Two weeks of waiting, kvetching and overanalyzing came down to one game-winning drive for the Dallas Cowboys. When Dan Bailey split the uprights for a 35-yard field goal at time expired, the Cowboys had a much-needed 24-21 win over the New York Giants and the 20th game-winning drive of quarterback Tony Romo’s career.
“It was nut-cuttin’ time and the quarterback did a great job,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told reporters after the game. All told, Romo threw for 250 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, a pedestrian effort — by Romo’s standards. But two weeks after the New Orleans Saints embarrassed the Cowboys in prime time, the win against New York showed Dallas still has some tricks up its sleeve.
After all but abandoning the run game against New Orleans and Minnesota, Dallas rushed for more than 100 yards in New York. It was only the second time the Cowboys have crossed triple digits on the ground this season.
In Dallas’ game-winning drive, Tony Romo defied critics and came up with clutch plays.
DeMarco Murray accounted for most of it, with 86 rushing yards (and another 40 yards in the air). Murray’s longest run of the day, a 30-yarder, set up Jason Witten’s first touchdown reception of the game. "DeMarco ran well, caught some checkdown passes and had a big day today,” Garrett said. Murray showed how valuable he is as a combo back, as long as he remains healthy.
Meanwhile, mounting penalties nearly cost Dallas the game. On the final drive, left tackle Tryon Smith earned a false-start penalty that meant the Cowboys had to convert on third-and-7. It was the team’s 11th penalty of the game, and mercifully, the last.
In what would be Dallas’ game-winning drive, Romo defied critics and came up with a clutch 19-yard pass to Dez Bryant on third down. It was just the seventh time Romo converted on third-down with a pass since the start of Week 8.
Despite all the attention Bryant drew from New York, Dallas smartly chose to keep going back to him. Of Romo’s 39 pass attempts, 16 of them went to Bryant, who had 9 receptions for 102 yards. He caught two more passes on the drive, the last of which converted another third down that put the Cowboys in Giants territory.
It also made up for Bryant’s 20-yard fumble and loss on a reception earlier in the game. “The best big-time players play big in those big moments,” Garrett said of Bryant. “He gets a lot of attention and he showed up big on that last drive.”
With less than two minutes left in the game, Bryant almost found himself in the midst of yet another controversy. After targeting Miles Austin for a big 17-yard game (and his only reception), Romo went back to Bryant. He appeared to haul in a pass, but the officials ruled it incomplete. Bryant threw a mini-tantrum, and Garrett actually took the extraordinary step of spending the team’s second timeout to get the replay booth to take a closer look.
For once, Dallas didn’t waste its energy on what might have been. Romo rendered the controversy moot by hitting Cole Beasley with a 13-yard pass. The third-down conversion with 1:25 left on the clock slew the Detroit demons, albeit a month too late.
After that, all Romo had to do was take a knee twice and Bailey did the rest. It was Bailey’s eight game-winning field goal, a Cowboys record, and underscores the Cowboys’ need to find a way to keep the restricted free agent in 2014. “He’s made so many big kicks for us,” Garrett said. “He’s done it over and over again. He’s money.” And, at least for one final drive on Sunday, so were the Cowboys.