The stadium in which both the New York Giants and the New York Jets play hasn’t been exactly welcoming to Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, but after leading his team to a 24-17 over the Super Bowl champions while holding on to a fourth quarter lead, for once, it seems some sort of breakthrough has been achieved.
It was a slow start, with the Cowboys only getting on the board with one minute left in the second quarter. But that touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree, positioning himself for a breakout season with a 114 yards, two touchdown performance, signaled it was going to be smooth sailing for the Cowboys and Romo from here on out.
Offensive line problems? It mostly came down to penalties and not getting off plays in time. Despite a replacement center and Tyron Smith playing in the unfamiliar Left Tackle position, Romo was only sacked twice and it seems his unit improved as the game went on. He had to scramble here and there, but was rarely hurried for a pass in the second half and usually connected when he did feel the need to pull one out quickly.
Romo did throw an interception in the first half that almost ended in a touchdown, but Tyron Smith was there to cover and stop Michael Boley just before the end zone, letting the Cowboys defense on an excellent night do the rest of the work. The linebacking crew with Sean Lee and Bruce Carter clogged the running lanes, DeMarcus Ware was elusive as ever with two sacks and the reinforcements and upgrades to the secondary with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne proved to be quite effective against Victor Cruz (no salsa dancing, just like Carr promised) and the rest of the receiving core for the Giants.
A huge lift was the presence of DeMarco Murray and not the ineffective Felix Jones. Murray missed half of last season after a breakout game against the St. Louis Rams, and after a slow start on Wednesday, he finished with 131 yards on 20 carries. At this rate, he’ll be considered quite a steal for a third round draft pick, if he isn’t considered as one already.
The rest? Romo. Perfect passing, perfect timing, perfect decision making. He finished with 22-29 for 307 yards and 3 touchdown passes. Jason Witten was on the field, but Romo hardly noticed his usual favorite target, completing only two passes to the injured tight end. Ogletree kept finding ways to break free from Corey Webster. That helped Dez Bryant get a lot of space for himself, finishing with 85 yards. Miles Austin was involved later in the game, enjoying the sudden freedom after a successful ground game started opening things up, finishing with four receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown.
In what was more than just a regular season game for both teams, rivalry, division and opening game syndrome all put into one, it was surprising to see the Cowboys handle themselves so well on such a big occasion, on such a big stage which they usually find themselves lacking on. Rob Ryan prepared some fantastic 5-man blitz packages, sacking Manning 3 times and limiting him to a 42.9% completion ratio on those blitzes. A big change from last year.
Is this going to be a different season for the Cowboys? Early signs suggest it is. But the offensive line is still a work in progress, and when all the teams shed off some rust, it’ll be a bit more telling to see how well Tony Romo and his team do then, with Seattle, on the road, coming up in 10 days.