The Dallas Cowboys? Playoffs? Tony Romo? Clutch? Even while wearing the blue jersey? Even with the SI cover? Not a lot of complementary things have been said about the NFC East this season, but this doesn’t change the fact that the Cowboys are on their way to win the division and unless another late season collapse follows, their win over the Oakland Raiders, putting them two games over .500 for the first time this season, will be one huge step towards their first postseason appearance in four years.
Two teams that have managed to blow quite a few close games this year; something had to give. The Raiders stunned the easily quieted Cowboys crowd by taking a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, in a game that turned into a rushing battle between DeMarco Murray and Rashard Jennings. Jennings lost in that one despite the promising start, having Matt McGloin as his partner quarterback and not Tony Romo.
Romo finished with 225 yards and one touchdown, but his second half performance and precision were the highlight of the 31-24 win. He improved his November record to 26-6 with 64 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The blue jerseys, the SI cover, “proven” jinxes in American sports folklore didn’t get in the way. The Cowboys, offensively, can hang points on anyone in the NFL, especially when they’re at home. Their defense might get in the way of true, historic success, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a legitimate playoff team, that happens to be in super weak division.
One of the surprising things about the Cowboys and the playcalling was being committed to the run, even when they were down by 14 points. DeMarco Murray scored three touchdowns, making people remember that Emmit Smith performance(s) from the 1990s. He ran for 65 yards, and got plenty of help from Lance Dunbar, gaining 82 yards on 12 carries. From a team that runs designed rushing plays 32% of the time, the Cowboys ran the ball on 46% of their plays, their second highest ratio this season, even though they only got the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter.
The rush defense was another pleasing factor. Allowing 5.1 yards per carry entering the game, worst in the NFL, they limited the Raiders to only 51 yards on 24 carries. They weren’t able to get to McGloin, but their defense did manage to record three tackles for a loss, not allowing a single run for over 9 yards, or a passing play that went for over 35. The Raiders’ 2.1 yards per rush average is Dallas’ second-lowest average allowed since the start of 2009.
The Dallas Cowboys have blown quite a few games this season by messing up the finale, but something has changed over the last few weeks. No more mental mistakes, and good starts are followed up by good playcalling and delivery in the final quarter. Maybe, just maybe, Tony Romo and Jason Garrett can move on from the reputation they’ve earned over their years together.
To have the opening kickoff fumbled and returned for a touchdown and then be down a couple of scores in the first half, nobody blinked. The momentum kind of turned and I think guys started feeling pretty good and it just continued.