three wide, Cowboys go with their nickel. This would be it. "They ran a simple slant route," said veteran Aaron Glenn, who, as the nickel back, was lined up to the Cowboys left, one-on-one with Eric Parker. "You got to go with your instincts, with everything the coaches teach you and what you watch on film. I just had to make a play."
Yep, there's that phrase again: Make a play. And a play Glenn made, going up with Parker in the end zone, tipping the ball, and then "it was me or him, I just had to catch the ball" as it floated seemingly for minutes in the air. And he did, something in so many of these similar situations over the past five seasons the Cowboys simply haven't.
"That's heart right there," Jones said. "A lot of guys would have lost faith."
Heart. Skill. Call it what you want.
Let's also call it 28 points. Do not minimize that. Twenty-eight points does go a long way; gives you a margin for error. Think about this: The Cowboys scored at least 28 points only twice last year. Only once did they win a game when giving up at least 28 points.
In fact, they had only scored 28 or more points 10 times in the previous 96 games, dating back through the 1999 season - and six of those occurred in 1999 and 2000. Get this, they never once scored at least 28 points in 2001 or 2002. And you have to go back to the 1999 season opener when the Cowboys recovered to beat Washington, 41-35, in overtime to find the last time they had scored at least 28 points in a season opener.
Might you say offensively challenged? Might this be past tense?
Never one to jump to hasty conclusions here, but I'm guessing Drew Bledsoe surprised a lot of people. He was extremely efficient, and most of all, accurate. Jones did what's come to be expected, rushing for 93 yards, 21 more than what some folks call the best running back in the NFL now, LaDainian Tomlinson. Crayton had his NFL coming out party, catching a career-high six passes, for a career-high 89 yards and scoring one touchdown by bulldozing through two Chargers at the goal line.
And maybe most surprising was Keyshawn Johnson, a no-show all training camp and preseason, to the point of having Jerry Jones wondering if he was going to get "Keyshawn of two-a-days or see Keyshawn of game day," and with those five catches for 65 yards, two touchdowns - including what turned on to be the game-winner on third-and-goal from the two with 3:06 remaining - "then that's what you got," Jerry Jones said in reference to game day.
Plus, while these play-making bouquets are being thrown out, and considering the Cowboys were starting a rookie at right tackle (Rob Petitti), a rookie at deep snapper (Jon Condo), a rookie at right outside linebacker (DeMarcus Ware), Keynon Coleman for the first time, Bradie James for just the third time, Keith Davis for the first time, and asking Marion Barber to return kickoffs for the first time, Crayton punts fulltime for the first time, Jose Cortez to place kick for the first time since 2002 and Aaron Glenn to return kickoffs for the first time since 2000 - and they won this game ? - let's not forget offensive pass coordinator Sean Payton, calling the entire game *for the first time * with the Cowboys.
"He was awesome," Bledsoe said. "Right on the money all day. Great call on the touchdown to Crayton - outstanding."
So this is one, and no matter they also benefited on a couple of crucial third-down Chargers' penalties to keep two scoring drives alive, and no matter the mistakes, this one on opening day for the Cowboys certainly is better than the none they have been saddled with the past five years of openers.
They made plays.
They scored 28 points.
They overcame themselves and the Chargers.
"We have this slogan," said Ware of when times get tough. "Got to go out there and eat."
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cellspacing=0> Hey, by the way, the Cowboys scored these 28 points with Peerless Price peering in from the sideline, having been made one of the seven inactive players on Sunday. Just think about when he's ready to go. Now we're not sending Crayton to Canton just yet - sorry, been hanging around Bill too much - but maybe now you understand why the Cowboys didn't make it an utmost priority to draft a wide receiver in the first two rounds. Said Bledsoe, "He's a football player. Might have the best hands of anybody I've ever thrown to," and realize Bledsoe has thrown to enough guys to become on Sunday just the 10th quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 40,000 yards. That's tall cotton there. Don't know who was responsible for rushing the Cowboys to the line of scrimmage after Keyshawn's 18-yard Leaning Tower of Pisa catch at the five, but that was heads up by either Peyton or Parcells to prevent any sort of challenge that would have prevented Julius Jones' five-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21. Line of the game, and this is something if you consider what Bledsoe did, and Crayton and Keyshawn: One Anthony Henry - 12 tackles (10 solo), one interception and five passes defended, including two that would have gone for touchdowns in the final 1:47 of the game. The Cowboys do owe the Chargers a debt of gratitude. First for putting tight end Antonio Gates on the Roster Exempt List, causing him to miss Sunday's game, and two, for only allowing Tomlinson to touch the ball twice in the final 17 minutes of the game.