As Joni Mitchell once sang (or Cinderella, take your pick): You don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone.
For those who may have second-guessed the importance of quarterback Tony Romo, we give you Nov. 2, 2014, as a stark reminder of just how fortunate this team has been to have No. 9 behind center.
With Romo ruled out due to his back injury suffered last Monday night against Washington, Brandon Weeden took the reigns of the Cowboys offense. And while he seemed more than capable after a solid performance in two series against the Redskins, he was unable to get much of anything going in this one, as Dallas lost to the Cardinals, 28-17, in front of 85,688 fans.
Arizona came into this matchup having surrendered an average of 380.7 yards per game, which ranked 25th in the NFL. But behind Weeden, Dallas mustered just 266 yards of total offense, of which 87 came in the final minutes of regulation with the game already well out of reach.
Weeden finished the day with just 183 passing yards on 18-of-33 attempts, a 54.5 completion percentage. He did manage to throw one late touchdown, but also had two interceptions on the day. Tight end Jason Witten was his leading receiver, hauling in six catches for 62 yards, but Dez Bryant was a non-factor, bottled up with just two catches for 15 yards.
On the ground, the Cowboys' normally potent running attack was also limited. DeMarco Murray saw his streak of eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games come to an end, as he finished with only 79 yards on 19 carries, a 4.15 yards-per-carry average.
Defensively, Dallas actually held its own for three quarters of the game, but in the end wound up surrendering 339 yards of offense. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer overcame an early interception to throw for 249 yards and three touchdowns while running back Andre Ellington nearly reached the century mark, totaling 95 yards on 21 attempts.
And, to make matters worse, the Cowboys defense suffered a pair of late injuries that could potentially be troublesome. Both Rolando McClain and Tyrone Crawford left late in the game with right knee issues and did not return.
Given the eventual outcome, the Cowboys surprisingly couldn't have asked for a better start, jumping out to a 7-0 lead with less than five minutes gone in the game. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer tried to connect with receiver Michael Floyd, but rookie cornerback Tyler Patmon stepped in front, picking off the pass at the Dallas 42 and sprinting 58 yards down the left sideline untouched for the score.
That was followed shortly thereafter with Weeden, on the Cowboys' first offensive possession of the game, moving his team 49 yards in 10 plays to set up Dan Bailey for a 52-yard field goal, the Cowboys enjoying a 10-0 lead through the first quarter.
Slowly, but surely, however, the momentum began to change. And there was no defining play that saw the Cardinals suddenly flip the switch. Instead, the visitors just methodically and steadily took control of the game, wearing down the Dallas defense with a pair of lengthy second-quarter drives, while also allowing the Cowboys offense little leeway.
On Arizona's first score, Palmer was twice able to convert on third down, including a 31-yard connection to Larry Fitzgerald, which moved the Cardinals from their own 36-yard line to the Dallas 33. That drive eventually resulted in Palmer, with all day in the pocket, firing one into tight end John Carlson cutting across the middle of the end zone, the score narrowed, 10-7.
The big play was the Cowboys' undoing on Arizona's next score, as Palmer completed passes of 12 yards (on third-and-10, no less) and 20 yards with Ellington also going around the right end for a 20-yard gain. The possession was capped with a toss to receiver Jaron Brown from 11 yards out, the Cardinals now on top for good, 14-10.
There is where the score remained going into the half, the Cowboys both unfortunate and perhaps fortunate it still was. Bailey lined up for a 35-yard field goal with only three seconds left, but had his attempt blocked. Cornerback Patrick Peterson scooped up the bouncing ball and seemed well on his way to taking it all the way to the house, only to have Bailey slow him up just enough to have a hustling Jason Witten track him down 60 yards later for the tackle.
While Dallas seemed to show a little more life after the break, Weeden's struggles only seemed to grow. He would finish the third quarter connecting on only two of seven pass attempts, earning an abysmal 1.8 passer rating.
On their second possession of the frame, which started on their own 46, the Cowboys did manage to work down to the Arizona 18-yard line. But facing third-and-9, Weeden tried to go to Witten on the left side only to have safety Tyrann Mathieu jump the route and haul in the interception. He, too, could have possibly taken it the distance back the other way if not for a tackle by Witten.
Still, the Cowboys defense kept the game close through the third quarter and into the fourth, the Cardinals unable to make much progress themselves. But with less than 10 minutes left remaining, that all changed.
First the Cowboys, facing a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 34, saw Murray get stuffed for no gain, which gave the ball to the visitors. A 9-play, 65-yard drive then ensued, Palmer eventually throwing a 1-yard pass to Ellington in the right flat for an easy score, the game now firmly in hand for the Cardinals, 21-10.
The fact that a quick interception thrown by Weeden on the Cowboys' next possession did nothing to really change what was already a foregone conclusion, Arizona using the gift to tack on another seven points. The turnover only reaffirmed the importance of Romo to the team's success this season.[embeddedad0]
Even a garbage-time drive that led to seven points – Weeden hitting Bryant in the right corner of the end zone for the 3-yard score – didn't seem to alleviate any concerns for the immediate future.
With the 28-17 loss, the Cowboys fell to 6-3 on the season and dropped out of first place in the NFC East, behind Philadelphia. They will now leave tomorrow for a week in London, where they will take on the Jaguars next Sunday. Romo is expected to make the trip overseas, although whether or not he will be back behind center against Jacksonville seems to still be very much in question.