A balanced attack and a strong defense. That's basically the game plan that head coach Jason Garrett has preached since Day 1. Run the ball to set up the pass. Strike through air with Tony Romo and his arsenal of receivers. Use Rob Ryan's complicated, big-play defense to shut down the opponent.
Simple enough, right? Against the defending Super Bowl champs? In front of a prime-time nationally televised audience in the NFL's Kickoff game to the 2012 season? On their home turf, no less?
The Cowboys nearly worked Garrett's game plan to perfection, taking down the titleholders, 24-17, and serving notice that there may be a new Doomsday in Dallas.
While the defense was outstanding for most of the night, perhaps the breakout star of the game was none other than Kevin Ogletree, the Queens, New York, native who secured the third wideout spot in training camp despite more than a few doubters. But against the Giants, he posted a game-high (and personal-best) 114 receiving yards on eight catches, including two touchdowns, the first two of his career, prompting the question, "Laurent who?"
Ogletree had plenty of help, though. Romo was efficient and at times spectacular in creating more time. The quarterback completed 76% of his passes, 22-of-29, for 207 yards on three touchdowns. Hauling in the other score was Miles Austin, he of the tender hamstrings, who finished with 73 receiving yards while Dez Bryant got in on the action with four grabs for 85 yards with Jason Witten adding another two catches for 10 yards. While not a huge total from the tight end, he wasn't even assured of playing after suffering a lacerated spleen during the preseason. But, the iron man kept his games played streak alive after getting the OK before game time.
Although the Cowboys did most of their damage through the air, the ground attack did what it was supposed to do as well: keep the Giants guessing, wear down the front seven, and then late in the game, run out the clock. DeMarco Murray pounded out 131 yards on 20 attempts, an impressive 6.5 yards per carry average.
But again, how about that Dallas defense? They held the Giants to 269 total yards of offense, including just 82 on the ground. New York quarterback Eli Manning was sacked three times in the game, including twice by DeMarcus Ware, whose first was the 100th of this career. He reached the century mark in just 113 games, the second fastest to 100 behind only Hall of Famer Reggie White, who hit the milestone in 96 games.
If there was anything to be frustrated about, it was the area of concern coming into the game, the offensive line. Still seeking to gain cohesion, the unit was plagued with penalties throughout the night. Some of that trouble could be attributed to newly acquired center Ryan Cook having to do the bulk of the snapping with Phil Costa leaving the game early with injury. Obviously, his timing with his linemates, as well as the numerous holding calls, is still a work in progress.
Actually, in part because of the troubles on the line, Dallas could do very little through the first 27 minutes of the game. The team's first drive was derailed after Romo was sacked for an eight-yard loss, with the next one stopped when fullback Lawrence Vickers was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 37-yard line, the big men up front clearly having trouble with the Giants' vaunted defensive front.
The troubles continued for the Cowboys on their third possession, now in the second quarter, when a Romo pass intended for Ogletree instead wound up in the hands of Michael Boley. The Giants linebacker rumbled 51 yards all the way down to the Dallas 2-yard line where tackle Tyron Smith made a touchdown-saving takedown.
Though flagged for a horse-collar on the play, which put the ball on the 1, Smith's penalty was well worth it as the defense then stood tall, actually pushing New York back 3 yards, forcing them to kick a field goal.
Down 3-0, the Dallas offense finally found some momentum with 2:33 left in the half. Romo hit Bryant for 13 yards, Witten for 3, and Murray for 9 before the quarterback went back to Bryant down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain to the New York 10. On the very next snap, Romo then stepped up in the pocket, drifting to his right before finding a wide-open Ogletree who had slipped behind the defense into the end zone. Ogletree's first career touchdown gave the Cowboys a 7-3 lead at the half.
Dallas then carried that momentum into the third quarter as they took the opening possession 80 yards in nine plays, the big blow coming when Romo found Ogletree open down the right sideline for a 40-yard score, their advantage now 14-3.
But the Giants certainly weren't going to go away quietly. They responded with an 89-yard drive of their own, taking nine plays to go the distance. Thirty-nine of those yards came thanks to a Manning pass to Domenik Hixon down the middle that gave New York a first and goal at the Dallas 10. Ahmad Bradshaw then swept around the left end for their first touchdown, the score 14-10.
For their third series in a row, however, the Cowboys put points on the board. While the previous two were spurred on by big pass plays, this one saw Murray break off a nifty run during which he appeared corralled, but was able to slip free and race down the right sideline for a 48-yard pickup. Dallas worked their way to the Giants' 6-yard line, eventually settling for a 33-yard field goal, their lead pushed to 17-10.
Make that four drives in a row. Now taking the ground-and-pound approach to work the clock, Dallas went 82 yards in eight plays, but more importantly chewed up 7:06 in time of possession. Murray carried the ball four times for 34 yards before Romo capped off the play by lofting one to Austin, who made a great leaping grab over two defenders before slipping untouched into the end zone for a 34-yard score, Dallas up 24-10.
The game wasn't over just yet, though. Last year, Dallas held a 12-point lead over the Giants late in the second half, only to watch Manning orchestrate a come-from-behind victory.
And, he gave it a go this time around as well. With the defense playing a little softer to protect against the big play, Manning marched the Giants 79 yards in 12 plays, hitting former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone to narrow the score to just a touchdown, 24-17.
But whereas Dallas had trouble closing out games in 2011, they offered up proof that this is a whole new team for 2012. Needing a first down on third and 10 at their own 26, Romo found, who else, but Ogletree on a slant for a 13-yard gain to move the chains and secure the win.
The Cowboys head home having survived the shortened schedule leading up to this Wednesday night game, and can now enjoy a 10-day break before heading to the West Coast to take on Seattle on Sept. 16.