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 fifth installment of this 16-part series.
Game 5: Cowboys (2-2) vs. Patriots (4-1)
When: Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011
Where: Gillette Stadium
Storyline: After blowing a 24-point lead to lose to Detroit two weeks earlier, the Cowboys were badly in need of a solid performance against a really good Patriots team, and hoped their defense could key a win based on coordinator Rob Ryan's track record against Tom Brady. Offensively, Tony Romo again needed a bounce-back game, as his two pick-sixes gave the Lions life in the Week 4 loss, constituting a new low.
Game Review: Not the start Romo hoped for, he was intercepted on the first drive of the game, setting up a New England field goal. However, Brady would return the favor on the Pats' second series, gift-wrapping great field position when he was picked off by Terence Newman. The Cowboys couldn't take advantage, however, and settled for a long Dan Bailey field goal of their own. Dallas went on to squander three more trips deep into Patriots territory, unable to capitalize on a Sean Lee interception and a fumbled kickoff return by New England. Still, the Cowboys led 16-13 with 2:31 to play when Brady took over for a final possession. Starting at his own 20-yard line, the Pats quarterback completed eight of nine passes on the go-ahead drive, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown to tight end Aaron Hernandez, stealing a 20-16 win.
Pivotal Play: It was more of a series, really, for the Cowboys, who had a chance to ice the game by executing their much-practiced four-minute offense, designed to drain the clock and keep the ball away from Brady at the end of the game. With Felix Jones injured, a not-yet-emergent DeMarco Murray went backward on two straight carries, then a false start by Tyron Smith put the offense in a no-chance third-and-18 situation, Jason Garrett simply dialing up a draw play to Tashard Choice, forcing the Pats to take another timeout before settling for a punt, leaving Brady too much time.
Gamebreaker: It wasn't really Brady, or Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowksi who gave the Cowboys fits for the majority of the day, but another tight end, Aaron Hernandez. Really more of a wide receiver, he created matchup problems for Ryan's defense, catching eight passes for 68 yards, including the grab that got the Pats going on their late go-ahead drive, as well as the catch that won it. The middle of New England's front caused havoc for the Cowboys all day as well, particularly nose tackle Vince Wilfork and inside linebacker Brandon Spikes.
The Fallout: At 2-3 and with their starting running back set to miss more than a month with a high ankle sprain, the Cowboys' immediate future was certainly questionable. Furthermore, questions of Garrett's trust in Romo were at an all-time high based on his play-calling at the end of the game, particularly given the team's inability to establish much of a ground game through the early part of the season.