PHILADELPHIA – Danny McCray saw something special in the Eagles' punt coverage – which is to say, it wasn't there.
"We had ran that scheme the punt before, and they didn't block me – but I started a little too far over," McCray said. "So I came over to the sideline and let Coach Rich know that it was wide open."
Hearing that McCray was unblocked, special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia dialed up the same call the next time the Eagles' punt team took the field. The result helped pave the way to a Dallas victory.
"He gave me another chance to do it, and the scheme that he drew up was amazing. I came through untouched and blocked the punt," McCray said.
McCray dove, arms extended, to stuff Philadelphia punter Donnie Jones on the fifth play of the third quarter. It was a big enough play in its own right, but it went to another level when Kyle Wilber picked up the loose ball at the Eagles' 26-yard line and returned it for a touchdown.
"I hadn't blocked a punt in my career – I don't think even in college or high school. I think it was my first blocked punt ever," McCray said. "So it was big – I think it changed the game a little bit. It was a big play for our team, and it was a big play for us as a special teams unit."
Wilber's touchdown gave the Cowboys a 13-3 lead, which would prove to be huge just a few minutes later. Tony Romo was lost for the night with a broken clavicle just two possessions later, and the Cowboys would only score seven more points on the night.
It all stemmed from a big observation by McCray and a big call from Bisaccia.
"He trusted me and the advice that I gave him on the sideline," McCray said. "He called it, and when I came to the sideline he told me 'Good job,' and he told me 'Now we've got to keep playing.'"
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones summarized his thoughts after the Romo injury as only he could.
Just about as low as a crippled cricket's ass," he said. "I was feeling sorry for myself, I thought the world was picking on me – how could anybody be as bad off as me."
Jones was slightly more upbeat in the postgame locker room, perhaps because he'd had a chance to talk to Romo. In fact, his franchise quarterback called him from the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field while he was undergoing X-Rays on his broken clavicle.
"He called immediately, when he had the X-Ray – he called me during the game and talked with me," Jones said. "We both were upset, and of course at that time we were still very much in doubt. But it was just really hard to make something positive to think about at the time other than 'Well, let's just see.'"
By the time reporters found him in the visitors' locker room, Jones had found some things to feel positive about. From the 2-0 division record to the dominant performance of his defense, Jones had high praise for the way his roster fought through the adversity.
"The good news is we've got some kids in here and some young guys – and not necessarily just kids – that are gnawing the leg off the chair to get out there. They wouldn't quit tonight," he said.
Lot Of Laundry
How's this for a crazy statistic: The Cowboys had more penalties (18) than the Eagles had first downs (17). It was truly a record-setting performance as 18 flags for 142 total yards was a franchise record for the most penalties committed in a game.
As Jones sarcastically noted, a lot of those penalties came against the Cowboys' offensive line – not all of them agreeably.
"I guess we're going to have to figure out what holding is – not for them, but for the league to tell us," he said. "Was that a record?"
Jones took issue with the amount of penalties called on his line. But Zack Martin didn't let himself off the hook so easily. The second-year guard was called twice for holding, which was just a small portion of the total. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free both drew flags, and even the usually-impeccable Tyron Smith was called for illegal formation and false start.
"We've just got to clean it up. I wouldn't argue with the calls – I think a lot of them were probably the right call, and we've just got to watch the tape and learn from them," Martin said.
Coupled with the penalties called on the Eagles, the officiating crew combined to call 26 total flags for 202 yards. It was a performance Jones was not afraid to take a jab or two at.
"These officials – for both teams – decided they were going to rewrite the book on how to make blocks or how to do some other things out there," he said. "Surely we're not going to have to go in and reinvent our techniques when we're blocking because of this football game. I am being facetious, but the whole point is we overcame a whole lot of adversity out here."
La'el Loved It
Perhaps the only Dallas offensive lineman who wasn't flagged on Sunday was the one making his first career appearance. La'el Collins was declared active prior to kick off on Sunday afternoon, and he rotated with Bernadeau at left guard.
"It's been a long time coming, man," Collins said. "I just wanted to get in there and do everything I can to help my team win and just be a part of that. It felt good to be out there tonight."
The Cowboys clearly wanted Collins to get some experience while Ron Leary nurses a groin injury, as he was in and out of the lineup all night. It was a bit unusual to see offensive linemen trading possessions the way running backs might, but Collins said it didn't throw off his rhythm.
"One thing about us is we try to set a standard to where it doesn't matter if you come in here or there – you've just always got to be ready," he said. "There shouldn't be no drop offs. So the biggest thing is just getting in there and doing your job."
The tape won't be completely kind, but it was a solid debut – and certainly a step up from the competition level in the preseason.
"It's a big difference – you've got starters in there, the best of the best," he said. "Just to be able to get out there against those guys and compete, felt really good tonight."
On the Kicker?
In a strange game featuring a Cowboys-record 18 penalties and a broken clavicle for Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo, here's something else you'll probably never see again:
A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on kicker Dan Bailey for making contact on the sideline with former teammate DeMarco Murray.
On the Eagles' first scoring drive in the second half, Murray ran out of bounds into the Cowboys' sideline following an incredible 22-yard catch in which he hurdled a defender. Murray's forward momentum carried him into Bailey on the sideline, and he appeared to give Bailey a slight shove, to which Bailey responded by grabbing Murray's jersey.
Murray appeared to take exception to it and flipped the ball in Bailey's direction. The flag went to the kicker.
"Just kind of wrong place at the wrong time, I guess," Bailey said. "I played with DeMarco for four years and the one thing I know about him is he's a competitor. I think he was just obviously fired up from the situation. Honestly I didn't really think there was much of it, and I guess some people thought differently."
Bailey made both of his field goal attempts and was 2-for-2 on extra points against the Eagles.