The Dallas Cowboys are coming of their most emotional loss of the season and get rewarded by facing the league’s only undefeated team. But you never know what can happen in the NFL especially on Sunday night. So before the Dallas Cowboys head off to Atlanta this weekend, here’s a look at 10 Atlanta Falcons you ought to know before kickoff.
QB Matt Ryan – Dubbed as ‘Matty Ice’ for being cool under pressure, Ryan is quickly climbing the ladder to become on of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. In 2010, he set career highs in touchdowns (28), completion percentage (62.5) and yards (3,705) and earned a trip to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler. He followed that up by passing for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. Ryan is now on pace to have his best season yet and is the main reason why the Falcons are the only undefeated team in the NFL.
DE John Abraham – The Dallas Cowboys offensive line will have a tough time handling Abraham, who is the Atlanta Falcons career leader in sacks with 64.5. Abraham has racked up six sacks in his past five games and is absolutely dominating opposing offensive tackles. The four-time Pro Bowler has also forced three fumbles and batted three balls down at the line of scrimmage this season.
WR Roddy White – While Julio Jones may be the new kid on the block, White still gets his share of targets and currently leads the Falcons with 40 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns. White has posted five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and is showing no signs of slowing down. He might not be as big and physical as Jones, but he creates separation and will nab anything in his vicinity.
LB Sean Weatherspoon – Luckily for the Dallas Cowboys, Weatherspoon suffered an ankle injury on Sunday is listed as questionable. If he does play, Weatherspoon will certainly make his presence felt. He has been a tackling machine this season and leads the Falcons with 52 tackles and three sacks. If Weatherspoon is unable to go, it will be a huge loss for Atlanta not only as linebacker but as the leader of this defense.
WR Julio Jones – After being drafted sixth overall in the 2011 draft, Jones has blossomed into one of the NFL’s most dangerous wide receivers. Last season, he led all rookie wide outs in touchdown receptions with eight. This year, he has seen role grow as the Falcons continue to become a pass happy offense. So far, Jones has recorded 35 receptions for 499 yards and five touchdowns.
S Thomas DeCoud – In a secondary that features talented corners Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson, it is DeCoud, who leads the Falcons in interceptions with four and pass deflections with six. Tony Romo is coming off a four interception game so if he continues this trend, DeCoud will more than likely be the man catching his errant passes.
RB Michael Turner – The burner is on the downfall but is still the primary option in Atlanta. Turner leads the Falcons with 415 yards and three touchdowns but has only rushed for over 100 yards once this season. Despite the decline in production, expect Turner to carry a heavy load and maybe even break a couple of big runs.
TE Tony Gonzalez -Simply put, Gonzalez is Mr. Reliable. The 36-year old has been to the Pro Bowl 12 times and continues to be one of the most dominant tight ends in the game. His 59 targets is tied with Roddy White for the team lead, which means Ryan still trusts his savvy veteran pass catcher. Gonzalez actually leads the Falcons in receptions with 46 and is tied for second on the team with four touchdown catches.
CB Asante Samuel – Low risk. High reward. All the Falcons had to give up to obtain the four-time Pro Bowler was a seventh round pick, which is pretty low price considering Samuel’s 38 interceptions since 2006 lead the NFL. Samuel has rewarded Atlanta by holding down his side of the field this season in place of Brent Grimes, who was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Samuel has deflected four passes and returned an interception for a touchdown against Oakland. Cowboys should already be familiar with Samuel, who is the second on the Eagles all-time interception list.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers – With Turner struggling, expect Rodgers to steal a few more carries. The Oregon State product is used often on third downs and is an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. Being a scat back makes him a perfect compliment to a bigger back like Turner. This season Rodgers has rushed for 137 yards, caught 20 passes for 137 yards and scored two total touchdowns (see below).
Editors Clarification: Jacquizz Rodgers has scored a total of 2 touchdowns, including his TD in the 27-3 win @SD in Week #3 of the 2011 season.
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys were without two of their top three wide receivers, a starting defensive end and their starting running back for Sunday’s game at Atlanta was limited with a knee injury.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant did not practice because of a sore hip but he is expected to be ready for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. Bryant was hurt as he came crashing down on the turf on a near game-winning touchdown catch Sunday against the New York Giants.
Kevin Ogletree, the team’s No. 3 receiver, did not practice because of a hamstring strain. He was at practice in pads during the open portion of the session to the media.
Defensive end Jason Hatcher did not practice because of a bruised shin. While he is expected to be OK for Sunday’s game, Marcus Spears worked with the starters on Wednesday.
Felix Jones was limited with a bruised knee. He was limited in two of three practices last week but was able to play a full game against the Giants.
Linebacker Dan Connor did not practice because of a stinger that is likely to keep him out of the Falcons’ game. The Cowboys would turn to Orie Lemon and Ernie Sims to replace Connor, who was already subbing for an injured Sean Lee.
Running back DeMarco Murray (foot), center Phil Costa (ankle), defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) did not practice, as expected.
Orie Lemon had not played much on defense before Sunday against the Giants. Two plays is all, in fact.
But the Cowboys didn’t suffer when Lemon had to replace Dan Connor, who went out after 10 plays with a neck strain. Lemon played 23 plays and newly signed Ernie Sims 10.
"Orie did play some in the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Ernie Sims did play some in the game. I think those guys handled themselves well going into that situation."
Lemon, who spent all of last season and two games this season on the practice squad, was activated to the 53-player roster the day before the Cowboys’ game against Tampa Bay. He has been a special teams contributor in three games but had played only two plays on defense this season until Sunday.
He made three tackles against the Giants.
"It was good for me to get it against a good team like the Giants, being able to go in and do what I did," Lemons said. "I have a lot to work on, but I know what I’ve got to work on."
With Sean Lee out for the year with a toe injury, and Connor’s status undetermined for Sunday’s game against the undefeated Falcons, Lemon is preparing as if he will start.
"I know at any moment anything can happen, so I’ve got to be mentally ready for anything," Lemon said. "I study like I’m a starter, so I make sure if I do go in there, there won’t be any drop-off."
DALLAS COWBOY EVOLVING: Carter has gone from untested rookie to defensive signal caller in one calendar year
In the span of one calendar year, Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter has gone from untested rookie to the signal-caller of the team’s defense heading into Sunday’s game at Atlanta (7-0).
Carter, a second-round draft choice in 2011, spent the first six weeks of last season rehabbing from knee surgery for a torn ACL suffered during his senior season at North Carolina. He was activated for the first time on Oct. 29 and played in the final 10 games, primarily on special teams.
Carter has been a starter this season and, because of a season-ending toe injury to teammate Sean Lee, will call the defensive signals for the Cowboys (3-4) for the second consecutive week against the Falcons.
“It’s a whole lot different. Last year, I was just kind of nervous coming in to play in my first game in the NFL,” Carter said, reflecting on the increased responsibility he has shouldered for the Cowboys within the past year. “This year, I’m really in the mix. The situation is different, with Sean (Lee) being out. I’m trying to take it one play at a time and just study as much as I can and make sure everyone is on the right track.”
Coach Jason Garrett praised Carter, who played all 60 defensive snaps in last week’s 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, for playing “particularly well” in his debut as the Cowboys’ defensive signal-caller. Carter said he is adjusting to his new role and hopes to continue making progress against Atlanta.
“It’s obviously going to take a little bit to get used to, but I think it went pretty well,” Carter said. “I think we did a great job of communicating.”
In terms of whether he feels like a veteran on the field, Carter said: “I still feel like I’m young. There’s still a lot of my game ahead of me. I’m learning every day … I wouldn’t say I’m a rookie on the field. I’ve played, obviously. But I still feel like I’m young in the NFL.”
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims, who joined the team last week, made a positive impact in his 10 snaps against the New York Giants, said coach Jason Garrett, and could see more playing time Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Safety Charlie Peprah, also signed last week, could be active against Atlanta and Garrett said he has “done a nice job acclimating himself into the defense” during practices.
Taking players off the street and turning them into productive performers during the regular season has become a recurring theme with the Cowboys in recent seasons. Last year, Dallas watched receiver Laurent Robinson (11 TD catches) and offensive guard Montrae Holland (10 starts) step up as key contributors who were added to the roster after the start of the regular season.
Garrett is hoping Sims and Peprah could join that list.
“When an injury happens, you need to have a go-to guy at that spot,” Garrett said. “Our scouting department does a really good job, having those short lists and understanding not only where the guy was the last time he was playing but where he is now … Some times, it’s a go-to four or five guys to see who fits best for that given circumstance. But we have done a good job with that. It’s an important part of your team because, over the course of the season, you’re going to have injuries. To be able to absorb them with your current roster and then go out on the street to get guys who can be productive, it’s an important part of the course of the 16-game season.”
Garrett indicated Sims, signed in the wake of a season-ending injury to leading tackler Sean Lee, could have a bigger role this week but did not elaborate.
“I don’t want to go into specifics of that, but (Sims) did a nice job in last week’s game,” Garrett said. With more work, Garrett said Sims could “play even better” against the Falcons.
Experience the sights and sounds (Brad Sham) of the Dallas Cowboys near-comeback win vs. the New York Giants at Cowboys Stadium. Presented by Volkswagen. Duration – 3:42
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Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speaks about his teams slow start, and the heartbreaking final plays.
Jason Witten talks about losing another close game and what the team needs to do in order to improve moving forward.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo talks about playing a tough first half and fighting to come back in a close loss.
ARLINGTON, Texas – For three minutes of real time, I had already figured out what I wanted to say about this game.
And as long as that remarkable play was upheld and the Cowboys were awarded a touchdown, this one was going to go down as the all-timer of all-time games.
Maybe the first game I ever covered, the 1999 comeback against the Redskins with the overtime ending, would’ve been better, but this game, would’ve probably beaten that out if, and only if, Dez Bryant’s hand hadn’t touched the back of the end zone.
But it did. Bryant was out of bounds. The Cowboys drop this heartbreaker game that had more twists and turns than any ride Six Flags could’ve ever produced.
Giants 29, Cowboys 24.
Dallas obviously couldn’t complete the comeback, although the scoreboard did read 30-29 Cowboys for about three long minutes while the officials looked at Bryant’s catch. And whether or not it counted, it was still an amazing catch by a player who also had an up-and-down game.
If you’re reading this, there’s probably a great chance that you hated the outcome of this game. The great comeback, the records that were broken in the process, all of that means nothing in the end. The Cowboys couldn’t do enough to win this one, and now they’re 3-4 and three games behind the Giants in the win column.
But mark this one down as a classic.
It had everything the average football fan wants to see: great plays, great performances in the clutch, big stats, back-and-forth play where the lead changes hands, and the drama in the end.
I know it was a sickening feeling when the announcement was made that Bryant didn’t get his hand in bounds. The only real question was how injured he was when he landed straight on his backside.
For me, what I keep thinking about is how much this game mirrored the careers of both Bryant and Tony Romo. And actually, it’s also a good example just how the Cowboys are as a team right now.
At 3-4, it’s competitive. It’s got some good, but just a little more of the bad. There are times when it looks like the Cowboys are left for dead, and then they make it seem like they’re going to turn the corner. In the end, it’s just not good enough.
That’s exactly what occurred Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. And, that’s probably what this team will be when it’s all said and done.
Of course, this one started out completely disastrous with the Cowboys turning it over four times in the first half, trailing 23-0.
Forget boo-birds. This was like a flock of pigeons that invaded the stadium. And they were ruthless toward Romo, owner Jerry Jones even head coach Jason Garrett. They were hounding the Cowboys and for good reason.
It looked like this was going to be a long day, long week and a long season. (Actually, it might be in all three cases).
But then, the Cowboys begin what proved to be the ultimate tease. They unlocked the coffin they had been placed in, dug out of the dirt that had been poured, and rose from the dead, not just to make this respectable, but to take the lead.
Just as shocking to see a 23-0 deficit was a 24-23 Cowboys lead.
But no one thought Eli Manning and his group would go away and they didn’t. They are champions for a reason because they know how to handle adversity. Manning wasn’t great at all, but he drove the offense a couple of times and got his team in position to take the lead and then pad it.
On the other side, Romo was on his way to pulling off the greatest comeback in Cowboys history. After that awful start, it looked like his confidence was shot. Who knew he was about to have a career-high in passing yards (437) and attempts (62). In fact, if Bryant is ruled in bounds, Romo would’ve set the single-game passing record with 474 yards.
Yet, that’s his career. He allllmooossstt pulled it off.
He was almost spectacular. Isn’t that the biggest knock on Romo – is that he can be great and he can be awful? Usually, it’s week to week.
On Sunday, it was a matter of hours. Romo’s best performance came after his worst performance. And that’s why this guy drives people crazy.
He’s the guy that gives it up, but he’s the guy that brings them back. He was bad enough to get booed and probably have his coach consider pulling him. He was good enough to rally his team back and had the ball in a spot to win the game and pull off the greatest comeback in franchise history.
Good enough and bad enough in a matter of hours. That’s Romo’s career.
And it’s about the same with Bryant. When you look at the reasons he was drafted in the first round back in 2010, we saw them all here in this game.
He had top-10 talent, evident by his unreal catch in the most clutch of situations. Forget the yard lines. If you catch a ball like that in the backyard playing One-Mississippi, it’d be a great catch.
But he has questionable decision-making – both on and off the field. His misplay on a first-quarter punt, resulting in a muff and then fumble, got him booted as the punt returner. Yet, with the game on the line, and him making some key receptions as a receiver, the Cowboys put him back out there when they needed a huge return. And the Giants recognized that and kicked it away from him.
Even the longtime radio voice of the Cowboys, Brad Sham, said on his broadcast Sunday following Bryant’s fumble that it’s time for him to be on the bench.
There’s no way Sham really believes that, but that’s how frustrating it can be to watch this guy, cover this guy through the media, cover this guy as a defense. He’s just erratic in every way – the good can be so good and the bad can be so bad.
Sunday’s 29-24 thriller was the Cowboys’ franchise. Up and down but not good enough. It also seemed to mirror the careers of both Romo and Bryant. So much potential, but yet teased at the end.
Maybe you saw four quarters of dramatic football. I saw the careers of two key players and an entire franchise rolled into one.
ARLINGTON, Tex. — A dramatic finish would eventually unfold, but Dallas Cowboys fans wanted instant gratification Sunday. And after Tony Romo had thrown three interceptions and Dez Bryant had fumbled away a punt, a crowd announced at 94,067 also wanted its displeasure to be heard.
“I would have booed us, too,” Romo said. “We deserved it at that time.”
The Cowboys’ body language matched their sluggish start as they fell behind the Giants by 23 points early in the second quarter. Still, after the Cowboys nearly overcame that deficit, and six turnovers in all, the mood among them was that they had let the Giants escape with a 29-24 victory.
The Cowboys thought they had won with 10 seconds to play, when Romo’s heave into the end zone was hauled in by Bryant and officials signaled a touchdown. But replays showed that Bryant’s right hand landed out of bounds and the call was reversed, giving the Cowboys (3-4) a season split with the Giants (6-2) and dropping Dallas into a tie for second with the Philadelphia Eagles in the N.F.C. East.
The Giants also remained unbeaten at Cowboys Stadium, improving to 4-0 since it opened in 2009.
“It hurts for you to know you played your heart out,” Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We got off to a late start. We woke up late. To have the game end the way it ended and to get it taken away from you, it hurts.”
Dallas’s defense limited Eli Manning and the Giants, even with good field position, to five field goals and a rushing touchdown, and allowed only 293 yards. The Giants’ other score was provided by their own defense.
“The emotions were crazy,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We really wanted this game. But as a unit, as a team, we didn’t do enough, we didn’t make enough plays. We didn’t go that extra mile to get the job done.”
Romo was 36 of 62 for 437 yards, ran for one touchdown and passed for another, but also threw four interceptions. Tight end Jason Witten caught 18 passes, a team record, but with a stunning comeback seemingly in reach, Dallas derailed itself with questionable play-calling.
The Cowboys reached the Giants’ 28-yard line with 1 minute 27 seconds to play, and on first down Romo connected with Witten for a 9-yard gain. Needing only 1 yard for another set of downs, and with all three of their timeouts remaining, Dallas called three straight pass plays, and the series ended with Romo scrambling backward before heaving a desperation pass that was intercepted by Stevie Brown.
“We had a couple of plays called,” Romo said. “It’s dictated off coverage. They’re going to have a free guy if we run it. So you could bang it up there, but at the same time you could be wasting a play. It is what it is.”
The Giants’ victory is certain to fuel more criticism on how much of a home-field advantage the Cowboys really enjoy at their $1.2 billion stadium. They are now 14-13 since the retractable-domed structure opened in 2009 (compared with 14-14 on the road during that time). Cowboys management even addressed the issue last week with a letter to season-ticket holders, exhorting fans to make more noise, along with a new video that was shown on third downs to “help give our Dallas Cowboys a true home-field advantage.”
Instead, the crowd turned hostile toward the home team after Jason Pierre-Paul picked off Romo’s swing pass to running back Felix Jones and gave the Giants a 23-0 lead early in the second quarter. Romo was booed after every incompletion, and fans let Coach Jason Garrett know what they thought of his play-calling. Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, was also booed when he appeared on the video screen during a segment to promote breast cancer awareness.
“I’m the boo-ster,” Jones said. “The fans had the same feeling I did, frustrated and mad we had dug ourselves a big hole.”
He added: “I understand their frustration. I share their frustration.”
Here are the historical notes compiled after todays game with the New York Giants:
The Dallas Cowboys had three receivers top 100 yards tonight (Jason Witten, 167; Miles Austin, 133; and Dez Bryant ,110) for just the second time in franchise history. The first was at San Francisco (11/10/63) as Frank Clarke (190), Lee Folkins (112) and Billy Howton (107) were the first Cowboys trio to accomplish the feat.
Dallas finished the game with 415 net passing yards – the sixth-most in a game in franchise history:
Single-Game Passing Yards (team history)
Miles Austin finished second on the team with nine catches for 133 yards today. His 133 yards marked his third 100-yard outing of the season and the 14th of his career. His 133 yards today were the ninth-most in a game in his career:
Austin’s Single-Game Yardage Total
Austin’s nine catches today upped his career total to 245 to pass Kelvin Martin (237) for 13th in franchise history.
Austin’s 133 yards today upped his career total to 3,855 to pass Doug Cosbie (3,728) for seventh in team history.
Dez Bryant finished third on the team in both receptions (five) and yards (110) today. His 110 yards marked a career-high, his second 100-yard game of the season and the third of his career.
Bryant upped his career receptions total to 149 to pass Don Perkins (146) for 29th in team history.
Bryant improved his career receiving yards total to 1,977 to pass Timmy Newsome (1,966) for 28th in franchise history.
Bryant had a career-long 55-yard catch today.
Lance Dunbar had a 44-yard kickoff return today for the longest kickoff return of the season to date.
Dwayne Harris tied his career-long punt return of 14 yards today.
Felix Jones rushed 13 times for 19 yards and touchdown today. He now has 507 career rushing attempts to become the 12th Dallas Cowboy with 500 rushes.
Jones’ rushing touchdown today was the 10th of his career to make him the 18th Dallas Cowboy with 10-or-more rushing scores.
Danny McCray picked off his second career pass today.
John Phillips notched his second career touchdown reception – the first was also against the N.Y. Giants (12/11/12).
Tony Romo finished today’s game 36-of-62 for 437 yards. His 62 attempts established a club record while his 437 passing yards were a single-game career-high and good for third in club history:
Single-Game Passing Yards (Team History)
|Don Meredith||460||@SF (11/10/63)|
|Troy Aikman||455||MIN (11/26/98)|
|Tony Romo||437||NYG (10/28/12)|
Romo’s 437 yards was his second career 400-yard game (first was 406 vs. Tennessee, 10/10/10) and his 34th career outing with 300-or-more passing yards.
Romo also rushed for his fifth career touchdown today.
DeMarcus Ware’s sack today was his fifth straight game with at least a half sack – the fourth such streak in his career.
Ware has 13.5 career sacks against the Giants – the second-most against any team in the league (Philadelphia, 15.5). He also has 13.5 sacks of Eli Manning – more than any other quarterback he has sacked in the league.
Ware now has 107.0 career sacks to take sole possession of third place on Dallas’ all-time unofficial (pre-1982) sack list:
Jason Witten led the team with a club-record 18 catches for a team-best and career-high 167 yards. Witten now owns the top-three and is tied for fourth for receptions in a single-game in club history:
Dallas Cowboys Single-Game receptions
|Jason Witten||18||NYG (10/28/12)|
|Jason Witten||15||@Det (12/9/07)|
|Jason Witten||14||@NYG (12/6/09)|
|Lance Rentzel||13||WAS (11/19/67)|
|Jason Witten||13||CHI (10/1/12)|
|Dez Bryant||13||@Bal (10/14/12)|
Witten’s 18 catches tied for the third-most in a game in NFL history (Brandon Marshall, 18, vs. San Diego, 9/15/08) and were the most by a tight end in NFL history.
Witten’s 167-yard performance tied for the 20th-best single-game total by a league tight end and was a club tight-end record.
Witten also extended his club tight end record of 100-yard outings to 16.
Witten upped his season catch total to 51 to give him his ninth career and ninth consecutive season with at least 40 catches. He is now tied with Jeremy Shockey for the third-most 40-plus catch seasons and the third-most consecutive 40-catch seasons among tight ends in NFL history.
40-Plus Catch Seasons by a Tight End
|Shannon Sharpe||11||7||1992-98, 00-03|
Witten’s 51 catches thus far also marked his ninth career and ninth consecutive 50-catch season for the second-most by a tight end behind Tony Gonzalez (14 total and 14 consecutive) in NFL history.
Witten now has 747 career receptions and trails Michael Irvin by only three for tops in team history.
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It was not too long ago when the Cowboys went up to northern New Jersey and defeated the New York Giants 24-17. But a lot has changed since that Sept. 5 season opener. The Giants, not the Cowboys, now sit alone atop the NFC East standings. Dallas linebacker Sean Lee is done for the season after suffering ligament damage in his right big toe. And Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 131 yards in that first meeting with the Giants, is sidelined as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. The Giants, in totality, are in much better shape than the Cowboys. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
The Cowboys’ rushing attack remains in flux and at this point it’s difficult to project its performance. A week after gaining 227 yards on the ground against Baltimore, the Cowboys managed to collect 85 against Carolina. Of course, tailback DeMarco Murray didn’t play last Sunday and he won’t be available this week as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. That is a big blow for the Cowboys. Against the Giants in the opener, Murray rushed for a season-high 131 yards – about five more than New York has yielded on average this season. Will Phillip Tanner or Felix Jones, who is nursing a bruised knee, pick up the slack in Murray’s absence?
When the Cowboys pass
Tony Romo’s best performance of the season came in the first game. Romo completed 76 percent of his pass attempts for 307 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 129.5 quarterback rating in the process. Since then, Romo has thrown three more interceptions than touchdown passes. But there is no reason to believe Romo can’t skewer the Giants’ flimsy secondary. New York is allowing 253.3 yards per game through the air, the 12-highest average in the NFL. The question is whether Romo, who has been only sacked once in the past two games, will be able to avoid the Giants’ staunch pass rush.
When the Giants run
The Giants’ running game has improved significantly since last season, when New York was ranked last in yards on the ground. Through seven games, the Giants have produced 116.3 rushing yards per game, the 12th-highest average in the NFL. They have done so while relying on Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Brown and David Wilson. Yet the Cowboys were able to contain the Giants’ tailbacks in the opener, limiting New York to 82 rushing yards – 23 below the current average they’ve allowed. Of course, linebacker Sean Lee was a big part of that defensive effort. Now he’s out for the season with ligament damage in his right big toe. Will the Giants be able to exploit his absence?
When the Giants pass
The Giants make no secret about their intentions. They will pass the ball, relying on the arm of Eli Manning to power the offense. After Week 7, only three quarterbacks had thrown the ball more times than Manning had. And it’s easy to see why Manning is chucking the ball all over the field. After all he has plenty of targets. Headed by Victor Cruz, who has already made 50 catches, the Giants have six players who have gained more than 100 receiving yards. The Cowboys, who have the third-stingiest pass defense, will try to limit Manning and Co. for the second time this season.
No player this season has attempted more field goals than the Giants’ Lawrence Tynes. He has converted 19 of 21 attempts this season and is part of a special teams unit that includes one of the league’s best directional punters, Steve Weatherford. Weatherford has allowed 5.8 yards per return – the exact average the Cowboys have produced when they have fielded punts. Those modest gains aren’t surprising. Although Dan Bailey has made 92.3 percent of his 13 field-goal attempts, Dallas’ special teams have performed poorly this season.
The Cowboys will have home-field advantage. That should mean something. But in this matchup with the Giants it doesn’t. The Giants have prevailed in all three meetings with their NFC East rivals at Cowboys Stadium. And at this point some wonder if New York feels more comfortable at Jerry World than Dallas does.
For that reason, the Giants have to be brimming with confidence as they invade North Texas seeking revenge for the loss the Cowboys handed them in the season opener.
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FOLLOWUP – REX RYAN: Sean Lee injury caused brother, Rob Ryan, to cry during phone conversation (UPDATED)
IRVING — Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he didn’t cry over linebacker Sean Lee’s season-ending toe injury, “but I probably should have.”
On Wednesday, while discussing Jets linebacker Bart Scott’s toe injury, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said that his brother was “crying, literally, on the phone because they just lost their great linebacker to a toe injury.”
“That guy’s so full of crap,” Rob Ryan said Friday. “Was I [griping] to him? Sure. We have so many damn injuries, of course I was. He did talk me off the plank. But I wasn’t crying tears, actual tears. I save that for the movies I watch with my wife. You know, Lifetime. My god, you guys ever watch Lifetime? Don’t. Trust me, don’t.”
Rob Ryan said moving on without Lee won’t be easy, especially against the high-scoring Giants. Lee had 14 tackles in the Cowboys’ season-opening 24-17 win at the Giants.
“I understand we played the Giants before and the only reason we stopped them was their lack of execution,” Rob Ryan said. “It had nothing to do with our players or our scheme. We got the message. And like [the Giants] said before, it was all them. That’s the only reason they self-destructed, apparently, against us last time,” Rob Ryan said. “So hopefully they have another bad game. It would take another miracle and it’d be great, though.”
SOURCE: Rob Ryan Press Conference – How Do You Replace Lee?
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan answers questions about the look of the Cowboys defense without middle linebacker Sean Lee. Duration: 9:28
Click on photo above to watch video. Enjoy!
Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently broke Johnny Unitas’ streak of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a record that had stood since 1960. It was considered the league’s most untouchable record.
Ten years ago today, Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s record for career rushing yards. He retired after the 2004 season with 18,355. No active running back is close since LaDainian Tomlinson retired after last season, with 13,684 yards. Rams running back Steven Jackson is the NFL’s leader among active players with 9,473 yards.
“Records ultimately always seem to get broken,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Some of those ones that are untouchable and last a long time at some point seem to be eclipsed, but because the way the league is, it doesn’t seem like we have these bell cow rushers who get the ball 25-30 times a game like they did years ago.
“Of all of Emmitt’s greatest traits, and he had thousands as a player –- as instinctive a player as I’ve been around, great balance, great power, explosiveness, feel, vision all that stuff -– I think at the end of the day, his most redeeming quality was his durability. Because he was a marked man ever since he was probably 13, 14 years, and everybody knew who Emmitt Smith was going into every game. Every defense wanted to stop him. And week in and week out, year after year after year, he showed up and was so productive. It’s hard to find that in this era of football. …I don’t think anybody might be able to eclipse what he accomplished.”
Smith’s marketing team released a statement from Smith about the 10-year anniversary of his record.
“It was certainly a milestone for me and was difficult to accomplish,” Smith said. “Football is the ultimate team sport; one that’s not really about breaking records. My accomplishments throughout my career were due not only to my abilities, but also certainly to the efforts and sacrifices of others. I can’t take all the credit. We did this as a team and that is something I’ll always cherish.”
VIDEO: Emmitt Smith’s historic run, career highlights, and Jerry Jones’ induction speech to the NFL Hall of Fame crowd in Canton, Ohio.
IRVING — In an example of the leadership and attitude the Dallas Cowboys will miss, linebacker Sean Lee talked to the media Thursday for the first time since it was revealed he must undergo season-ending toe surgery and was placed on injured reserve.
Lee, the team leader in tackles and the quarterback of the defense, is disappointed, but doesn’t feel sorry for himself.
He said he will be back better than ever next season.
In the interim, he will help his teammates as much as he can and believes they can still improve and have a successful season without him.
"It was frustrating because you want to be out there," Lee said.
"It’s one of those things. It’s part of the game. You have to be positive because if you’re negative you’re not going to get any better. My view is you’ve got to take the next step and that’s just working on getting better."
Lee said he initially didn’t think the injury was that serious, but that was before his foot swelled up the Monday after the Carolina game.
"I didn’t think it was going to be something that I’d be out for the rest of the season, especially with the way it happened, a fluke play where trying to make a tackle, their tight end lands on my foot as I’m driving, falls over the pile, bends my toe all the way back to my foot," Lee said.
Lee said there was no avoiding surgery. He will be sidelined three to four months after the surgery but should be healthy by February.
Lee won’t be on the field, but he plans to help Bruce Carter, who will take over the play-calling, and Dan Connor, who will replace him in the starting lineup.
In the season opener, tight end Jason Witten served as an inspiration to his teammates. Sunday, he hopes to mean even more.
Witten played in the season opener against the New York Giants, a day after being cleared after sitting out with a lacerated spleen. Witten had two catches for 10 yards, but the Cowboys credited him for playing a big part in their 24-17 victory.
"It went down to the last minute," Witten said Thursday. "Obviously, looking back at this film, there is a lot of emotion with that. Probably not the healthiest I’ve ever been. It was a big win for our team to go on the road and beat them."
Witten lacerated his spleen Aug. 13 in the preseason opener on a hit by Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain. He returned to noncontact work in practice the week before the season opener, but he wasn’t cleared until seeing a specialist in New York the day before the game.
He played in his 140th consecutive game, though it was not his best game. In playing 53 of 68 plays, Witten had as many penalties (2) as catches and more penalty yards (15) than receiving yards.
He has 33 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown this season. Only Dez Bryant has better numbers, 36 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Miles Austin has a team-leading four touchdowns.
Running back Felix Jones returned to practice Thursday, though he was limited. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice with a bruised knee.
Jones is expected to start for the Cowboys on Sunday against the Giants. DeMarco Murray will miss his second consecutive game with a foot injury.
Jones was the only change to the practice report Thursday.
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) did not return to practice as he said he would. Center Phil Costa (ankle) also did not practice. He is wearing a protective boot and using crutches.
The Cowboys were without safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and defensive lineman Sean Lissemore (ankle). Center Ryan Cook (hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (pectoral) were full participants.
Editors Note: Keep track of the Dallas Cowboys (and opponents) injury status HERE.
IRVING — Because of injuries to others, Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner has taken plenty of practice snaps this week with the first-team offense.
The second-year back considers himself ready, if needed, to make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants. But the former free agent draws the line at declaring himself comfortable in that role. Or any role in professional football.
"I’m never comfortable. That’s what kills you, when a guy gets comfortable and complacent," said Tanner, who had a career-high 13 carries in last week’s 19-14 victory over Carolina in relief of injured teammates DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee). "I still come in every day as if I’m a free agent trying to make this team. I study film as if I’ve never seen it before. I take notes as if I’ve never read it before. Just so I can stay on my toes and won’t become complacent …So if I was good at 13 carries, I’ll try to be better at 14. And on and on and on."
That work ethic, coach Jason Garrett said, offers comfort to the Cowboys if Tanner — a third-teamer with 44 career carries for 137 yards — handles most of the workload Sunday against the Giants with Murray out and Jones on the mend. Jones practiced Thursday on a limited basis and, barring a setback, is expected to start Sunday.
But if Jones cannot play or cannot finish Sunday’s game, the spotlight shifts to Tanner. And Tanner’s primary backup would be rookie Lance Dunbar, a free-agent signee from North Texas and Haltom High School whose lone NFL carry covered 11 yards in the team’s 31-29 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 14.
Dunbar said the undrafted duo can handle a showdown with the reigning world champions, if necessary.
"I’m pretty confident in myself and I’m confident in him," Dunbar said. "If that happens, we’ll approach it like, ‘OK, we can do this. It’s just another game.’ We’d play our game and let it happen."
And their games differ greatly.
Tanner (5-foot-10, 217 pounds) offers a blend of power and speed that teammate Tyrone Crawford likened to Doug Martin, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Crawford, a defensive tackle, played at Boise State with Martin and said Tanner "reminds me of Doug [because] they both run low, powerful and with good vision. He’s a smash mouth back with speed and it’s good to have him."
Dunbar (5-foot-8, 191 pounds) is more of a breakaway threat who is dangerous in the open field.
"His quickness is sick," fullback Lawrence Vickers said. "He’s great with the ball."
Regardless of who plays running back against the Giants, the Cowboys seek to match the ground-and-pound production they had in a 24-17 victory over the Giants on Sept. 5 (143 rushing yards, including 131 by Murray) and in their past two games. Dallas rushed for a season-high 227 yards against Baltimore and collected 85 against Carolina while controlling the clock for 33:37.
Against the Panthers, Tanner (13 carries, 30 yards) handled the ball seven times in the final 7:32 on drives that resulted in a go-ahead field goal with 3:28 remaining and another to pad the lead with 58 seconds to play. Tanner touched the ball nine times in the fourth quarter (eight carries, one catch), including a 5-yard trap play on third-and-9 that preceded the go-ahead field goal.
"He’s on our team for a reason," Garrett said, praising Tanner’s ability to handle a bigger role in an emergency situation. "At every turn [since signing with Dallas], he came in here and said, ‘You are not cutting me from this football team.’ When he’s gotten more opportunities in the preseason or the regular season, he’s shown us he can do a good job for us."
Tanner’s biggest opportunity could come Sunday if Jones’ knee ailment elevates Tanner into the starting lineup. It would be a moment the Dallas native, who played at Kimball High School, has envisioned since signing with his hometown NFL team on July 28, 2011.
"The most important thing I’ve learned is always be mentally prepared. Just take it to practice every day as if I’m going to be the starting running back," Tanner said. "That’s been my mind-set since the first day. Just to work hard and jell with the offensive line as if I’m the starting running back. So that when my time came, I would be ready."
Vickers said the Cowboys’ ground game can be productive Sunday even if it leans on a Tanner-Dunbar tandem against the Super Bowl champs.
"Absolutely," Vickers said. "Every back in that backfield is ready to go at all times. We’re preparing to make sure we can be a dominant group and hold up our end on the football field."
IRVING, Texas — Growing up in Plano, Texas, Charlie Peprah was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Emmitt Smith is the reason he’s playing football now.
So when Peprah walked into the Cowboys locker room this week after signing a contract, the safety was living the dream.
"I love the Cowboys," Peprah said. "Once I was employed by the Packers, they became the enemy and I could care less about them, other than that, that was my squad. That’s the reason why I started playing football was Emmitt Smith. That’s why I wore 22 in high school. To be here is cool to become full circle. I would love to finish my career here, it would be great. Just something you thought wouldn’t actually happen, but I’m glad it did."
After graduating from Plano East High School, Peprah went to Alabama and played in 50 games. In 2005, he was a second-team All SEC selection at defensive back. He was a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants but didn’t make the roster and signed with the Green Bay Packers. He played with the Packers from 2006 to 2008 and then spent one season, 2009, with the Atlanta Falcons. But in 2010 and 2011 he returned to the Packers and earned a Super Bowl ring.
In the offseason, Peprah underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and his recovery took a while. He turned down opportunities to sign with several teams, including the New York Giants, and he took physicals for the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
But nearly two weeks ago, a healthy Peprah worked out with 14 other players at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys said of the defensive backs that worked out, he was the best.
This week, the Cowboys made the move official.
"I mean that’s the business and once (the surgery) happened, my main focus was to get healthy before I throw myself out there," he said. "That was the hardest thing for me is to not bite on some of the opportunities that were out there coming my way."
Peprah will see limited work on special teams and certain defensive packages to give Danny McCray a break.
"I’m trying to learn the defense and contribute in any way I can," he said. "The goal for me is obviously be a starter, but who knows what plans they have for me."
There’s no doubting that the Cowboys lost one of their most valuable players this week when it was announced Wednesday that Sean Lee was being placed on the injured reserve with a toe injury.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was so upset over losing the team’s leading tackler that he was driven to tears, according to his brother, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.
While discussing Jets linebacker Bart Scott’s toe injury on Wednesday, Rex Ryan said, “My brother was crying, literally, on the phone because they just lost their great linebacker to a toe injury.”
Rex Ryan, who is known for delivering witty remarks, could have been exaggerating. But knowing how valuable Lee is to the Cowboys’ defensive game plan, he might have been telling the truth.
Rob Ryan will likely give his side of the phone conversation on Friday, when he usually speaks with media members at Valley Ranch.
IRVING – Walking through the halls of the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch practice facility there’s always a realistic chance that you’ll run into Jerry Jones. And the Cowboys owner and general manager is usually open to stopping and chatting for a few minutes, as he did on Wednesday.
While the news of the day was the season-ending injury suffered by inside linebacker Sean Lee, Jones also spoke at length about his popular franchise and its starting quarterback.
The following summary followed after a reporter asked Jones about the high expectations placed on Tony Romo and the criticism he receives. The 70-year-old owner said his expectations for Romo are probably higher than anyone else’s.
But why do Cowboys players, like Romo, seem to be more scrutinized than others around the league?
“We push a lot out on the table with the Cowboys,” Jones said. “Picture going to Las Vegas and putting an inordinate amount on the table with every hand or with every throw. We do that and I am a part of that. When you do that and you don’t have the right hand or win, then you subject yourself to a lot more criticism.”
Does Jones ever feel like he needs to pull some of those chips back?
“No,” he responded. “That’s our style. I have won with that style. I feel we are not in the business … we are not managing a widow-woman’s retirement accounts here. In other words, to compete, I think we need to be aggressive. You play the game, you manage the game that way, you take some risks when they don’t pay off (and) they look bad. That has happened. I think that’s one of the luxuries of my position as owner as well as the ultimate decision-maker, general manager and president, I can do that and take the losses and come back for more.”
The Cowboys haven’t come close to duplicating the success the franchise had during Jones’ early years as owner, reaching the playoffs only once in the last four years. So what’s the problem? Does he need better cards on the table? Does Romo need more help around him?
Jones didn’t say if he did, but his response solidified his support for the 32-year-old quarterback.
“I felt for the last two years, certainly last year was a very disappointing year because he had a great season and we should have as a team been there and knocking on the door more than we were,” Jones said. “To some degree we were, but the Giants were better. I hope that we get the same opportunity this year, he’s very capable of doing it and I hope that he can maintain this level of play and use his experience.
“I hope that he can maintain it for several years in the future. I hope that. No one knows that but I think, relatively speaking in his career he hasn’t played as much football as his years in the NFL represent. I think that because of his intellect, because of his understanding of the game and, frankly, his skills that he’s going to be playing for a long time. I think we’ve got a quarterback in Tony Romo here for many years to come.”
Earlier this month, Cowboys offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan said the Cowboys were going to work on “simplifying” the play calls so there would be less confusion on offense. However, since Callahan made those comments on October 11, Romo appears to be doing even more at the line of scrimmage before each play.
“We’ve basically created a little less pre-snap action, pre-snap communication with the rest of the team,” Jones said. “That’s not taking the load off him, that’s the communication before the ball is snapped has been tightened up and probably crisper.”
After the ball is snapped, Jones simply wants Romo to be himself.
“We don’t want to take the Romo out of Romo because it’s going to get us where we’re going to get,” Jones said. “We’ve got to keep the Romo in Romo. He’s going to have to be the one that gets out there and decides whether or not he wants to try to make the play or not.
“From my perspective, I’ve always told him, ‘Go out there and make those fabulous plays, keep the drives moving, but don’t turn the ball over.’”
Jones then laughed.
“Please understand, I’m almost tongue-in-cheek when I say that,” he responded. “We all know that’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.”
Just another day at Valley Ranch.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor called his ascension into the team’s starting lineup a “bittersweet” experience because the opportunity came from a season-ending injury to Sean Lee, the team’s leading tackler and Conner’s longtime friend and former college teammate at Penn State.
“To step in and play for him, it’s bittersweet. It’s not a good feeling for me,” Connor said. “I talked to him on the phone last night and he’s putting on a brave face … My heart breaks for him. He’s a great friend of mine. He leads the defense. He knows it inside and out and he works the hardest. And he was having a spectacular season.”
Lee, who is facing season-ending surgery for ligament damage in his big toe, made 77 tackles in Dallas’ first six games. Connor joins Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims, a veteran signed today, as the primary bodies in the mix at inside linebacker for Sunday’s game. But he acknowledged a committee approach will be necessary to replace the versatile Lee.
“It’s going to be hard to replace a guy like that. He’s unreplaceable,” Connor said. “A lot of guys are going to have to step in at different positions and we’ve got to pick up the slack from what we’ve got.
“It’s hard to say one guy’s going to go in there and do what Sean Lee does. I think he’s the top player in the game right now at that position. We’ll get a couple of different guys who are good at certain things and do it that way. And have Bruce in there with the (radio receiver in his) helmet, calling the defense. He did a great job with it last week. He got the helmet and he was making the checks and he really took control and did an unbelievable job.”
Ernie Sims has never played in a 3-4 defense. He hasn’t played much inside either. But that’s why the Dallas Cowboys signed him.
Sims, signed Wednesday after Dallas put starting inside linebacker Sean Lee on injured reserve, is getting a crash course in the team’s sub-packages.
"Do I think I can play? Yes," Sims said. "If you look at me earlier in my career, I’ve been probably smaller than I am right now. I’ve actually gained about 5-6 pounds of lean mass. I’m stronger, faster and obviously bigger than I was my first couple of years in the NFL. I’m pretty confident in my ability. Obviously only time will tell."
Sims was the ninth overall pick of the Lions in 2006 and became an immediate starter, starting 50 consecutive games before injuries forced him out of the lineup in 2009. The Lions traded him to Philadelphia in a three-way deal for tight end Tony Scheffler and a seventh-round pick. He had only 2.5 sacks and an interception in 56 career starts for the Lions.
Sims, who played one season for the Eagles and spent last season in Indianapolis, said he has grown up a lot since then.
"This is a brand-new beginning for me. It really is," Sims said. "I’ve been through a lot in the NFL. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown up as a young man. A lot of people when they see me, they say he looks familiar, but is that the same guy? I’m still the same guy. I just look different. I cut all my hair off. I don’t carry myself like I did. I’m married now. I’ve got a beautiful young son now. My motives and my mindset is totally different now. What I’ve been through in the NFL is really just completely changed my life. That’s why I say this is a totally new beginning for me. When I say I’ve got something to prove, I’ve got something to prove. It’s game time."
Sims said the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 isn’t a big deal.
"it’s really just X’s and O’s," Sims said. "It’s the same principles. It’s the same things going on in every defense that I’ve played in. The good thing about me is I’ve played in several different defenses with several different teams with several different defensive coordinators. …I’ve seen all the different defenses you can play in, all the different schemes and coverages. That kind of gives me an upper hand with me trying to adjust to this new defense."
Punter Brian Moorman knew the deal when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys: He wasn’t long for Dallas. His stay was expected to be only as long as it took Chris Jones to return from a knee injury. But the Cowboys placed Jones on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday, allowing Moorman to get out of a hotel and into a rental property.
"I came in to spell him and get him healthy," Moorman said. "I knew my place. I told him right from the start’ I’m not here to replace you and here to help you as much as I can.’ It’s been great. I think Chris is a great punter, and he’s got a long future in this league. Just look at what he’s done, and what he’s capable of doing. You don’t want it to come down to something like that – an injury to cost somebody to lose their season like that. You stay positive and just get him healthy and get him back for next year."
Jones is the team’s second punter to go on injured reserve in two seasons. Mat McBriar finished last season on IR with a cyst in his left leg.
Jones sprained his left (kicking) knee when he was roughed in the Tampa Bay game on Sept. 23. The Cowboys signed Moorman to take his place for the Oct. 1 game against the Bears. But Jones returned Oct. 14 against the Ravens when Moorman injured his groin in practice the week of that game.
Jones later was diagnosed with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament, though he won’t require surgery. He said his one punt in the game against the Ravens did not make the injury worse.
"I rehabbed it and rehabbed it and rehabbed it and strengthened it," Jones said. "I figured it would be something I could play with and just kind of manage it that way. But I guess it was a little too much. Now I’ve got some time to get it back."
Jones averaged 45.2 yards a punt with a 40.0 net and had six punts inside the 20. Moorman has averaged 44 yards a punt with a 42.3 net. He has had four of seven punts downed inside the 20.
"I’ve hit the ball better this year going back to training camp than I’ve ever hit it in my career," said Moorman, released by the Bills after 179 consecutive starts because of his 32.7 net average there this season. "I feel my confidence has never wavered, and I don’t think my ability has ever wavered. It’s been an unfortunate situation this year that I’ve come into. But sometimes you run into adversity. It’s just kind of how you rally and move on. I was lucky to be able to quickly come to a new team and be able to put the past behind me, and that’s just what it is. It’s the past, and I’m looking forward to the future, and I’m happy to be a Dallas Cowboy."
Jason Garrett speaks to the media LIVE from Valley Ranch as his team begins their preparations for the Giants. See what he has to say about the injury to Sean Lee and how it could affect the team going forward.
IRVING, Texas – Veteran linebacker Ernie Sims will visit with the Cowboys on Wednesday with the anticipation of signing with Sean Lee to miss the rest of the season with a severe case of turf toe.
UPDATE (10:05 a.m.): The Cowboys are signing Sims and moving Lee to IR.
Sims, 27, played in 13 games last year for Indianapolis with four starts and was credited with 32 tackles. In 2010 he started 15 games for Philadelphia and had 55 tackles and two sacks. He spent his first four seasons with Detroit.
Lee will have season-ending surgery on his right big toe after suffering the injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s win at Carolina. Lee had a second MRI on Tuesday which revealed the ligament damage.
Lee leads the Cowboys in tackles with 77 in the first six games, according to the coaches’ film. He has two tackles for loss, eight quarterback pressures, one interception, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
Dan Connor will replace Lee in the starting lineup, and Bruce Carter will take over as the defensive signal caller.
The Cowboys feel the need for a more experienced linebacker with Orie Lemon as the only true backup inside linebacker on the 53-man roster. Outside linebacker Alex Albright has worked in practice and preseason games at inside linebacker.