IRVING, Texas - Cowboys linebacker Greg Ellis didn't see much difference in the defense's performance against Houston compared to last Sunday's loss to Philadelphia - with three significant exceptions, of course.
The Cowboys gave up threw deep passes to Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb totaling 187 yards. All three led to or resulted in touchdowns.
"When you look at that tape from last week, we stopped the run," Ellis said. "They didn't run the ball on us. They didn't just nickel-and-dime us down the field. They did get us on three big plays."
The Cowboys' defense eliminated those big plays in Sunday's 34-6 thrashing of Houston here at Texas Stadium. Texans quarterback David Carr, who entered the game with a 108.9 passer rating, completed 15-of-27 passes for 128 yards and no touchdowns. His two interceptions contributed heavily to his 37.3 rating against Dallas, the lowest single-game rating this season.
Carr's longest completion of the day was 16 yards before he was relieved by Sage Rosenfels in the fourth quarter. Rosenfels fired a 21-yard pass to Andre Johnson in the final minute with the outcome already decided.
The Cowboys didn't record a sack Sunday, but Ellis said Carr made a habit of getting the ball out quickly.
"They don't let him hold the ball too long," Ellis said. "The times he does hold the ball long we're getting somebody in his face. So it's kind of a deceptive stat if you will."
And the Cowboys' fifth-ranked rushing defense held Houston to 34 yards on 17 carries - 21 fewer yards than running back Ron Dayne rambled for last year on that overtime run to set up the winning field goal for Denver. Dayne combined with Sam Gado on this day for 19 yards on 14 carries.
The Texans only ran the ball twice in the second half.
"They've been a pretty good team on first down as far as making second down short," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "We picked up on some things they were doing and we were able to get after them on first down and put them in those long yardage situations."
Passing The Buck
One of the game's turning points came when Ellis intercepted Carr after his pass was tipped by inside linebacker Bradie James.
Ellis handed the ball to cornerback Terence Newman, who raced 12 yards to the Houston 23.
"I kind of shoved the ball to him like 'Take it, man. Just go run with it, do something with it,'" Ellis laughed.
Three plays later, Terrell Owens caught his second of three touchdown passes to give Dallas a commanding 17-6 lead. The Cowboys tacked on 14 points following two more takeaways - Anthony Henry's interception and Roy Williams' fumble recovery on a fourth-quarter kickoff.
"As they say," Ellis said with a hint of irony after the Cowboys trotted off a soggy Texas Stadium field, "when it rains, it pours."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones termed an ESPN.com report inferring he was planning to punish wide receivers coach Todd Haley for Wednesday's dust up with Terrell Owens as "ridiculous."
The report quotes Jones as saying, "Yes. Against Haley," when reportedly asked on Friday by a reporter passing him in the hallways at Valley Ranch if there would be disciplinary action taken by the Cowboys, presumably meaning against Owens. "This is not a reflection on T.O."
Well, when asked in the locker room after Sunday's victory over Houston how he would respond to a report he was planning on fining Haley, Jones sternly said without hesitation, "Ridiculous . . . ridiculous. That would be just ridiculous.
"If there were penalties for people (in the game) shouting and raving, we couldn't hold court. I feel trite to say, 'Let's do that more.'"
Jones meant a little midweek tension might have contributed to the Cowboys turning this 6-3 halftime deficit into a 34-6 victory over the Houston Texans.
Owens, who threw fuel on the fire Friday afternoon on his weekly radio show aired in Miami by saying he had lost respect for Haley and that they would only have a "professional" relationship going forward, said after the game, "He's my coach, and I respect him for that. It's unfortunate as grown men we had an argument, and it got blown into national news."
No telling what this coming week shall hold.
While Parcells decided to pull Watkins from his free safety position at the end of last week's game, he wanted to see how his rookie from Florida State responded.
That's why Watkins started his fifth straight game Sunday at free safety, despite allowing three big plays that led to three Eagles touchdowns in last week's 38-24 loss in Philadelphia.
Sunday against Houston, Watkins and the Cowboys secondary shut down the big play. A 21-yard completion from David Carr to Andre Johnson was Houston's longest play from scrimmage Sunday.
"Yeah, it's big for me and my confidence," Watkins said. "I know last week was a bad game. I just wanted to get that game out of my mind and move on. I think I was able to do that today. You can't worry about that. You just have to keep playing."
Watkins was credited with one tackle, but it was a big hit on Johnson on the Texans' first offensive possession.
Against Philadelphia, Watkins was replaced by Keith Davis, who started 15 games at free safety last season. Davis played sparingly on defense Sunday, and forced an incomplete pass by Carr that led to a Texans field goal when playing on the goal-line defense.
Finally, A Pass
The phrase "still hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL" can no longer be attached to Tony Romo's résumé.
The fourth-year quarterback finally threw two passes in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Texans, completing both, including a 2-yard touchdown to Terrell Owens.
Parcells has said all along he wants to give Romo some playing time, one of the reasons why this ever-growing quarterback controversy has remained existent in the first month of the season.
And Romo's performance, although brief, won't likely change that when taking over in mid-drive for Drew Bledsoe with 5:18 remaiining and the Cowboys sitting first-and-10 at the Houston 37-yard line leading 27-6.
"It really was not that important," Parcells said of playing Romo in the fourth quarter. "But I wanted to get him in any chances I get. I am going to continue to do that if we're up 27. I will put him in there."
While he threw only two passes, Romo's 158.3 quarterback rating is the highest possible rating, based on the NFL formula.
When Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells signed fourth-round pick Skyler Green off the practice squad and back to the active roster Friday, he wasn't just filling an open spot.
Green was the Cowboys' featured punt returner against the Texans, averaging 1.7 yards on three returns with two fair catches. He also appeared for one play at running back in the second quarter, the pass going to tight end Jason Witten for one yard.
It's been a long road back for Green, the former LSU standout who was drafted to make a difference in the return game but was released at final cuts and subsequently signed to the practice squad.
"Mr. Jones told me before walking out, 'You've probably did the hardest course of becoming an active player on this team,'" Green said. "He said, 'We released you, you stayed here, you fought through the hard times. That showed that you have great character and you have a lot to look forward to in the next few years.'"
Green was called for an invalid fair catch signal in the first quarter after he lined up too far back for a 39-yard punt and evidently didn't raise his arm high enough.
"I made a mistake in the preseason of not lining up far enough or too short, and then I ended up catching the ball inside the 10 because I didn't know where I was on the football field," Green said. "I was trying to get as close to the 10-yard line so I could get a better feel if he was going to kick it deep I wasn't backing up for it."
Putting A Foot Down Under
Cowboys punter Mat McBriar had a yet another stellar performance, this one possibly the best in club history.
The NFL's leading punter came into the game with a 50.7 average and finished the game with a 56.8-yard average on four punts (47, 75, 56 and 49 yards), the highest single-game punt average in club history. McBriar bettered the previous mark held by Toby Gowin, 55.3 in 1997.
McBriar's 75-yard punt late in the first quarter that rolled out at the Houston 2 tied the second-longest in club history. Only Ron Widby's 84-yarder against New Orleans in 1968 is longer. Billy Lothridge was the last Cowboys' punter to hit a 75-yarder, that occurring in 1964. Not only was McBriar's 75-yarder a career high, but his 46.0 net average was a single-game career-high.
- Owens' three touchdown receptions tied the second-best single-game mark in club history. It is the 13th time a Dallas receiver has recorded three touchdown catches in a game. Bob Hayes holds the club record with four against Houston on Dec. 20, 1970. The last Cowboys player with three was Terry Glenn at Detroit on Oct. 19, 2003. The three touchdown catches tied a career high for Owens, a feat he has accomplished four times.
- In his first game as the lone kicker on the active roster, Mike Vanderjagt kicked two field goals (22, 21 yards) and registered one touchback on seven kickoffs - though he kicked that one from the Cowboys' 45-yard line after a personal foul was assessed the Texans on the extra point. The Texans' average drive start was their own 24-yard line.
- First-round pick Bobby Carpenter was inactive for the third time in five games. The rest of the Cowboys' inactives included fullback Lousaka Polite, linebacker Oliver Hoyte, offensive tackle Pat McQuistan, nose tackle J'Vonne Parker, guard Cory Procter, cornerback Nate Jones and wide receiver Jamaica Rector.
- Second-year tight end Tony Curtis was active for his first regular-season game after being signed to the 53-man roster on Friday. He mostly played in three-tight end sets.
- Terrell Owens recorded the 25th multiple-touchdown game of his career, ranking fourth in NFL history.
Drew Bledsoe threw the 250th touchdown pass of his career in Sunday's game . . . The Cowboys' defense allowed just one rushing first down, one of the best showings in club history. The club record was set last year when the defense held Philadelphia to no rushing first downs in the 33-10 victory. Holding Houston to one rushing first down ties the second-best mark in club history, last achieved against Chicago on Thanksgiving 2004 . . . In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Cowboys held a special presentation of the National Anthem with 2005 Grammy Winners Los Lonely Boys, and Corpus Christi native Paula DeAnda performed at halftime . . . Kicker Shaun Suisham, released on Thursday, cleared waivers and was signed to the Cowboys' practice squad on Saturday . . . The Cowboys, though, lost a player off their practice squad on Saturday. Carolina signed guard D'Anthony Batiste. The Cowboys were high on Batiste as a project offensive lineman coming out of training camp.