was a showing that reminds us that Romo can be one of the top quarterbacks in this league, with the ability to manhandle a game when the time calls for it.
Brennaman, Billick Call Game Whilst Fans Scream at Television Sets: If there was any doubt as to how the broadcasting tandem of Brian Billick and Thom Brennaman felt about the Cowboys prior to this game, their platinum-level performance erased all ambiguity. Perhaps it was when they accused Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims of targeting the head when he glanced the helmet of a falling Marvin Jones. Maybe it was Billick speaking about little-known Cowboys receiver Austin Miles.
Those could be passed off as mere coincidence, but the real smoking gun came late in the second quarter. On 3rd and 10, Romo dropped back to pass, only to have his jersey snagged by Bengal lineman Michael Johnson. As Romo was frozen in the clutches of the felineman, fellow Cincy defender Carlos Dunlap arrived and snatched the quarterback's facemask, ratcheting Romo's head almost completely around.
As the referees sorted out the penalty yardage, Billick and Brennaman explained that Dunlap didn't even know he had grabbed Romo's facemask, as if somehow it's completely natural for a player to reach for the head of his opponent and practice amateur chiropractics. I'd rather have Tony Siragusa and a Bernie Kosar calling the game than those windbags.
Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away?" Goat Of The Game: Brian Moorman. Punting should be like farting in church: highly infrequent and very discreet. Cowboys punter Brian Moorman played like he wolfed down five cans of Ranch Style right before a Catholic wedding. With five punts averaging 33 yards a pop, Moorman set the Bengals up with plush field position at nearly every opportunity. His longest punt of the day, a 49-yarder, was shorter than the net yardage on Tony Romo's end-of-half 55 yard Hail Mary.
The Bacon-On-A-Donut Gamechanger Award: Brandon Carr. The one man on the field who likely carried the heaviest of hearts on Sunday was Carr, who was a teammate of Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher. Carr managed to handle the crest of emotion and turn in a stellar performance on the field.
His interception of Andy Dalton early in the 2nd quarter turned the tables. While it's no guarantee the Bengals would have scored, they were certainly poised to take a 10-3 lead. Carr read Dalton perfectly and made a fantastic break on the ball.
Cowboys Assistant Coach Of The Game: Marvin Lewis. If Jason Garrett wants to learn how to salt away a game, it's best not to look at his most recent adversary. With a nine-point lead in hand, here's the run/pass ratio for the Bengals remaining possessions: 4 runs, 11 passes. That's a terrible gameplan, but maybe the Bengals weren't running the ball that well? What? They averaged 7.3 yards per carry? There's no telling why Marvin Lewis allowed his offensive coordinator to keep chucking the ball to his butter-fingered receivers, but it worked out pretty nicely for the team in white.
And For All The Football Masochists Out There, Playoff Scenarios! Commenter Chris Yu asked last week who to cheer for in the Giants/Skins contest, so I thought I'd throw in a little wishful thinking here at the end. We'll start this off slow, looking only within the NFC East this week. If the Wild Card looks more like a possibility after next week, I'll throw that in there as well. It's best to keep expectations at a manageable level.
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Dallas (7-6) sits a game behind New York (8-5) and tied with Washington (7-6). The remaining schedule for the three clubs is as follows:
Dallas: Pittsburgh / New Orleans / @ Washington New York: @ Atlanta / @ Baltimore / Philadelphia Washington: @ Cleveland / @ Philadelphia / Dallas
Though it's tough to predict games week-to-week, it's safe to say New York has the toughest remaining opponents. With the Giants and Redskins winning yesterday, Dallas really needs to focus on winning out, as New York and Washington should handle at least Philly and one other remaining game. However this thing ends up shaking out, it'll be quite interesting.
Pittsburgh comes to town next week, giving the Cowboys an opportunity to use the home field to their advantage for the first time all season. If they can build off the positive momentum of the last two weeks, they could have a shot to do a little streaking. Have your green hat ready just in case.