In one of the most exciting games ever played at Cowboys Stadium, Dallas showed plenty of perseverance, determination, never-say-die, pick your adjective, in not rolling over against the defending champion New York Giants. Unfortunately, they couldn't complete the improbable comeback.
The Cowboys overcame a 23-0 deficit in the second quarter to take the lead in the third, then almost came from behind again late in the fourth. In the end, though, turnovers again reared their ugly head for Dallas, the Giants able to remain unbeaten in Cowboys Stadium, winning 29-24 in front of 94,067 fans.
Quarterback Tony Romo was at the center of it all, playing poorly to start then keying the team's comeback later in the game. He finished with 437 yards on 36-of-62 passing, throwing one touchdown, but also four interceptions. Three different receivers finished with over 100 yards, tight end Jason Witten leading the way with 18 catches for 167 years. Miles Austin added 133 yards on nine grabs with Dez Bryant totaling 110 yards on five catches.
While the offense got off to a slow start, the defense played strong throughout, particularly the secondary. Eli Manning was held to only 192 yards passing, connecting on 15 of 29 attempts. He did not throw a touchdown and was picked off once. Victor Cruz, the vaunted New York receiver, totaled only 23 yards on two catches with tight end Martellus Bennett, in his return to Dallas, catching only four passes for 29 yards.
Overall, Dallas outgained the Giants, 434-293, owned the time of possession, 32:17 to 27:42, and had fewer penalties, 3 to 5. But, the Cowboys' six turnovers were their undoing.
Apparently someone told the Dallas offense that game time was a good 45 minutes later than the scheduled 3:25 p.m. start because the first quarter for the Cowboys was about as bad as it could possibly get. Through their first five possessions, the Cowboys had four turnovers, and a fumbled snap, which basically killed their other drive. It was awful, the crowd loudly booing.
On the Giant's first possession, facing a third-and-9 from their own 21, Manning went deep down the middle to wide receiver Reuben Randle for a 56-yard gain to the Dallas 23. Fortunately, the Cowboys' defense was able to stop the drive, limiting New York to a 41-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes, the score a quick 3-0.
That's when the turnover barrage began. Starting at their own 11-yard line, Dallas was on the move, working out to its 45, thanks to a 23-yard pass from Romo to Austin. But then on the very next snap, Romo locked in on Bryant running a post pattern over the middle, never seeing the safety roaming in center field. Stevie Brown cut in front of the pattern to grab the interception and returned it 37 yards to the Dallas 27. The Giants eventually tacked on another field goal, this time from 37 yards out, the lead now 6-0.
Which was promptly followed by … another interception. Romo tried to go deep down the right sideline this time, but lofted up a jump ball that Corey Webster outfought Austin for, the cornerback taking it back 38 yard to the Dallas 31. Four plays later, and Andre Brown was around the left end untouched for the 1-yard score, Dallas now behind 13-0 with 3:41 still left in the first quarter.
Make that three turnovers. The two teams traded series, the Cowboys' drive coming to a screeching halt with a fumbled snap, before the Giants were forced to punt as well. That's when things went from bad to worse.
Last week Bryant received criticism when he fielded a punt over his head deep in his own territory, then loosely carried the ball during his return. While he didn't fumble that time around, he apparently didn't learn anything from it either.
With New York's Steve Weatherford booming a punt, Bryant again ran back and tried to field the ball over his head. He dropped it once, was able to pick the prize back up, only to then have it stripped during his brief runback, the Giants recovering at the Dallas 15-yard line. Needless to say, Bryant's punt return duties for the day were done.
With the second frame now underway the Giants again took advantage, chipping in a 26-yard field goal for a 16-0 lead.
Incredibly, the theme continued. On their very next possession, facing a second-and-7, Romo tried to dump a pass off to his left, only to have defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul leap up and grab the throw, then running untouched into the end zone, the game now 23-0 with still over 13 minutes remaining before the half.
After punting away again (at least they didn't turn the ball over), Dallas stripped the ball from running back Ahmad Bradshaw, which was recovered by Morris Claiborne. But inside linebacker Dan Connor suffered a strained neck on the play, a position already thin due to the loss of Sean Lee made even thinner.
Although the Cowboys did nothing on the ensuing possession, on their next drive they finally showed some life. In working down the field Romo threw two passes to Witten for 29 yards, and three to Austin for 39 yards before Jones rammed up the middle the final four yards for the touchdown, Dallas on the board, 23-7.
That little spark threatened to give the Cowboys some momentum. After forcing New York to punt, Dallas started on its own 12-yard line, and on the second play of the series, Romo hit Bryant on a deep pass down the left sideline, the connection going for 55 yards. The drive actually went backward after a Romo sack, but Dan Bailey put more points on the board with a 51-yard field goal, the score going into the half, 23-10.
Despite the deficit, the Dallas defense had actually played well through the first 30- minutes. All but three of the Giants' points were as of a direct result of turnovers, New York starting drives on the Dallas 27, 31 and 15, in addition to the return for a touchdown. In fact, the Giants had 103 interception-return yards in the first half with the New York putting up just 156 yards of total offense.
And that momentum carried over after the break. Starting with the ball, Dallas drove 86 yards in 11 plays to make it a one possession game. Again, Romo spread the ball around, finding Witten for a pair of passes for 8 yards each, Bryant on a 30-yard connection and Austin for 15 yards, which put them at the 1-yard line.
Stuffed on their first three attempts, the Cowboys finally hit paydirt when Romo faked a handoff inside, only to bootleg it around the right end, going in untouched to make the score 23-17.
One possession later and the incredible comeback was complete. With the Dallas D continuing to keep the Giants stifled, the Cowboys started their next series at their own 41-yard line.
New York really had no answer for the Dallas tight ends. Romo hit John Phillips for 8 yards, found Witten three times for a total of 25 yards, mixed in a 25-yard pass to Austin, then wrapped it up by slipping a play-action pass into Phillips in the end zone for the score and the lead, Dallas on top, 24-23 with 3:50 left in the game.
During the drive, Romo also passed Roger Staubach for second all-time in team history for passing yards. This after he was roundly booed earlier in the game.
The biggest cheers, though, were still for the defense, who did what they'd been doing all game, this time in the form of another turnover. Manning tried to go to Cruz deep over the middle, but safety Gerald Sensabaugh laid a big hit on the receiver, the ball popping loose with fellow safety Danny McCray scooping in the ball for the interception.
Unable to take advantage of the gift, the battle entered the fourth quarter with the Giants on the move. Manning, one of the best in the business late in games, worked his team down to the Dallas 25, where they had to settle for a 43-yard field goal, taking back the lead at 26-24 with 10:20 left on the clock.
And then the turnover bug came back to bite them. As the team was slowly but surely working their way down the field, they had a new set of downs in Giants' territory, at the 48-yard line. But Jones tried to go around the right end, only to have center Ryan Cook basically steamrolled back into him, the ball knocked loose and New York recovering at the Dallas 45.
That led to another 37-yard field goal by Tynes, the Cowboys crowd subdued with a 29-24 deficit with 3:31 left in the game.
Dallas got going again, starting at their own 22. Romo continued his success with Witten, finding him for 10, 9 and 9 yards on three consecutive plays, the Cowboys working their way to the New York 45-yard line.
After the two-minute warning, the Cowboys got a break when a Romo sack was nullified thinks to a defensive holding penalty, then the quarterback hit Austin underneath for 12 yards and went back to Witten for 9 more, the ball on the New York 19 with 1:23 left.
But on fourth-and-1, with Romo scrambling and looking for a covered-up Witten, the quarterback threw a desperation pass that was picked off by Stevie Brown, his second of the day.
After the defense got a three-and-out, the Cowboys got one final shot with the ball, and nearly pulled off a miracle. With 19 seconds left and the ball on the Giants 37-yard line, Romo went deep to Bryant in the end zone, the receiver making a leaping grab between two defenders for what looked like an incredible Hail Mary touchdown.
And the officials signaled touchdown, the stadium erupting. But on the ensuing video replay, Bryant's hand was ruled out of bounds, forcing the Cowboys to take one final shot with 10 seconds left. This time, there would be no excitement, Dallas falling 29-24.
In the end, the Giants earned their fourth straight victory at Cowboys Stadium, having yet to lose on Dallas' new home turf. With the loss, the Cowboys fell to 3-4 with New York taking a commanding lead in the NFC East with a 6-2 mark.
The Cowboys will now prepare for back-to-back road games traveling to Atlanta next weekend, followed by a trip to rival Philadelphia. They will be back home to face the Browns on Nov. 18.