ARLINGTON, Texas – This is what the Cowboys defense has become – take some lumps, make adjustments and go to work.
It looked like a repeat of last year's horrific performance when Matthew Stafford got going to start Sunday's wildcard game. The Lions racked up 155 yards of offense in the first quarter, highlighted by a 51-yard touchdown toss from Stafford to Golden Tate.
It was reminiscent of Week 17 in Washington, when the Redskins' third play of the game went for 69 yards and a touchdown.
"Just keep playing, just keep playing," said defensive coordinator Rod Marinell. "That's what these guys do – tough guys. They're resilient, and they're extremely tough."
Much like that Week 17 game, the Dallas defense buckled down from there. After his 51-yard touchdown, Tate gained just 38 yards the rest of the way. After a 155-yard explosion in the first quarter, the Lions managed just 242 the rest of the way.
"We just didn't get it going the way we did early," Tate said. "I don't know what it is or whatever it was, but things just didn't go our way the way they did earlier."
The Dallas defense didn't necessarily lock down the Lions, but the difference was palpable. The Cowboys sacked Stafford three times, and they limited the Detroit run game to 21 yards on nine carries after halftime.
"I think we changed our tackling a little bit, our tackling," Marinelli said. "We just get back to what we do and play our base. That's all we do. We just keep collecting ourselves and making sure we're doing things right." [embeddedad0]
And then of course, there was the specter that hung over this defense all week long – Megatron. Calvin Johnson destroyed the Cowboys for 329 yards last season. This time around, Johnson couldn't find the end zone, as he found himself limited by the Cowboys' game plan.
"That was a big part of our plan. We knew that going in – we couldn't allow him to get off," Marinelli said. "I thought our players did a terrific job trying to execute the plan – good, solid job."
It's funny to hear, because Johnson did manage five catches for 85 yards. Given what Megatron is capable of, though, that's a statline Marinelli was happy to hear.
"You'll never, ever shut this guy down – I've been around him too long. He's such a weapon. I'm just happy we got the win," he said.
Play Of The Game
This is high praise coming from Dez Bryant – a human highlight reel who led the NFL in receiving touchdowns this year. But when Tony Romo found Jason Witten on a must-have 4th-and-6 with time winding down in the fourth quarter, Bryant spoke clearly.
"That's the play of the game to me. That's big time," he said.
It's hard to argue. The 21-yard completion moved Dallas into the Detroit red zone, and it kept the Lions from taking over near midfield with a chance to ice the game. Seven plays after Witten put them in position, Tony Romo found Terrance Williams for the go-ahead touchdown.
"Gutsy call by Coach Garrett…For him to have confidence to be able to go for it, and for Tony to get to that look and know I was going to win…it's just a big play. You live for these moments," Witten said.
It was about as aggressive a call as Garrett has made during this run into the divisional round of the playoffs. The Cowboys had all three of their timeouts after they failed to convert on third down, and they had six minutes to play. They could have easily punted and hoped for their defense to produce a stop.
Instead, they called their first timeout and dialed up the throw to Witten.
"What kept going through my mind was 'When you get the chance to go play at the Masters, you don't lay up. You go after it a little bit,'" Garrett said. "And again, a lot of confidence in the guys to go out and execute it."
Round Of Applause
If this is to be the last home game of the Cowboys' season, their fans certainly behaved that way. Much has been made this season about the lack of a homefield advantage at AT&T Stadium – too many visiting fans, too little crowd noise, among other factors.
That wasn't the case against the Lions, as a capacity crowd of 91,410 made itself heard in the loudest game of the 2014 season.
"They were just as loud as you could be. They played a big part there at the end of the ball game," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry jones. You could really see the intimidation with the crowd. That was a homefield win."
That's a reasonable prognosis. During the course of the game, the Lions were flagged twice for delay of game and twice for false start.
"That was as dominant a crowd as I've ever seen," Romo said.
It doesn't appear the Cowboys got out of the win without any further injuries. After taking a hit in the first half, Rolando McClain appeared to undergo protocol testing for signs of a concussion. The veteran linebacker did not return.
"He had concussion-like symptoms and that's why he had to come out of the game. So we'll continue to monitor him," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
McClain finished fifth on the team in tackles with five, despite leaving early. He ceded the field to Bruce Carter, who notched five tackles and three passes defensed, and Anthony Hitchens, who managed three tackles.
Concussion protocols will call for McClain to be monitored and tested several times this week to determine his status. His availability for next weekend's trip to Green Bay will likely be an ongoing topic of conversation as the week progresses.
"He came into the locker room and he went home already, so we've just got to see how he's doing when he comes in," Garrett said.