SEATTLE – Pick your standout, any standout.
Terrance Williams for his two huge catches? The defense as a unit for bottling up the Seahawks all game? Maybe Tony Romo or DeMarco Murray who clearly outplayed their counterparts on the other side?
All good choices. But not for me.
The guy who might have made the biggest play of the game – for multiple reasons – isn't even a starter. He's the backup to the Cowboys' best player of the first six games. Yet on Sunday, he delivered quite a punch – literally – when his team needed it most.
To me, Joseph Randle provided the most telling play of the afternoon, and it happened in the first quarter. The Cowboys were already reeling after a blocked punt for a touchdown for a 10-0 deficit. Talk about déjà vu? Just like two years ago, the Cowboys were down 10 thanks to a blocked punt. The Cowboys never recovered and were smashed that day.
Here we are again, the Cowboys have been punched right in the mouth by the defending champs in their loud, raucous house. So what happens? Well, Randle gets a rare first-quarter carry and completely turns the game around.
Call it a 38-yard run if you'd like. I'll call it an attitude adjustment.
Randle rips off a huge run right down the middle of the field. He knows he won't score, but he's certainly going to make someone pay for tackling him. That someone was Richard Sherman, the Seahawks' All-Pro cornerback.
Randle didn't just cover up the ball and wait for the collision. Instead, he lowered the boom on the Legion of Boom's ring leader. Randle didn't break free. He went down with Sherman, but a message was sent right there.
The Cowboys took the Seahawks' punch. And thanks to Randle, they fired one right back.
See all that 12th man stuff is supposed to get in your head. You're supposed to be mentally beat before the kickoff. And usually, all it takes is a couple of bad plays early and teams are put in so much of a hole they can't recover.
Well, the Cowboys didn't follow the script. And that's why this team had enough heart, grit, guts and fight to withstand that.
Randle's run flipped the field and the Cowboys were able to score a much-needed touchdown. That not only settled the team down, but the guys just went to work.
The defense made stops. The offense moved the chains. Had it not been for some special teams blunders, this game might not have been close on the scoreboard. It certainly wasn't close on the stat sheet.
The Cowboys dominated in total yards, racking up 401 to just 206 for the Seahawks.
Time of possession? How about the Cowboys owned the rock for 37:39 to just 22:21 for Seattle. That's just clear example of one defense getting off the field and another that couldn't.
The Cowboys had 23 first down to just nine for the Seahawks. Nine first downs for the game? The Cowboys had 10 in the second quarter alone.
Just look at the individual matchups for a moment. Tony Romo was way better than Russell Wilson. Then again, that's not a huge surprise because Romo is a better quarterback than Wilson. Super Bowl ring or not, Wilson is not up to Romo's level and never has been. Don't get me wrong – I don't hate on Wilson at all. He's a good, smart young player who will be very, very good. But he rarely has to go win the game for this team.
On Sunday, his usually-stout defense was getting beat down. His "beastly" running back was getting contained for the most part, especially on first down. So the Seahawks needed Wilson to win it. He simply wasn't capable.
In another matchup, DeMarco Murray outplayed Marshawn Lynch, plain and simple. Murray had a tough going in the middle of the game but as it wore on, the offensive line wore down the Seahawks' defense and Murray kept grinding. What do you know? Another 115 yards, tying only Jim Brown as the only players in league history to start a season with straight 100-yard games.
And the most shocking one of all – the Cowboys' had the best defense on the field. They were physical, they rushed the quarterback and they tackled well for the most part. The secondary played great on the back end. And it's not like the offense and special teams did them many favors.
Three times in the game, Seattle started a possession in Cowboys' territory and twice in the third quarter the Seahawks started out in the red zone. But of those three possessions, Seattle managed just 13 points. That's a defense rising to the occasion in sudden-change situations.
You've got to give some credit to the cornerbacks. The Cowboys are blitzing a lot more these days, meaning Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr are left on the island quite a bit. But they rose to the challenge, as did Sterling Moore.
Overall, the defense was just a solid, sound unit that outplayed Seattle's offense. The Seahawks will sit there and tell us how they didn't play well. And they're right. But the Cowboys were the reason why.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, this defense is just a different team with Rolando McClain in the middle. His instincts are amazing, evident by that game-clinching interception. But it's more about his toughness and willingness to mix it up.
McClain's interception was clearly the final knockout blow. But it was Randle's haymaker in the first quarter that got the Cowboys off the canvas.
It was a heavyweight fight against the reigning champ, who has the belts. But just like I pointed out in our postgame interview *First Take, *the Cowboys stole a page from the Ric Flair Bible.
*To be the man, you've gotta beat the man. *
Like all of them, this win counts just once in the standings. Even if it was the biggest one of Jason Garrett's career and one of the best the Cowboys have had since maybe New Orleans in 2009.
People like to say things like, the Cowboys just sent a message to the league. Or maybe this was a statement game. [embedded_ad]
Yeah, they made a statement. The Cowboys went into the toughest place to play and faced the defending champs.
And they were clearly the better team.