The Cowboys Won Because They Suddenly Learned to Pass Block. Plus: Odell Beckham!
First, a word about Odell Beckham Jr.'s second-quarter catch: It was the best catch I've ever seen happen in real time. I'm not sure if it was better than this Tyrone Prothro catch for Alabama against Southern Miss, but that was some magical stuff by ODB. I could watch that GIF again and again -- without guilt because the Cowboys pulled it out.
OK, now that that's out of my system, let's talk about what went right for the Cowboys in what turned out to be a really important win.
The Offensive Line Learned to Pass Block The rebuilt offensive line has -- along with the guy they're blocking for, DeMarco Murray -- been the biggest story so far this year for the Cowboys. First rounders Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin have lived up to their draft status and then some, paving the way for Murray's league-leading 1,354 rushing yards. In the season's first 10 games, they've excelled most in situations where aggression, speed and strength were needed, like run blocking and the screen game.
Sunday night, the line showed how far it's come as a pass-blocking unit, protecting Tony Romo better than it has in any game this season. On the Cowboys' last drive, the line twice held the Giants pass rush at bay for almost seven seconds, setting up a crucial Jason Witten catch and Dez Bryant's game-winning touchdown.
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With Romo's injury situation, it's essential that Smith and company keep him upright as much as possible, and Sunday night was a good start.
The Defense Tightened Up When It Had To When the Cowboys punted the ball to the Giants with about two-and-a-half minutes left in the first half down 21-10, they were in danger of getting buried. The Giants, led by Beckham's amazing performance, had scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions and were set to receive the ball to start the second half. Had they scored points on the bookend drives, the Cowboys would have been done.
The Giants didn't, because Dallas' pass rush got going at just the right time. Jeremy Mincey sacked Eli Manning to effectively end the first half threat and Henry Melton and DeMarcus Lawrence teamed up to consistently create pressure throughout the second half. In a game where the secondary was getting torched, the pass rush helped save the day.
Dan Bailey Knocked the Most Important Kickoff of the Season Through the End Zone The only problem with Bryant's game-winner was that it almost happened too early. After his catch, the Giants were set to get the ball back with a little over a minute left, needing only a field goal to send the game to overtime. The ensuing kickoff saw the Giants line Beckham up as upback, seemingly setting up a reverse or some other form of trickery on the kick return. Dan Bailey rendered all of that moot though by kicking the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touch back. The Giants had to start at their 20, and weren't able to get anything going.
Odds and Sods
- Sunday's game featured Romo's 23rd career fourth-quarter comeback and 27th career game-winning drive. Romo now leads the league in fourth-quarter comebacks since taking over the Cowboy's starting job from Drew Bledsoe in 2006.
- The Cowboys win sets up a huge game with the Eagles on Thursday. Both teams are 8-3 and the winner will have the inside track to the NFC East division title. If either team wins their next three games, it will clinch the division.
- Murray is on pace for 1,969 rushing yards, which would break Emmitt Smith's longstanding team record of 1,773
- It's easy to bitch about announcers -- mainly because most of them deserve it -- but Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were, as usual, terrific Sunday night.
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