IRVING, Texas – The 2011 Dallas Cowboys season ended in great disappointment, and for that reason, far more than the down-to-the-wire games and a handful of thrilling wins, the year will be remembered for a long time to come.
So for posterity sake, the DallasCowboys.com writers will take one last look at the memorable but frustrating season, game by game. Today we present the first installment of this 16-part series.
Game 1: Cowboys (0-0) vs. Jets (0-0)
When: Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011
Where: MetLife Stadium
Storyline: What wasn't it? It was Tony Romo's return from a broken collarbone that ended his 2010 campaign. It was the beginning of Jason Garrett's tenure as the full-time head coach, and the first official NFL Sunday after the conclusion of the NFL lockout. It was the Ryan Bowl, a primetime, nationally-televised matchup pitting New York's head coach Rex Ryan against his brother Rob, the Cowboys defensive coordinator. All that, set against the backdrop of the nation's somber remembrance on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
Game Review: On their very first drive, the Cowboys marched down the field, feeding Dez Bryant, the receiver scoring on a jump ball to help Dallas to an early lead. They took a 10-7 edge into the locker room, the Jets closing the first half with a two-minute drill TD drive. In the third quarter, Miles Austin fought Antonio Cromartie for another jump ball touchdown, and Felix Jones gave the Cowboys a two-score lead early in the fourth. However, the Jets battled back, Mark Sanchez connecting on a 26-yard TD toss to Plaxico Burress. The Cowboys were heading in for a score on the ensuing possession, but Tony Romo fumbled inside the New York 5-yard line. The Jets couldn't take advantage of the turnover, but blocked a Mat McBriar punt on the next Cowboys' possession, returning it for a touchdown to tie the score at 24-24. After trading possessions, the Cowboys took over the ball with a minute remaining, but Romo forced an ill-advised pass to a gimpy Bryant, the ball intercepted by Darrelle Revis to set up the game-winning field goal for the Jets.
Pivotal Play: After the Cowboys had led the entire game, the blocked punt was the break New York needed. Slicing through an opening, backup running back Joe McKnight got to McBriar before he could get his kick off, the ball bounding backward after the ominous double-thud, and scooped up by defensive back Isaiah Trufant for an 18-yard score, tying the game with five minutes remaining.
Gamebreaker: After Romo and Bryant shredded Cromartie on the first possession, New York switched Revis to Bryant, and the receiver was held in check the remainder of the game. His third and final catch came only halfway through the first quarter, though Romo would throw incomplete to him five times, and the star corner made the decisive interception to set up the go-ahead field goal.
The Fallout: Primarily, the gripe after the game was the age-old argument that Romo can't win big games and falters under fourth quarter pressure. In this one, anyway, that was the case, as his two big turnovers facilitated a Jets victory that would haunt the Cowboys all season, especially down the stretch when they desperately needed wins.