The Cowboys Are No Longer the Cowboys
It happened again. The Cowboys dominated the first two-thirds of a game, just as they did against Tennessee and Houston, and found themselves in a fistfight to the finish. This time it was against the Seahawks in Seattle, a presumably impossible task, but the result was the same. The Cowboys won their fifth straight, keeping pace with the Chargers for the best record in the NFL and validating their hot start with a win over the preseason consensus best team in the league.
The Cowboys beat up the Seahawks for the better part of two-and-a-half quarters, thanks largely to an improved pass rush and improved running-back depth, with Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar perhaps providing an answer to the perpetual question, But what happens when Murray goes down?. Then they repelled the comeback with an unlikely, amazing catch from Terrance Williams, a big block from backup offensive lineman Jermey Parnell and more strong running from DeMarco Murray.
At 10-0, the doubts, at least for me, popped back up. This team was about to fold in the face of adversity, because that's what Jason Garrett's teams do. Maybe I'm just a victim of the narrative -- that Garrett, and Tony Romo, are incapable of performing in big games, but as Steven Hauschka kicked the ball to Dwayne Harris to start the next Cowboys possession, I thought the game was over. Then Randle went running.
On first down from the Cowboys 33, he broke off a 38-yard run behind left tackle Tyron Smith. That Randle got a first-down carry was interesting in itself; just last week Jerry Jones was quoted as saying Randle and his fellow backup, Lance Dunbar, needed more touches. Jones' comments were probably about spelling Murray -- the Oklahoma product is on pace for 424 carries this season, the most Emmitt Smith ever totaled for the Cowboys was 377 -- but his words proved prophetic Sunday. Randle's run set up Gavin Escobar 2-yard touchdown catch five plays later, and the Cowboys avoided cascading failures leading to blowout, an outcome that seemed as likely as any after the blocked punt.
Two drives later, it was Dunbar's turn to make Jerry look like a genius. On consecutive third downs on either side of the first half two minute warning, the former University of North Texas star caught passes of 21 and 18 yards. The second catch, which came on third-and-fourteen from the Cowboys 39 featured Dunbar catching a Romo dump off about four yards up field, then catching an outstanding block to get around the edge from tight end Jason Witten. Witten got his just rewards at the end of the drive, catching a three-yard Romo pass to put Dallas up 17-10 heading into halftime. Dallas had a huge advantage in total yards, the Seattle offense had been utterly ineffectual and now Dallas had a deserved advantage where it counted.
The lead should have been bigger, and the Cowboys paid the price in the third quarter. A Harris muffed punt led to a Russell Wilson touchdown scamper to knot things at 17 and a botched silent count by Romo and center Travis Frederick resulted in a bad snap, a fumble and a Seattle recovery. But after the fumble, the Cowboys defense righted the ship, turning in a three-and-out in the quick change situation and holding Seattle to a Hauschka field goal.
Over the next four possessions, each team would punt once and make a field goal -- Dan Bailey's was a 56-yarder that would have been good from 66 -- before the Cowboys would get the ball down 23-20 with 8:16 left in the game.
Six plays into the drive, Dallas faced a third-and-20, about the worst situation imaginable against a defense as aggressive and talented as Seattle's. Romo lofted a pass down the right sideline, seemingly intended for Witten, that was caught after a balletic toe tap by a streaking Williams. The pass was either perfectly thrown or perfectly overthrown, but the Cowboys had their miracle conversion. Murray would cap off the drive, and go over a hundred yards for the sixth consecutive game, with a 15-yard run behind a massive, double-takeout block by Jermey Parnell, an unheralded backup tackle just forced into action after starting right tackle Doug Free had his ankle rolled up on him.
Two bad Seattle possessions and another Bailey field goal ended things, and the Cowboys had the biggest regular season win of Garrett's tenure.
Odds and Sods
- Murray's sixth straight 100-yard game to start the season puts him in rarefied company. The only other back to do it? Jim Brown.
- Witten's touchdown may have been his first of the season, but he's contributing in other ways. He and his fellow tight end James Hanna are basically serving as auxiliary tackles, and have been essential to Murray, Randle and Dunbar's success.
- Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams are developing a distinct Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper vibe, which should warm the heart of any Cowboys fan.
- Free was back in the game for the victory formation snaps, but his injury sure didn't look good.
- Bruce Carter should be back to help Rolando McClain -- who had another standout performance -- next week.
- The Cowboys pass rush only had two sacks, but it harassed Wilson into one of his worst performances as a pro. Henry Melton got good push inside throughout the game and Anthony Spencer was the good Anthony Spencer.
- Final yardage totals: Cowboys -- 401, Seattle -- 206
- Here's guessing that the Cowboys need six more wins to win the NFC East, seven to get a first-round bye in the playoffs and eight for home field throughout the NFC playoffs.
- Next up, the Giants at home, the first of three straight at Jerryworld before finishing the season with five of seven on the road.