was only the third time?
Now it says here Manning was only sacked twice and that he was never hit, save Spears' love tap that cost him 15 yards. But guarantee you Manning and the Colts knew who they played when they left here 9-1, losing a regular-season game for only the third time in the past 26 games.
"You have to give them credit," Indy head coach Tony Dungy said. "They've got a good defense. They've got good, physical guys. They did a good job today. I think we got mentally frazzled and fell apart."
There was no Ellis, but Ware had a monster game. He was all over the place. There was no Ellis, but Al Singleton and Carpenter held down the fort at outside linebacker. There was no Ellis on nickel downs, but Jason Hatcher was sniffing around Manning most of the day.
And those DB's. OK, Manning did throw for 254 yards and two touchdowns. But for him, that's just a ho-hum performance. The Cowboys did an amazing job of using their standard defense against the Colts' three-wide sets, limiting the tight ends to three catches, and then matching up in a lot of man on the nickel on their wide-receiving wizards.
Or course, there was the old vet, Aaron Glenn tipping that slant pass Burnett intercepted, who then looked like his old running back self, returning the ball 39 yards to knot this game at seven, the Cowboys' second interception return for a touchdown this season and the first pick returned against Manning since 2003. There was the Bradie James strip of Marvin Harrison, his first fumble in his last 226 receptions. There was James' fumble recovery after Manning was hit from behind by Jay Ratliff. And there was Roy Williams' pick at the Dallas 1 to save a TD when tight end Dallas Clark fell to his knees at the 2.
And because of all that, the Cowboys never had to over-extend Romo. They never had to abandon their game plan. If you had told me the Cowboys would not score a single point in the first half, I'd have bet my lunch money they would have lost touch with the Colts. But they never did, trailing just 7-0.
"I really went into this game thinking you can't lose the game before you can win it," said Romo, and because of the defense, he never had to chance that. "(Bill Parcells) really wanted to me to manage this game."
Patience afforded by the defense enabled Romo to engineer that exhaustive game-tying touchdown drive there early in the fourth quarter. And then came even more key defensive plays.
Like third-and-1 at the Colts' 40, when Manning pumps and throws deep for Clark running a streak route on Newman. Ha, maybe on a linebacker. Maybe on a safety. But no tight end is going to outrun Newman, who would have intercepted the ball had Williams not rotated over and knocked the ball out of his hands. No matter, the Colts had to punt.
And then, after the Cowboys scored that go-ahead touchdown, thanks mostly to the nifty adjustment on those slants Romo had been throwing to Terry Glenn, netting 32 yards on an in-and-up, along with that 15-yard screen to Jones to the 1, here came the two defensive plays that may have turned this season around the for Cowboys.
It was third-and-2 at the Dallas 8. The Colts went three wide with Clark in the slot. The Cowboys stayed in their standard 3-4 defense. Newman snuffed out the first read, smothering Harrison, causing Manning to throw over the middle for their other tight end, Ben Utecht. He was never open, the ball going out of the end zone.
And then, on fourth down, the Colts went three wide, again with Clark in the slot left. The Cowboys widened out Ware, moving into the slot over Clark, knowing they still had to honor the possibility of a run.
"We were working on that particular play all day Friday," Ware said. "(Anthony) Henry alerted me: 'DeMarcus, you know what play's coming.' I hadn't even thought about it until then, and we worked on it all week."
Ware initially covered Clark. But when he saw Reggie Wayne, covered by Henry, break inside on a short slant, the team's outside linebacker handed off Clark to the safeties and jumped Wayne's crossing route. They made contact, much to Manning's chagrin, as he complained about illegal contact.
But Ware was inside the five-yard allotment, and he took Wayne