IRVING, Texas - For the first time all season, the Dallas Cowboys didn't have a touchdown pass in a game, and quarterback Drew Bledsoe was under constant pressure in the Cowboys' 20-7 victory over the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon at Texas Stadium.
In fact, the Lions held the Cowboys to their fewest receiving yards of the season (110), one yard less than the Seattle Seahawks gave up when they beat the Cowboys 13-10 in Week Seven.
Part of the problem was Bledsoe didn't have an acceptable time to survey the field. The offensive line was faced with the Lions big and fast defensive front, which accounted maybe for only one sacks but undo pressure.
"Their defensive front four is very good, very talented," Bledsoe said, "and they do a good job of causing some problems. I don't know exactly what the problem was, but we will look at it and obviously address the issues."
Center Al Johnson called the front four, led by tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, "the most talented (inside) front two and maybe most talented front four we've faced yet this year."
Early in the game, the Lions line got away with jumping the snap count, a trend that would continue all game. The team took five penalties related to prematurely entering into the neutral zone early - three defensive offsides, one neutral zone infraction and one encroachment penalty.
Three of those penalties gave Dallas first downs, but the Lions never let up on their pressure, continuing to press the issue in an attempt to get to Bledsoe faster. Their efforts paid off with one sack, a caused fumble, two deflected passes and a Bledsoe's 12-for-23 performance, well shy of his season 63.6 percent completion rate heading into the game.
Keyshawn Johnson, who led the Cowboys with five receptions, said Bledsoe was able to read the Lions defensive jumpiness and adjusted the snap count in an attempt to draw more offsides penalties.
Cowboys defensive end Greg Ellis said the Lions didn't react like most lines to drawing so many offsides calls.
"Typically, (offsides calls) will slow you down and make you look at the ball a little more," Ellis said. "But to be honest with you, those guys didn't do that. They got called for offsides, and it was like, 'Oh well,' and they'd do it again."
Flags Frustrate Detroit
The Lions' five neutral zone infractions were part of 17 total penalties, the most ever by a Cowboys opponent. Tampa Bay and Carolina each committed 14 penalties against the Cowboys for the previous high, while five teams had committed 13 penalties.
The Cowboys picked up nine first downs by penalty, another club record.
Detroit committed a total of 17 penalties for 129 yards, 104 of those yards in the first half on 12 penalties while falling behind, 13-7.
"They had a lot of penalties," Cowboys safety Roy Williams said. "I mean a lot, a lot, a lot, which really helped us out. Coach talks about hidden yardage, and they helped us with that today. Thank you."
To make matters worse for the Lions, their penalties led to Cowboys points. The Cowboys first drive of the second quarter was helped along by three Detroit penalties for 52 yards. Although the Cowboys were stopped at the goal line, the three points gained on the field gave the Cowboys a 10-0 lead, which the Lions never overcame.
On the Cowboys' final drive of the first half, the Lions Kalimba Edwards and James Hall took consecutive offsides penalties to set up newly signed Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff for his club-record 56-yard field goal.
Detroit head coach Steve Mariucci was vocal in his opposition to some of the calls but said after the game the procedural penalties, the offsides and the false starts were inexcusable.
Lions linebacker Dante Curry said the penalties caused, "frustration at the refs. We're just trying to cool ourselves down. Our penalties hurt us. We hurt ourselves."
Pierce Tears ACL
Third tight end Brett Pierce is likely out for the rest of the season after tearing his right ACL against the Lions Sunday, according to Parcells.
Pierce, who plays mainly on special teams but occasionally rotates into the Cowboys offense when they line up three tight ends, had eight special teams tackles and caught two passes for 15 yards this season. Pierce evidently suffered the injury on kick-off coverage.
He suffered a similar injury to his left knee his junior year at Stanford which caused him to miss the remainder of the season.
The Cowboys could replace Pierce on the 53-man roster with practice squad tight end Sean Ryan, the Cowboys' fifth-round draft pick from 2004. Ryan was also on the practice squad in 2004 before being signed in Week 11 when fullback Richie Anderson suffered his neck injury.
Ryan played six games and started one without recording any catches or special teams tackles.
Bledsoe took a hard shot late in the first half, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the quarterback was a little bit off when he went into the locker room for halftime.
"I think first of all he got hit real hard in the head," Jones said. "At half time he was a little foggy. He got dinged real good."
But Jones said he didn't believe Bledsoe had a concussion, and it wasn't a concern for the team.
Bledsoe would not comment on the hit after the game.
Rookie right tackle Rob Petitti also took a knee to the helmet near the end of the first half and seemed a little wobbly right after, but played well in the second half and didn't appear to be affected by the hit later in the game.
With the Cowboys next game just four days away, the team won't get much rest between now and Thursday. The team won't have its normal off day Tuesday, scheduled to practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for the Denver Broncos, their Thanksgiving Day opponent.
"They saved the best for last, record wise," Ellis said of the 8-2 Broncos. "I know this is going to be a huge challenge for us with the short turnaround to prepare for some of the things they do offensively."
The game will end a stretch of three games in 11 days for the Cowboys. The team has won the first two games, but hasn't won all three games during this stretch since 1980, beating St. Louis, Washington and Seattle - all at home.
NFC East Update
The New York Giants kept pace with the Cowboys with a 27-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, while the Eagles continued their tailspin with a third straight loss.
Washington also fell Sunday, losing 16-13 to the Oakland Raiders on a Sebastian Janikowski 19-yard field goal with 1:08 left.
With Sunday's games completed, the Giants and Cowboys lead the NFC East by two games with 7-3 records. The Redskins are two games back at 5-5, and the Eagles, three games off the pace, are now two games under .500 at 4-6.
- Anthony Henry returned to the field for the Cowboys Sunday afternoon, playing mostly in nickel situations as he works his way back from a groin injury suffered in Week Eight. He tied for third on the team with four tackles.
- Cornerback Terence Newman returned a punt for the first time this season late in the second half. With the Lions punting from their own five, Newman caught the ball well inside Lions territory and returned up the right sideline to the Lions 15. But an illegal block on Tyson Thompson nullified most of the run. Newman returned two punts for 14 yards in the game.
- Aaron Glenn picked off a Joey Harrington pass early in the third quarter and ran in into the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown, but the Lions were called for a false start on the play. It would have been the Cowboys third straight game with a defensive touchdown after going all of 2004 without one.
- The Cowboys' first drive of the second quarter, a 16-play drive ending in a 19-yard field goal, was their longest of the season, tying a 16-play drive against the Giants October 16.
Even before Thanksgiving, the Cowboys have already exceeded last year's win total of six . . . Andre Gurode worked back into the center rotation when he entered the game on a drive early in the second quarter . . . Receiver Terry Glenn caught three passes for 35 yards against the Lions, giving him 502 receptions for his career . . . Ellis and Aaron Glenn are each one tackle shy of milestones - Ellis needs one for 500 career tackles while Glenn needs one for 600 . . . The Cowboys allowed 57 rushing yards to the Lions, the second-best showing of the season behind the 19-yards allowed to Philadelphia . . . However, the 10 rushing first downs gained by the Cowboys tied the club's season high, and the 26 total first downs was the second most in a game this season . . . The Cowboys had the ball more than 35 minutes for the third time this season, keeping the ball for 36::02.