ARLINGTON, Texas – About three days into training camp, I remember telling one of my colleagues on the sideline there was going to be a fight before too long between the offensive and defensive guys. And for no other reason than the way the defenders were ripping, clawing, scratching at the football on every play, and long, long after the whistle had blown.
In fact, one of the more memorable scuffles of camp occurred between DeMarco Murray and Jason Hatcher, stemming from the fact that Murray got annoyed with a late hack at the ball, prompting him to throw the ball off Hatcher's helmet.
Well, one game into the regular season and no one is complaining now.
From the very start, the mindset was different when it came to turnovers. The ball. The ball. The ball. That's the only thing that mattered and it was crystal clear here Sunday night at AT&T Stadium against the Giants.
Six turnovers, really? They had 16 all of last year. In 2012, their sixth turnover occurred in the sixth game of the year against the Panthers.
That's the good part. If there is a flip side to this thing, it's that the Cowboys needed all six of them, including two defensive scores, to close out the Giants, 36-31.
Finally, the Cowboys beat Eli Manning in this building. Of course, Manning was pretty good again. He had 450 passing yards and four touchdowns, including three to Victor Cruz. But Manning had his problems, too. His first throw of the game, played perfectly by DeMarcus Ware, was a horrible read. He also misfired badly on a pick by Will Allen. And his third and most costly interception wasn't really his fault as it bounced off the hands of Da'Rel Scott and into the mitts of Brandon Carr, who is also much faster than Eli.
And what about David Wilson? I thought he was supposed to be the savior to the Giants' running game. He couldn't hold onto the ball last year and he was worse Sunday night, coughing it up twice more, resulting in him getting benched.
Not that fantasy football matters in real life, but if you're a starting running back in the NFL and you produce negative points, that's a bad thing. Bad for the Giants, but certainly huge for the Cowboys.
They say turnovers come in bunches. But considering they had 16 last year, six in one game is definitely more than a bunch.
"Absolutely. It's infectious. It's contagious," head coach Jason Garrett said of turnovers. "We challenged them at halftime. We got three in the first half, we needed to get three more. Sure enough, we got three more and those were difference-making plays in the game. There's no question about it. I thought, initially, we didn't take full advantage of them offensively. I thought as the game wore on we did a better job of cashing in on some of those opportunities."
And it helps when the defense does the cashing-in on its own. Carr has been a big-play defender since he arrived on the scene last year. His interception against the Eagles for a score in 2012 put that game away. He basically won the game against Pittsburgh with a clutch pick and return in overtime, and his interception against the Bengals was game-changing as well.
But this one Sunday night, against one of the Cowboys' biggest nemesis, was probably his best one yet.
"It's all about making plays when you have the opportunity," Carr said. "We preach turnovers in every meeting. And it bounced our way tonight."
It certainly did, and he's not just talking about the way the ball bounced into his arms in the fourth quarter.
How about the way it squirted right into Barry Church's paws in the third quarter as the safety alertly scooped and scored. But the biggest, and perhaps luckiest bounce of the night, occurred on Chris Jones' punt, which he called a miss-hit. Still, it bounced to the side and connected with a Giants player, becoming live again. And that's where DeVonte Holloman was there to recover it. That sixth-round pick from South Carolina has been a turnover-machine, with two interceptions in the preseason and a forced fumble. He carried that effort into the regular season with a clutch recovery that led to a Jason Witten touchdown two plays later.
They weren't all forced. Some of the turnovers were a result of good fortune and some of were pure luck. But you have to be prepared when opportunities present themselves.
Last year, the Cowboys rarely seemed to take advantage when gifts were passed out like that. Opponents fumbled 19 times and the Cowboys recovered 10 of them. The defenders were credited with 69 pass deflections, yet had just seven interceptions. [embedded_ad]
In the preseason games, the Cowboys recovered five fumbles off eight chances. They also had five interceptions.
Since the day Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli walked in the door, it's been about turnovers and getting the ball.
"They were like that from the start," Witten said. "But it paid off tonight. They always try to get the ball out but it's helped us out, too. It's good ball-protection for us. We learned quick this was how they were going to play."
Remember this, the Cowboys didn't have a full game with three turnovers last year. Now they've had two halves with three each.
Again, it's only one game. But in terms of turnovers, it felt like about six.