IRVING, Texas – The 2011 Dallas Cowboys season ended in great disappointment, and for that reason, far more than the down-to-the-wire games and a handful of thrilling wins, the year will be remembered for a long time to come.
So for posterity sake, the DallasCowboys.com writers will take one last look at the memorable but frustrating season, game by game. Today we present the fourth installment of this 16-part series.
Game 4: Cowboys (2-1) vs. Lions (3-0)
When: Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
Where: Cowboys Stadium; Arlington, Texas
Storyline: Following their fourth-quarter meltdown in the nationally-televised season opener at the Meadowlands, the Cowboys had seemingly learned how to win close games. They outlasted the 49ers (in overtime) and Redskins by five points and got above .500 for the first time in the early 2011 season. Next up was a surprising Lions team that was 3-0 for the first time since 1980. Could the Cowboys keep their poise against an NFC upstart and enter the bye week on a three-game win streak?
Game Review: The answer was, definitively, no. The game mirrored the opener against the Jets, with an even steeper cliff dive. Once again, quarterback Tony Romo went from hero to goat in one sloppy second half. The Cowboys held a 27-3 lead at 12:27 mark of the third quarter, but Romo threw three interceptions that led to 21 of Detroit's 31 second-half points, including receiver Calvin Johnson's go-ahead 2-yard touchdown to take the lead for good with 1:39 remaining and the Cowboys out of timeouts. It marked Detroit's second straight rally from a 20-point deficit and the largest deficit a Cowboys opponent had ever overcome, surpassing the Washington Redskins' 21-point turnaround on Nov. 28, 1965. The Cowboys' 24-point blown lead was the largest by a home team in NFL history. Romo didn't blame his fractured rib for his mistakes; otherwise he played well, completing 34 of 47 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. Head coach Jason Garrett also was criticized for not being more conservative with a big lead, even though the offense wasn't running particularly well and finished with a 4.1-yard average.
Pivotal Play: Take your pick of Romo's three picks. Two were returned for touchdowns, and all three led to Lions scores. But the first – a poor, high throw to the right sideline that ex-Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter caught and returned 34 yards for a TD – was probably Romo's worst decision. It cut the lead to 17 and swung momentum Detroit's way.
Gamebreaker: Lions receiver Calvin Johnson showed why he's arguably the best receiver in the game. The 6-foot-5 Johnson used his height to leap for a 23-yard TD over multiple Cowboys defenders and make the score 30-24 early in the fourth quarter. Then with 1:39 remaining, and Detroit threatening to take the lead at the 2-yard line, the Cowboys played man coverage on Johnson, hoping the Lions would throw an unsuccessfully fade route that would stop the clock with no timeouts. Didn't work. Johnson grabbed his second score of the game to give Detroit the lead for good. He finished with eight catches for 96 yards.
The Fallout: Had any quarterback's reputation fluctuated more than Romo's in one month? In Games 2 and 3 he led his team to close victories. In Games 1 and 4 he largely contributed to lost leads. Due to the bye, Romo would endure two weeks of condemnation before the Cowboys next traveled to New England, where the Patriots had lost only 12 regular-season home games in 10 years of the Tom Brady era. The loss to Detroit dropped them to 2-2, one game behind the 3-1 Giants and Redskins.