IRVING, Texas – A Cowboys team that forced takeaways, held onto an early lead and found its star tight end in the end zone looked almost like an impostor Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
It was another close finish in the opener against the Giants, but practically everything leading to the one-score game appeared different from years past. The Cowboys never trailed Sunday, marking the first time since Week 15 they were tied or led the entire way.
That would be Week 15 of the 2011 season.
The defense caused turnovers and the Cowboys' offense only committed one of their own. A Dallas defense that finished with just 16 takeaways last season notched three on its opponents' first three possessions of the season and finished with six total.
That constant defensive pressure kept the crowd in it throughout. Fans at AT&T Stadium aren't accustomed to getting an early lead and holding onto it, and they're also not known for creating an electric atmosphere. That was far from the case Sunday night.
Cowboys towels spiraled and rotated through the wave of fans, most of whom were on their feet, particularly as the game wound down. It wasn't a smattering of cheers. It was a real home field advantage.
"I just want to say that was as good as I've seen our home stadium," said quarterback Tony Romo. "The crowd was exceptional. They were outstanding from the moment we started until the end of the football game. If they continue to do that, this is going to be a tough place to play. I was just really excited about the way they brought the energy and the noise level that that was throughout he football game. That was awesome to see."
That's what happens when the team holds onto a lead and gives reason to cheer against a division opponent. The Cowboys trailed at some point in every game last season. In only took one game in 2013 to stop that trend.
It's tricky for a team to break out of a state of mediocrity when it's constantly trailing and needing to mount a comeback. That typically will lead to a .500 finish or worse. The Cowboys staged a 23-point comeback to make it a game and still lost to the Giants when they came to Arlington last year.
But the teams reversed roles entirely to start the season Sunday.
It's a much more comfortable position to be leading the whole way and holding on late than hoping for a miraculous finish, as Eli Manning and the Giants found out Sunday and the Cowboys' offense found out so often last season. The Cowboys weren't used to being in that spot and allowed too many big plays Sunday to let the Giants back in, but past Cowboys teams would have relinquished that lead and folded. This one didn't. [embedded_ad]
Few things remained the same as they had throughout the 8-8 seasons of the past. One area that did look similar was in the red zone, where problems were still apparent. The Cowboys can't expect to go 50 percent when they get inside the 20 and expect to win consistently.
On the other side, though, they found a red zone target in Jason Witten they couldn't find at all last year. That will make teams think twice about doubling Dez Bryant the way the Giants did throughout Sunday's game.
It's only one game, and as the Cowboys found out at the beginning of last year, things can change quickly without a repeat performance a week later. But any change from the status quo should be recognized, and it was applauded by a noticeably rowdy crowd at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night.