Cowboys showed some resiliency coming back from 13-0 deficit, force overtime and then win on Dan Bailey’s 38-yard field goal
ARLINGTON, Texas — A wild 23-20 overtime win over Cleveland on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium is an example why there are skeptics whether the Dallas Cowboys are a viable playoff contender.
The standings say that’s the case. With six games left the Cowboys are only one game behind the New York Giants. But inconsistent play and glaring shortcomings raise doubt.
“A Hall of Fame pitcher told me a long time ago, ‘You have to somehow win a game when you don’t have your best stuff,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett. “I don’t think we had our best stuff today, but we found a way.”
The schedule favors Dallas.
Climbing back to .500 for the first time in a month, the Cowboys (5-5) play four of their final six games at home. Only one team left on the schedule — Pittsburgh — has a winning record.
But against the Browns (2-8) the Cowboys trailed 13-0 at halftime and needed 10 first downs by penalty — nine called against Cleveland’s secondary — to escape with a win in a game Dallas’ beleaguered offensive line allowed quarterback Tony Romo to be sacked seven times.
“I’m not going to make any excuses for winning,” Romo said. “I know it’s hard no matter who you play. At the same time, we need to play better going forward if we’re going to do things we hope to achieve.”
Sparking the second-half rally was wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had a career day. The former Oklahoma State star collected 12 receptions for 145 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard touchdown that put Dallas up 17-13 with 6:46 to play.
That’s when the game, arguably the Cowboys’ postseason hopes, bounced back and forth.
“Anyone who was watching understood how important this win was,” Romo said. “You could feel it, the sense of urgency our team played with.”
A Dallas goal-line stand stopped the Browns three consecutive plays at the 1-yard line to protect the 17-13 lead with 1:42 to play.
The Browns, though, used all three timeouts to get the ball back at the Dallas 17-yard line following a 21-yard punt return and a Dallas horse-collar penalty.
Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden, the rookie from Oklahoma State, fired a 17-yard touchdown to Ben Watson to give the Browns a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in regulation.
“We continue to battle,” Weeden said. “I don’t know why we’re not getting it done late. That’s the frustrating part.”
After Weeden’s TD pass, Dallas moved quickly down the field, aided by 50 yards on two penalties — a 35-yard pass interference and 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct. The Cowboys settled for a 32-yard Dan Bailey field goal with: 02 left in regulation to tie it.
After both teams failed to score on their initial overtime possession, Romo marched the Cowboys down for a game-winning 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the extra period.
Instead of a statement win for Weeden and the young, improving Browns, it was another frustrating loss. Cleveland has lost six games by seven or less points.
“Yeah, we’ve lost our share, but we’ve been in every game,” said Weeden, an Edmond Santa Fe product who had his entire family, numerous friends and OSU fans make the trip to watch him play. “You can’t say we don’t play hard or we don’t fight. We just haven’t been able to finish.”
That’s also been an issue for the Cowboys. But this time they found a way to escape.
Dallas’ owner Jerry Jones’ response was revealing when asked if the win could provide momentum to make a run at the playoffs.
“Well, it gives us a mathematical chance,” Jones said. “As it would turn out, I liked the way we came back today. To get to 5-5 this way, a kind of strange way to earn it, you could look at it negatively. But I hope it will be a doctorate’s degree for us going forward these next six games.”
Considering Dallas’ suspect offensive line suffered another injury (left tackle Tyron Smith), does Garrett feel the Cowboys can find “their best stuff,” facing a short turnaround before they host Washington on Thanksgiving Day?
“You just have to keep grinding,” Garrett said. “We can play better. This is a positive thing for our football team. Hopefully, we’ll get some guys back and get going again.”
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After resuscitating their season last Sunday with a victory over Philadelphia, the Cowboys return home to face Cleveland. The Browns are on their way to posting another poor record. But they have been competitive, losing by single-digit margins in games against Baltimore and Indianapolis. This game isn’t appointment viewing and a Cowboys’ victory won’t cause the masses to change their opinion about where this team stands. But if Cowboys lose the damage will be significant. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Last Sunday, in the Cowboys’ 38-23 victory over Philadelphia, Dallas enjoyed its best rushing performance since DeMarco Murray suffered a sprained left foot Oct. 14. Against the Eagles, Dallas gained 101 yards on the ground. Despite the good effort, evidence shows Dallas has missed Murray, who is listed as doubtful. In the four games Murray has been sidelined, the Cowboys have averaged only 2.97 yards per carry. That number may increase Sunday against a Browns defense yielding 132.2 rushing yards per game – the sixth-highest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
This month, Tony Romo has yet to throw an interception. In two games, he has avoided committing any turnovers while posting a quarterback rating of 114.8. Romo’s performance, while unspectacular, has been steady and efficient. If he is given sufficient protection against a Browns defense that has recorded 20 sacks, he should continue his streak of success. Cleveland is allowing 247.9 passing yards per game – the 11th-highest average in the NFL. The Browns have also intercepted 10 passes – tied for sixth-most in the league this season.
When the Browns run
When Cleveland drafted Alabama’s Trent Richardson with the third overall pick last April, they appeared to be picking up a running back that could be a driving force for the Browns’ offense for the years to come. But the Browns are averaging only 89.2 yards per game on the ground and Richardson has been tackled in the backfield on 19 carries this season. The Cowboys haven’t always fared well against physical rushers like Richardson (See Lynch, Marshawn), but they are limiting teams to 105.2 yards per game – the 13th-lowest average in the NFL.
When the Browns pass
Only two NFL starting quarterbacks – Arizona’s John Skelton and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel — have posted a lower quarterback rating than Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden. The 29-year-old rookie has struggled, throwing nine touchdown passes and 12 interceptions while completing only 55.1 percent of his throws. Of course, Weeden’s lack of success isn’t just the result of inexperience. The offense he runs lacks firepower. The Browns’ top receivers — Greg Little and Josh Gordon – are talented but have played a combined total of 34 NFL games. The Cowboys, who have the eighth-ranked pass defense, should be able to corral them.
The Cowboys’ special teams have experienced marked improvement in recent weeks. Last Sunday, Dwayne Harris’ 78-yard punt return for a touchdown was the difference in Dallas’ victory over Philadelphia. Harris has now scored as many return touchdowns as Cleveland’s more accomplished specialist Josh Cribbs has produced in the last three seasons. And Cribbs has already turned the ball over twice this season. While Cleveland’s Phil Dawson is the only NFL kicker who has made all of his field goal attempts this season, making all 17 tries, his performance has only been marginally better than the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey, who has converted 88.9 percent of his 18 attempts.
A noon kickoff and the prospect of facing a lousy opponent may keep the Cowboys’ offense a tad punchy before the start of this game. But the defense should be wide awake. After all, coordinator Rob Ryan gets a chance to exact some revenge against his previous employer. Ryan oversaw the Browns’ defense during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but his job status was placed in jeopardy when Cleveland fired Eric Mangini and replaced him with current coach Pat Shurmur. Before a move could be made, Ryan left to join the Cowboys. And on Sunday he will face his old team for the first time since leaving.
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