Category Archives: Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine

OVERTIME THRILLER IN DALLAS: Cowboys D comes up big; Steelers denied another win in Cowboys Stadium

Dallas Cowboys Stadium 2012 sunset - The Boys Are Back blog

The Steelers came into this game with the top-ranked defense in the NFL. The Cowboys? Well, they had six of their original starters out of the lineup, plus their nickel cornerback, then lost yet another linebacker in the early stages of the game.

But as the old saying goes, the games aren’t played on paper. Instead, it was the Dallas defense that came up big, leading the team to a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory in front of 95,595 raucous fans.

Despite the glaring differences between their defensive units, Dallas’ patchwork side held their own throughout the contest, and when they needed it most, came up with three big sacks late in the fourth quarter. That was followed by a game-changing interception from Brandon Carr in the extra frame, which set up the winning field goal.

It was by no means easy. Twice the Steelers took the lead and three times the game was tied. But Dallas kept battling back.

Pittsburgh put up 388 total yards of offense and did not have a single penalty. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards on 24-of-40 passing with two touchdowns. His primary target was tight end Heath Miller, who totaled 92 yards on 7 catches, while wide receiver Mike Wallace had four catches for 95 yards.

But on the other side of the ball, the Cowboys were ready for the the mighty Steelers defense, racking up 415 total yards. Tony Romo was again outstanding, throwing for 341 yards on 30-of-42 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with nine different players, Miles Austin leading the way with seven catches for 79 yards while Dez Bryant and Jason Witten did what they do best, each scoring a touchdown.

Even DeMarco Murray got into the action, rushing for 81 yards on 14 carries with a score. By comparison, the Steelers only ran for 69 yards as a team.

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THE RIVALRY: America’s Team vs. The Nemesis Steelers (Special Feature)

Let's hope Big Ben is the NFC East Dallas Cowboys tackling dummy this weekend - The Boys Are Back blog

The week before the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers played Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, a columnist wrote how the local fans wouldn’t really have a rooting interest in the outcome of the game. That opinion was quickly squashed by the overwhelming majority.

For some, the No. 1 rival for players and fans were the Washington Redskins. Possibly, more recently, the Philadelphia Eagles. Or maybe the Giants. And for some, this is accurate.

Steelers vs Cowboys NFL rivalry - The Boys Are Back blog

But never forget the disdain by Cowboys fans for the Steelers. Keep in mind this works on both ends. For many Pittsburgh fans, their second-favorite team each week is whoever is playing the Cowboys.

So what’s the deal? Why the sports hatred between the Cowboys and Steelers? Seriously, how much animosity could two franchises have for one another when they’ve only played nine times since 1979? Heck, they’ve played twice since Aug. 31, 1997, at least before today’s kickoff. Twice in 15 years, three months, two weeks and a day.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh played twice in 15 days earlier this season. The Cowboys and Eagles played twice in seven days in January 2010.

The easy answer are the two Super Bowls the teams played in the 1970s, both close games ultimately lost by the Cowboys. Those outcomes have had long-term effects for both fan bases, even the teams themselves. For Pittsburgh, yes, those triumphs secured immorality, Team of the Decade status, a bevy of Pro Football Hall of Famers, but the fact the Cowboys were dubbed “America’s Team” right around the same time infuriates Steeler fans. To this day.

As for Dallas, for fans old enough to remember those games, no two losses in franchise history have been more painful. Roger Staubach himself has said on multiple occasions that those were far and away the two most disappointing defeats of his career.

This was about ego and pride on both sides, not to mention, both home bases, Western Pennsylvania and Texas are arguably the country’s most passionate football fans, be it high school, college or NFL.

The teams have met 30 times, with each winning 15. Of the eight NFL franchises the Cowboys have played at least 30 games against, they only have a losing record against one … the Cleveland Browns, at 13-17.

Let’s take a look back at 10 of the most memorable games of the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry:

Sept. 24, 1960 – Steelers 35, Cowboys 28

1960 - Lets Go Cowboys - GET EM GET EM - The Boys Are Back blog

Coincidentally, the first opponent in the Dallas Cowboys franchise history was the Steelers. This was long before anyone cared about professional football in North Texas, never mind having built up any dislike of opposing teams. The announced attendance for the opener at the Cotton Bowl was 30,000, but that was the most generous of estimates.

Dallas almost pulled off a stunner, taking early leads of 14-0 and 21-7 behind veteran quarterback Eddie LeBaron, the “Little General” himself. Alas, four turnovers proved too much to overcome and Bobby Layne, who played at nearby Highland Park in high school, tossed four touchdowns to lead Pittsburgh to a 35-28 win.

Sept. 17, 1961 – Cowboys 27, Steelers 24Sept. 17, 1961 – Cowboys 27, Steelers 24 - The Boys Are Back blog

After the inaugural Cowboys finished winless, at 0-11-1, once again the season’s opening opponent was the Steelers. This time around, however, Dallas emerged victorious, the first win in franchise history.

This game was a back-and-forth affair, again before a sparse crowd of 23,500 (another generous estimate), with Dallas scoring first on a 44-yard touchdown catch by Frank Clarke. Trailing 17-14 entering the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh scored 10 quick points before a late Cowboys comeback, culminated by a 27-yard Allen Green field goal in the final seconds.

Sept. 23, 1962 – Steelers 30, Cowboys 28

1962 Dallas Cowboys - Team Photo - The Boys Are Back blog

First off, guess the NFL schedule maker liked the idea of Pittsburgh visiting Dallas early in the season. While not the opener, it was Week 2.

This was undoubtedly one of the more bizarre games in the rivalry, with a would-be league record 99-yard touchdown pass from LeBaron to Clarke called back for a holding penalty on guard Andy Cvercko. Worse, a holding penalty in the end zone results in a safety, so thus, a nine-point swing.

Despite a furious comeback and two touchdowns by Don Perkins, the Cowboys fell short in the end.

Score
Week Date Opp Tm Opp
1 September 16 T Washington Redskins 35 35
2 September 23 L Pittsburgh Steelers 28 30
3 September 30 W Los Angeles Rams 27 17
4 October 7 L Cleveland Browns 10 19
5 October 14 W Philadelphia Eagles 41 19
6 October 21 W Pittsburgh Steelers 42 27
7 October 28 L St. Louis Cardinals 24 28
8 November 4 W Washington Redskins 38 10
9 November 11 L New York Giants 10 41
10 November 18 L Chicago Bears 33 34
11 November 25 L Philadelphia Eagles 14 28
12 December 2 W Cleveland Browns 45 21
13 December 9 L St. Louis Cardinals 20 52
14 December 16 L New York Giants 31 41

Oct. 31, 1965 – Steelers 22, Cowboys 13

Tom Landry - Two super bowl titles and 20 consecutive winning seasons - The Boys Are Back blog

In many ways, one could make the case that this was the most instrumental game in franchise history. Yes, a nine-point loss, which dropped the Cowboys to 2-5. The game itself, at least in terms of what occurred on the field, isn’t significant or memorable in the least. The teams combined for just 10 points in the second half.

However, the events that took place after the game, in the bowels of Pitt Stadium on Halloween, would forever change a franchise. In addressing his team, Landry broke down and cried, telling the players how proud he was of them and that maybe he was the problem. He even told them he probably wouldn’t be returning in 1966.

TOM LANDRY, Head Coach, 1960-1988 - The Boys Are Back blog

To date, the Cowboys were 20-51-4 under Landry.

The team rallied around its coach, winning five-of-seven to finish the year before embarking on 20 consecutive winning seasons.

Oct. 30, 1966 – Cowboys 52, Steelers 21

Oct. 30, 1966 – Cowboys 52, Steelers 21 - The Boys Are Back blog

By this point, Landry’s team was the talk of the league, having started the year 4-0-1 before a disappointing, but competitive loss at Cleveland the week previous.

Stunningly, at least when compared with the final score, the Cowboys didn’t score in the first quarter, and trailed 7-0 in front of nearly 60,000 at the Cotton Bowl. Yes, how the times and attendance quickly changed after Dallas starting winning.

An offensive explosion quickly followed, some 45 points in two quarters.

By the end, despite nine penalties and three turnovers, the Cowboys gained 425 yards to Pittsburgh’s 119.

.

Super Bowl X – Steelers 21, Cowboys 17

Super Bowl X - Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys - Program - The Boys Are Back blog

This is when the rivalry really started, despite the teams having played 17 times previous. Entering Super Bowl X at the Orange Bowl, Dallas had won the last seven of those games, although the majority were competitive.

The Steelers were the defending Super Bowl champs and without question the league’s best team, 12-2 in the regular season. This game is most-remembered for Lynn Swann’s then-Super Bowl record 161 receiving yards, a few of those catches endlessly replayed by NFL Films.

Dallas led entering the fourth quarter, but Pittsburgh scored 14 unanswered points before a late touchdown catch by Percy Howard closed the gap. That would prove the lone reception of Howard’s career.

Super Bowl XIII – Steelers 35, Cowboys 31Super Bowl XIII – Steelers 35, Cowboys 31 - The Boys Are Back blog

In terms of the most painful losses in franchise history, this ranks first, although some old-school fans may throw the back-to-back defeats to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Games in 1966 and 1967 into the debate.

Super Bowl X111 - Steelers vs Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

Many of the players, coaches and fans felt this could have been the best of Landry’s teams, winners of eight straight entering Super Bowl XIII, including a 28-0 dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game.

This was one of those ultimate games, the kind which define an era, in this case, the Team of the Decade was clearly up for grabs. The pregame buildup included Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson famously saying Terry Bradshaw couldn’t spell cat if someone spotted him the “c” and the “a.”

The most recalled play, alas, is the Jackie Smith dropped touchdown in the third quarter with the iconic call of Verne Lundquist: “Third down and three, Dallas at the Pittsburgh 10. Roger back to throw, has a man open in the end zone … caught, touchdown … dropped. Dropped in the end zone. Jackie Smith, bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.”

Sept. 13, 1982 – Steelers 36, Cowboys 28

Tom Landry with the 1980's Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

While it wasn’t the last time Chuck Noll and Landry faced each other – they even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated together in 1988 – this was the last matchup with the football world watching. The season opener, with one of the highest-rated Monday Night Football audiences of the decade tuned in. This was the height of popularity for the television show Dallas, so what better place than Texas Stadium to kick off the year for Howard Cosell and ABC.

This game was much like Super Bowl XIII, with both teams scoring a ton of points, and the Cowboys playing from behind after leading at halftime 14-13. Two fourth-quarter scoring passes from Danny White closed the gap, but Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris were too much.

Super Bowl XXX – Cowboys 27, Steelers 17

For a young Sean Lee, who grew up right outside of Pittsburgh, this wasn’t the most enjoyable of experiences, with the Cowboys and Steelers becoming the first – and to date only – two teams to play each other in three Super Bowls. This time around, though, Dallas prevailed and in the process, became the first team to win three Lombardi Trophies in four years with Larry Brown earning MVP honors behind two interceptions.

Super Bowl XXX – Cowboys 27, Steelers 17 - The Boys Are Back blog

“I grew up a pretty big Steelers fan, there’s really not much of an option growing up in Pittsburgh,” said Lee. “They played the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX when I was in third grade. I was devastated when they lost. It was a crazy game with those two Larry Brown interceptions. I was almost in tears when the game ended.”

Aug. 31, 1997 – Cowboys 37, Steelers 7

Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer press conference - The Boys Are Back blog

The final season of Barry Switzer’s tenure started out in impressive fashion, the Cowboys dismantling Pittsburgh in every which way.

After a scoreless first quarter, Troy Aikman tossed four touchdowns, two to Michael Irvin, in the middle two quarters en route to a lopsided decision.

After a 3-1 start, the Cowboys fell apart and finished the season at 6-10.

This also marks the last time Dallas defeated Pittsburgh.

December 15, 2012 – Cowboys vs. Steelers – The rivalry continues

Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers - Jason Witten - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers  …

December 15, 2012 – Cowboys Stadium – Arlington, Texas

REDSKINS–COWBOYS: NFL Rivals have a history of memorable Thanksgiving Day games

COWBOYS REDSKINS - The Boys Are Back blog

There have been years when the Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving Day classic featured an unfamiliar opponent, not that there haven’t been outstanding, memorable games against the likes of Miami, Denver and New Orleans. But Thanksgiving Day is made for rivalries like the one that is to be renewed at Cowboys Stadium this year.

In truth, rivalry games were precisely the reason original team president and general manager Tex Schramm lobbied for an annual holiday game in Dallas. The team has been playing on Turkey Day since 1966, when the NFL’s schedule-makers sent the Cleveland Browns – themselves a budding rival at the time – to the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys have traditionally played in the late contest, following Detroit’s home affair, with the NFL only just recently adding a third nighttime matchup on Thanksgiving.

“The league is trying something new by moving the game into primetime television, and we’re happy they picked Dallas. Normally, a Thanksgiving Day NFL game brings one of the biggest ratings of the year,” said Schramm, ever the promoter, back then. “Also, we’ve wanted for several years to establish a Thanksgiving Day game in the Cotton Bowl. People in this area, because of the A&M-Texas game, are used to having football with their turkey. We’re hopeful of adding to this tradition.”

That’s exactly what the Cowboys have done through the years, though it’s certainly odd their traditional matchup has outlasted the longstanding meeting between Southwest Conference and then Big 12 rivals Texas and Texas A&M, who will not play this year for the first time since 1914, in a series that dates back to 1894.

At the professional level, few, if any opponents come to town with the shared enmity of the team’s most bitter NFC East foe, the Washington Redskins. Given how special their annual home-and-home series has been for these past five decades, it’s sort of a shame the Redskins aren’t annual holiday visitors to Dallas – at least in the Cowboys’ eyes, since they’ve never lost to Washington in six Thanksgiving Day clashes leading into this afternoon’s tilt. The Redskins did beat the Lions in 1973, their only Turkey Day trip to Detroit.

Despite the Cowboys’ dominance, there have certainly been some fantastic games played between the two on the holiday, including perhaps the most memorable contest in series history. Here is a look back at the Thanksgiving Day battles between the Cowboys and Redskins.

Nov. 28, 1968 – Cowboys 29, Redskins 20

After rattling off wins in their first six games to start the 1968 season, the Cowboys hit a rough patch in the middle. They dropped two of the three outings before their first matchup with Washington on Nov. 17, sandwiching losses to the Packers and Giants around a victory at New Orleans. The Cowboys’ first win over the Redskins that year began a five-game Dallas winning streak to close out the season – the third of those victories coming in front of a dressing-and-cranberry-stuffed Cotton Bowl crowd of 66,076.

When Don Perkins surged into the end zone on a 9-yard second-quarter run, the Cowboys went up 17-0. Even after Jethro Pugh forced ’Skins quarterback Jim Ninowski to fumble out of the back of the end zone for a safety in the third quarter, Washington fought back, taking a 20-19 lead after touchdown receptions by Jerry Smith and Mike Richter. But Dallas’ Mike Clark nailed a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and Larry Cole returned a Ninowski interception near the end to seal the win.

Nov. 28, 1974 – Cowboys 24, Redskins 23

Dallas Cowboys Clint Longley - Thanksgiving Day - The Boys Are Back blog

In undoubtedly the most exciting Thanksgiving Day matchup between the two teams, and in the discussion for best game in series history, the Cowboys overcame four lost fumbles, an interception and, most crushing of all, the departure of star quarterback Roger Staubach with 9:57 left to play in third quarter after a vicious hit by veteran linebacker Dave Robinson. Washington led 16-3 when an undrafted rookie from Abilene Christian came in to replace Staubach. For his one shining moment as a professional, Clint Longley earned the lifelong nickname “The Mad Bomber.”

First, he shocked the Redskins with a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Billy Joe Dupree in the third quarter, with Walt Garrison then plunging into the end zone from a yard out to give Dallas a 17-16 advantage. Washington answered with a 19-yard scoring run by former Cowboys star Duane Thomas just 94 seconds into the fourth period to retake control.

The Redskins then had a chance to make it a two-score game less than three minutes later, but Ed “Too Tall” Jones blocked a field goal. Later, wide receiver Drew Pearson fumbled a 20-yard reception, seemingly cementing his status as a goat (he had dropped a potential game-winning pass against Washington 11 days earlier). However, when the Cowboys got the ball back with 1:45 left in the game, he had a shot at redemption.

First, Longley overcame a fourth-and-6 on a clutch conversion to the aging Bob Hayes. Then, with just 35 seconds left, the ball on the 50-yard line, he dropped back again in desperation and found Pearson streaking downfield for an improbable touchdown.

“They were doubling me,” Pearson said. “I gave them an inside move … and Clint got it to me. It’s real sweet. There are no words to describe it.”

The mood in the opposing locker room was different. The Cowboys had kept their playoff ambitions alive for another week, and put the Redskins’ hopes in doubt.

“I don’t have very much to say,” Washington coach George Allen said afterward. “It was probably the toughest loss we’ve ever had.”

Nov. 23, 1978 – Cowboys 37, Redskins 10

Dallas Cowboys Washington Redskins Rivalry - crying - The Boys Are Back blog

After winning their second Super Bowl title in 1977, the Cowboys stumbled a bit to begin the ’78 campaign, starting just 6-4 to put the postseason in doubt. But after a loss to Miami to start November, they blew out Green Bay and New Orleans and faced a crucial Thanksgiving Day game against Washington, which also entered the holiday at 8-4.

From the very beginning, the Cowboys were in control. They led 20-0 at halftime, following a 53-yard Staubach-to-Pearson bomb, and found themselves up 37-3 in the fourth quarter following a 39-yard Larry Brinson touchdown run. With the Redskins ganging up to stop Tony Dorsett, Scott Laidlaw thrived, rushing for 122 yards on 16 carries with two scores of his own.

The Cowboys wouldn’t lose another regular season game, then beat the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams en route to a berth in Super Bowl XIII. The outcome was a turning point for the Redskins as well, as they did not win another contest and failed to make the playoffs.

Nov. 22, 1990 – Cowboys 27, Redskins 17

After their 1-15 campaign under first-year head coach Jimmy Johnson in 1989, the Cowboys were still a rather rough-around-the-edges football team entering Thanksgiving Day, sitting at 4-7 on the year, though coming off a win over the Rams. Washington, meanwhile was 6-4 and angling for a playoff berth. The Cowboys were getting very little out of first-round pick Emmitt Smith, who had just one 100-yard game under his belt to that point and was often overlooked by offensive coordinator Dave Shula, having failed to reach 20 carries in all but two games before the holiday, though the Cowboys had won both.

The Emmitt Ratio was set. After the Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, they pounded Washington with their rookie runner, handing the ball to him 23 times for what would be a season-high 132 ground yards. He scored two touchdowns on the day, including the biggest play of the game.

With Dallas ahead just 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, he ran through the right side of the Redskins defense to ice the contest. Smith reached 20 carries in each of the next two contests and the Cowboys won, grasping control of their own destiny at 7-7 on the year. Unfortunately, Troy Aikman was injured at the outset of their Week 16 trip to Philadelphia, and any playoff hopes quickly faded.

The Redskins rebounded after Thanksgiving Day and advanced into the second round of the playoffs. Washington would make a third Super Bowl run under Joe Gibbs the next year before being surpassed by the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s.

Nov. 28, 1996 – Cowboys 21, Redskins 10

Fresh off a Super Bowl XXX hangover, the Cowboys started the 1996 season 1-3, including a loss to Chicago on opening night when Smith’s career appeared endangered after he landed awkwardly attempting to sell a play-action fake at the goal line. I Hate Washington Redskins - Crush - The Boys Are Back blogAlmost three months later, the team was trudging along at 7-5, showing signs of age, with Smith’s performance in particular coming into question. He had averaged less than four yards per carry in all but three of the team’s 12 games to that point, seemingly hitting rock bottom leading into Thanksgiving Day with only 18 yards on 11 carries in an ugly loss at New York.

Of course, the NFL’s Not-Yet-All-Time Leading Rusher was far from finished, and he proved it in a rollicking win over Washington at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving, when a 42-yard burst up the middle of the Redskins defense in the third quarter said emphatically that Smith had a lot of great football left in him. It was his finest game of the year, carrying 29 times for 155 yards and scoring all three Cowboys touchdowns, each from inside the 5-yard line. Aikman was just 9-of-19 for 63 yards on the day, but it didn’t matter, as the Dallas defense dominated and Smith’s constant churning kept them off the field.

The Cowboys’ win made both teams 8-5 on the year, but headed in very different directions. Dallas won its next two games to clinch the NFC East, while the Redskins lost their next two. They would meet again, though Barry Switzer elected to fold up the tent at RFK Stadium in Week 17, the Redskins running through the Cowboys’ reserves for a meaningless victory. Dallas won its home playoff game easily over Minnesota the next week, while the Redskins watched the postseason from home.

Nov. 28, 2002 – Cowboys 27, Redskins 20

The classic rivalry had hit a low point by the early part of the new millennium, as the Cowboys sank to three straight seasons of 5-11, with this Thanksgiving win over the Redskins standing as the last in the Dave Campo era. Staubach and Aikman had given way to Chad Hutchinson in Dallas, while Danny Wuerffel helmed Steve Spurrier’s team.

Still, Smith remained for the Cowboys. This was his last Dallas Cowboys vs Washington Redskins Rivalry - Redskins Fail - The Boys Are Back bloggreat day with a star on the side of his helmet, the second of only two triple-digit outings of the season – the first had come in his effort to break Walter Payton’s all-time mark against Seattle in Week 8. The future Hall of Famer carried 23 times for 144 yards as the Cowboys erased a 20-10 third-quarter deficit after an interception return by star rookie safety Roy Williams, a 41-yard Hutchinson-to-Joey Galloway strike and a field goal by Billy Cundiff.

Now, a decade later, there are all new faces on both sidelines as the teams meet again on Thanksgiving. With a dazzling rookie quarterback in Washington and a number of young cornerstone players dotting the Dallas roster, the future of the rivalry appears as bright as ever.

FIVE QUARTER COMEBACK – Dallas Cowboys keep fighting, win in OT over Browns, 23-20

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo on the run vs Cleveland Browns 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

One thing is for sure, it’s never easy with these Cowboys.

Dallas came into this game against Cleveland, the last place team in the AFC North division, expecting a win. On paper, at least, this had the makings for a blowout.

Instead, it turned into an exciting, back-and-forth affair that saw the Cowboys eventually come out on top in overtime, sending 81,936 fans home happy with a 23-20 victory. A win is a win, right?

In defeating the Browns, Dallas won back-to-back games for the first time since winning four straight last November. They also took advantage of the Giants’ bye week, the Cowboys improving their record to .500 (5-5), now just one game behind the 6-4 division leaders.

Where the Cowboys struggled against this upstart Browns group was in the trenches, as the visitors manhandled the Dallas front in the first half and kept Tony Romo scrambling throughout the game. But, the Cowboys came into this contest with Mackenzy Bernadeau, normally a guard, making his first career start at center, both Phil Costa and Ryan Cook out of the game with injuries. That brought in Derrick Dockery to slide into Bernadeau’s spot in the starting right guard position.

Then to make matters worse, left tackle Tyron Smith left the game early in the second quarter with an ankle injury, Jermey Parnell taking over his position. Needless to say, the patchwork group struggled against the Browns defensive front, as Romo was under siege for much of the day, and the running game did little, totaling only 63 yards.

But as the game wore on, Romo only got better, eventually finishing with 313 yards off of 35-of-50 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions. His primary target was Dez Bryant, who set career highs with 12 receptions and 145 yards to lead all receivers. Tight end Jason Witten shipped in seven catches for 51 yards while wideout Miles Austin added 58 yards on six catches.

On the other side of the ball. Cleveland’s underrated offensive line gave quarterback Brandon Weeden time in the pocket and opened holes for rookie running back Trent Richardson, who racked up 144 of yards from scrimmage, including 95 on the ground. Weeden finished with 210 yards passing and two touchdowns, both of which were caught by tight end Benjamin Watson. Josh Gordon and Greg Little finished with 53 yards receiving to lead the team.

Most of that production, though, came in the first half. The visitors let it be known early that they were here to play, as the first quarter was all Browns. In three possessions, the Cowboys managed only 36 yards of offense, failing to get past their own 39-yard line before punting.

On the other hand, Cleveland got something going on its second series of the game. Following a Josh Cribbs 20-yard punt return to the Cowboys’ 48-yard line, the Browns saw Richardson rush five times for 17 yards, plus catch another pass for seven more. Weeden, with plenty of time in the pocket, capped off the drive with a pass to Watson from 10 yards out for the score and a 7-0 lead.

That was then followed with another three points on the Browns’ next drive. Starting at their own 16, they rolled into the second quarter with Richardson again doing most of the heavy lifting. With Weeden camped out in the pocket, the running back drifted out of the backfield and took a swing pass 27 yards down the left sideline.

Three plays later, Gordon made a juggling catch to the Dallas 34, the visitors stopped after gaining one more yard. Kicker Phil Dawson then split the uprights on a 51-yard field goal, the Browns’ advantage now 10-0.

The troubles for Dallas only continued. On their next possession, the already overmatched offensive line was dealt another blow when the left tackle Smith left the game with his ankle injury. With penalties pushing them back to second-and-20, and a sack losing another 10 yards, the Cowboys punted away from their own 20.

Which Cleveland then followed with an 11-play, 47-yard drive that resulted in another Dawson field goal, this time from 47 yards out for a 13-0 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the half.

Dallas actually crossed midfield on their next possession, reaching the Cleveland 41-yard line, but on third-and-10, Browns defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard simply blew by right tackle Doug Free for the sack and a 10-yard loss. Out came the busy Brian Moorman for another punt.

And with that, the half soon came to an end, the Cowboys leaving the field to a smattering of boos, having been outgained in total yards, 177 to 68.

The second half, however, was a different story.

After the two teams traded possessions in the third quarter, Dallas finally put some points on the board. Starting at their own 20, the offense got a 13-yard reception from Bryant with Felix Jones then running for 12 more. Austin caught a pair of passes, his first of the game, for a combined 16 yards with a 15-yard facemask penalty then pushing the Cowboys to the Cleveland 23.

But from there, Romo was sacked for seven yards and Parnell was hit with a holding penalty to force a third-and-23. They made up 10 yards on a pass to Witten, which brought out Dan Bailey for a 44-yard field goal, the score now 13-3.

That little bit of momentum was quickly built upon on the Cowboys’ next series. Forcing the Browns to punt, Romo took over at his own 11 and proceeded to pick apart the Cleveland secondary. He connected with Bryant four times during the drive for a combined 54 yards, Kevin Ogletree adding 10 more plus earning a pass interference call.

Jones eventually punched it in from the 2-yard line with just over a minute gone in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys having narrowed the game to 13-10.

And then, Dallas nearly caught a big break. Last week against Philadelphia, the Cowboys took the lead for good when Dwayne Harris returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.

This time around, on the ensuing kickoff, the Cowboys special teams appeared to have recovered a fumble by Cribbs, which would have given them the ball deep in Cleveland territory. But, the play was overturned by replay, the Browns maintaining possession.

But that, along with the previous touchdown, seemed to exhilarate the Cowboys defense, and they completely stymied the visitors, forcing another punt with Dallas getting the ball at its own 42-yard line.

Romo went back to work. Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 44, he found fullback Lawrence Vickers for three yards to move the flags. He continued to spread the ball around with passes to Lance Dunbar, Witten and, of course, Bryant, a pass interference penalty then taking Dallas down to the Browns 19.

Although sacked on the next play, Romo came back and hit a streaking Bryant in the end zone for a 28-yard score, the Cowboys taking the lead, 17-13 with just under seven minutes remaining.

The Cowboys seemingly then had the game in hand. Weeden dropped back from his own 29, only to be sacked and stripped of the ball by Anthony Spencer, the linebacker also falling on the prize to give Dallas possession at the Cleveland 18.

But just two plays later, Romo himself was sacked by defensive lineman Frostee Rucker and also fumbled, teammate Craig Robertson coming up with it to give Cleveland back the ball at their 35-yard line.

Put right back out on the field, the Dallas defense almost let the game get away from them, as the Browns marched right down the field all the way to the Dallas 1-yard line. But on both third- and fourth-and goal, the Cowboys came up big, first stuffing an attempted dive over the top by Richardson before safety Gerald Sensabaugh defended a jump ball to tight end Jordan Cameron in the left corner of the end zone, the pass incomplete.

But the game wasn’t over yet. With Dallas unable to get the first down, Moorman was forced to punt out of his own end zone and hit a line drive boot to the return man Cribbs, who went around the right end for 21 yards, a horse collar penalty on John Phillips adding another 15 yards down to the Dallas 32.

And on the very next play, Weeden found Watson on a post route in the middle of the end zone for the touchdown and a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in the game.

Starting at their own 20-yard line with one timeout remaining, the Cowboys got some much-needed help from their opponent. First, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the team 15 yards to the 39, then, after Romo and Austin connected for a 12-yard gain, Harris worked a 35-yard pass interference call on the Browns to give Dallas the ball at the Cleveland 14.

With 23 seconds on the clock, Romo scrambled up the middle for 9 yards, the team calling their final timeout. After a delay of game penalty and an incompletion, Baily came out for a 32-yard field goal, his kick good to tie the game at 20-20 with two seconds left.

The Cowboys won the coin flip and were able to cross midfield, but stalled out at the Cleveland 41. They chose to play the field position game and punted away, pinning the Browns on their 11-yard line.

The strategy paid off as the Dallas defense forced a three-and-out, Harris taking a booming 52-yard punt back 20 yards to the Cleveland 48-yard line.

A quick strike to Cole Beasley on the right sideline went for 9 yards with Dunbar then charging up the middle for seven more. An 8-yard connection to Austin pushed them to the Browns 24-yard line with another Dunbar running picking up three yards for another first down.

Now well within field goal range, Dallas kept things conservative. They tried one more 1-yard run by Dunbar to the 20-yard line before bringing out Bailey for the 38-yard attempt. His kick was good, Dallas taking the game, 23-20.

With the win, the Cowboys improved to 5-5, back at .500 and in the thick of the NFC East hunt. They’ll now wrap up this busy week by hosting the division-rival Redskins just four days from now for their annual Thanksgiving Day game.

Kurt Daniels | Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine

NFL FORGOTTEN RIVALRY–Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns (Special Feature)

Dallas Cowboys Vs Cleveland Browns rivalry game - The Boys Are Back blog

These Cleveland Browns have never beaten the Dallas Cowboys. These Browns – the new Browns, founded in 1999 as a sequel to the historic original franchise. They are 0-2 against Dallas in the regular season heading into today’s important matchup.

1960 Dallas Cowboys 0-11-1 - The Boys Are Back blog

The Paul Brown Browns, however, certainly had the Cowboys’ number over the years, beating up on the NFL newcomers for the majority of the 1960s in a series of matchups that bloomed into a classic rivalry, including three playoff games. After the league’s 1970 merger, when Cleveland moved to the AFC, the rivalry unfortunately faded into history, with the teams meeting only sparingly in the regular season until the late Art Modell relocated the club to Baltimore in 1996.

The Cowboys’ luck in their series with the Browns-Ravens lineage has taken a turn for the worse, of course, with Dallas having never beaten Baltimore in four tries, including the heartbreaker earlier this season and the woeful Week 16 matchup in 2008, when the Ravens turned out the lights on Texas Stadium with a 33-24 victory.

The arrival of Tex Schramm (left) and Tom Landry in 1960 was not immediately followed by much more than losses in Dallas. But the Cowboys stuck with their leadership - The Boys Are Back blog

These things go in cycles, evidently. The original Browns whipped Tom Landry’s upstart team in each of their first four meetings, beginning with their first game, in Week 4 of the Cowboys’ expansion season, 1960. To that point, the team of undrafted rookies and castoffs from other clubs had acquitted itself fairly well against established NFL competition, having lost to the Steelers, Eagles and Redskins in consecutive weeks, but only by a combined 21 points.

The Browns welcomed the Cowboys into the NFL rather rudely, however, one gorgeous October afternoon at the Cotton Bowl, allegedly in front of 28,500 fans, though many reports suggest the stadium wasn’t nearly as full as the club claimed in those early days. Cleveland scored first on a 46-yard carry by future Hall of Fame runner and receiver Bobby Mitchell in the first quarter, before the great Jim Brown plowed in from five yards out in the second. Mitchell then jaunted 30 yards to make the score 21-0 as the floodgates opened, with the Browns returning an interception for a score before halftime, and Mitchell coasting 90 yards for another touchdown on the opening kickoff in the second half. The Browns led 48-0 before backup quarterback Don Heinrich tossed a garbage-time touchdown to Billy Howton.

Dallas Cowboys end Billy Howton - The Boys Are Back blog

It was a sign of things to come that season, as the Cowboys went on to post an 0-11-1 record, managing one tie, late in the season against the Giants, while falling by multiple scores in six of the seven losses to come following the trouncing by Cleveland.

The Browns would repeat the favor twice in 1961, as they joined the Cowboys, Steelers, Eagles, Giants, Redskins and St. Louis Cardinals in the newly formed Eastern Conference. That October, they knocked off a surprisingly 2-0 Dallas team, 25-7, at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, and in December helped eviscerate any hopes of a playoff berth for the Cowboys by beating them 38-17 in Fair Park, in the second of four straight Cowboys losses that sunk their record to 4-9-1.

Dallas Cowboys Vs Cleveland Browns rivalry Cotton Bowl - The Boys Are Back blog

The Browns won a 19-10 decision over Dallas at home in the teams’ first meeting in 1962, but the second matchup was a different story, seen as something of a pivot point game for the Cowboys franchise and their young quarterback, Don Meredith. Dallas had jumped out to a fine start to the season again, sitting 4-3-1 on the year before losing five of their last six. The lone exception came on Dec. 2, when they tanned the Browns, 45-21, at the Cotton Bowl, in arguably the best performance of the club in its existence to that point.

Paul Eugene Brown September 7, 1908 – August 5, 1991 - The Boys Are Back blog

“You writers and the football public here don’t realize what a fine team you have here in Dallas,” Paul Brown, an admirer of Landry’s, told the assembled media after the game. “You folks just don’t seem to realize this team can give you a championship. They outplayed us all the way … they deserved to win. I congratulate Tom for a fine job.

“Dallas was an inspired team. They’d never beaten us and it had to come sometime, and they did it to us good today.”

The Browns had traded Cowboys-killer Mitchell to Washington the previous offseason (he scored on a 92-yard kickoff return against the Cowboys in his first game with the Redskins) and Dallas managed to hold Jim Brown to only 29 yards on eight carries. Meanwhile, Cowboys running backs Don Perkins and Amos Marsh combined for 209 yards on the ground, while Meredith was 10-of-12 passing for 147 yards and two touchdowns, keeping Cleveland’s defense off balance all day.

Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and quarterback Eddie LeBaron - The Boys Are Back blog

Meredith had been struggling in previous games, and hadn’t yet wrestled full-time duties away from veteran Eddie LeBaron, but the fine day against Cleveland was a prelude of what was to come in his career.

“Meredith certainly had better results today,” Landry said after the game he called the Cowboys’ “best showing against a good team at home.”

Still, that impressive day remained the exception rather than the rule in the early years of the series. The Cowboys continued to muddle along in mediocrity while the Browns remained among the NFL’s elite. Cleveland won the next seven games in the series, not to mention an NFL Championship in 1964, while the Cowboys didn’t even experience their first winning season until 1966.

1967 Dallas Cowboys defeated Cleveland Browns in Eastern Conference Championship game - The Boys Are Back blog

Once Jim Brown retired after the 1965 season, the series turned a bit. Dallas won a measure of confidence that year with a 26-14 home win over a good Browns squad on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys’ debut on the holiday, in what would become an annual tradition. By 1967, the ghosts of Cleveland’s domination had been fully exorcised, or so it would seem. The Cowboys beat Cleveland twice that year, including a 52-14 destruction of the Browns in the Eastern Championship Game, the first playoff win in the club’s eight-year history.

1967 Ice Bowl - The Boys Are Back blog

A week later, on New Year’s Eve, the Cowboys lost to Green Bay on a last second Bart Starr sneak in the NFL Championship, the game better known as the Ice Bowl. It was the beginning of the Cowboys’ “Next Year’s Champions” era, though the unwanted legacy was only furthered by playoff slip-ups against … Cleveland.

1968 Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

After beating the Browns convincingly in their run to a 12-2 record in 1968, the heavily favored Cowboys fell to the Browns in the Eastern Championship Game.

“A whole year shot in two-and-a-half hours,” Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm surmised afterward.

It turned out to be the last game of Meredith’s career and a rather disgraced ending. He completed only three of nine passes, connecting with the Browns as often as his own receivers. Meredith’s interceptions led to 17 Cleveland points, and he eventually gave way to Craig Morton under a deafening swarm of boos, the Cotton Bowl crowd en masse deciding their team could never win with Dandy Don, despite the fact he’d posted his best season yet in 1968.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton (14) talks to Tom Landry - The Boys Are Back blog

“We needed a psychological lift,” Landry said following the loss. “Morton was the only thing I had that I could use. I took Meredith out not so much for what he was doing, but to try to shake them up. … I hated to take him out. In my opinion, he wasn’t wholly responsible. I don’t know what he will do (in the offseason). I can’t speak for him, but you can bet he feels worse than anybody right now about this game.

“I wouldn’t say (we) got whipped physically – it was more mentally than physically.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith - The Boys Are Back blog

With Meredith retiring after the season, Morton accepted the offensive reins, but his luck against the Browns and in the playoffs was no better. He threw three picks in a 42-10 Week 7 drubbing at Cleveland in 1969, one of just two Cowboys losses in the regular season. Yet again, Dallas was favored in an Eastern Championship matchup with the Browns, and yet again they came up short. Way short.

The Browns jumped out to a 24-0 lead at the Cotton Bowl, and put the finishing touches on the game when Walt Sumner returned a Morton interception 88 yards for a fourth quarter score. Roger Staubach took over for Morton, but the lead was too far out of reach even for “Captain Comeback,” and the Browns advanced with a 38-14 victory.

“We’re not choke-ups,” receiver Bob Hayes said after the game. “There were 40 guys out there and every one of them played his heart out. … I don’t know what happened. Nobody does. It’s a mystery to all of us. We were ready.

Bob Hayes' speed gave opposing cornerbacks fits and Cowboys QB Roger Staubach an easy target down the field - The Boys Are Back blog

“I looked over to our bench and I could see shoulders sag. Guys who had been eager and jumping to get into the game seemed to be saying, ‘Oh no, here we go again. You play hard to get to this game – the playoffs – and you either have it or you don’t have it. We didn’t have it. Why? It’s a mystery to me. We’ve been pointing to this particular game since last September. It’s one we knew we had to win. We have to win a big one to shake off this image. Some day we’re going to do it.”

The Browns had played a huge role in the Cowboys’ earning of the “Next Year’s Champions” moniker. Cleveland had dominated the all-time series to that point, with 14 wins against only five losses, but Dallas has gotten the best of Browns since, winning seven of the 10 matchups between the clubs. None of the games was bigger than 1970, the Browns’ first year in the AFC, when chance pitted the teams in a late season battle once again. The Cowboys had opened the season 5-4, and needed a serious winning streak late in the season to earn a playoff spot. On a muddy, near-freezing day at Municipal Stadium, Dallas triumphed 6-2, the product of two Mike Clark field goals and an excellent day for Landry’s defense, which shut down the Browns running game and recorded four takeaways.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns rivalry - The Boys Are Back blog

When the Cleveland franchise was reformed in 1999 – four years after the original club moved to Baltimore – their first preseason outing was against the Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. It would prove to be a remarkable night, not only for the Browns’ rebirth, but also as the rare preseason contest that reached overtime, something coaches typically try their best to avoid.

Football is back in Cleveland - The Boys Are Back blog

Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, Don Meredith and Bob Hayes had given way to the likes of Karim Abdul-Jabbar at running back and Tim Couch at quarterback for the Browns, with backups such as Ryan Neufeld and Singor Mobley playing big roles for the Cowboys by the end, when Cleveland’s Phil Dawson decided the game with a field goal.

“It’s good to see the Dawg Pound back in the NFL,” Troy Aikman said afterward, welcoming the return of the new, old Browns, three years after their apparent demise, and some 30 years since they last played the Cowboys for something truly meaningful.

The teams had certainly played bigger contests, but the history behind the preseason opener made it at least noteworthy, just like today’s game, echoes of an all-but-forgotten rivalry.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman Roger Staubach Don Meredith Craig Morton Danny White - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Don Meredith, Craig Morton, and Danny White

Blog hint: With nearly every photograph on The Boys Are Back blog, you can get additional information by hovering over the photo with your cursor. Many times, if you’ll click on the photo you’ll see a larger image.

First photo: Amos Marsh Jr. (jersey #31), Full Back/Return Specialist, 1961-1964

Amos Marsh Jr. was signed as a rookie undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 1961, because they were impressed by his speed. Back then his nicknames were "Moose" and "Forward Marsh".

He started his career as a wide receiver and special teams player. In 1962 to take advantage of his size and speed, he was moved to fullback, playing alongside Don Perkins where he became one of the league top 10 rushers with 802 yards and a 5.6 yards average per carry. That year he also set the franchise record for the longest kickoff return with 101 yards, a record that was broken by Alexander Wright 29 years later in 1991. The play came against the Philadelphia Eagles, when the Cowboys became the first NFL team in history to produce two 100-yard plays in the same game: a 100 yard interception return for a touchdown by strong safety Mike Gaechter and the 101 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Marsh.

Marsh’s production regressed during the following years, leading the Cowboys to trade him to the Detroit Lions in 1965 after the team acquired fullback J.D. Smith

Courtesy: Dallas Star magazine | Cleveland Plain Dealer archives | NFL | Dallas Cowboys

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MILESTONE: The Boys Are Back blog reaches 100,000 hits!

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SHORTER IN THE TOOTH: Dallas Cowboys Have Experienced Major Youth Overhaul

Jason Garrett's Dallas Cowboys Have Experienced Major Overhaul With Youth - The Boys Are Back blogA week or so after becoming head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, Jimmy Johnson sat down to watch some film with his defensive coaches, Dave Wannstedt and Dave Campo among them. What they saw was stunning, with Campo later recalling, “We were pretty sure we had more speed the season before at (the University of Miami.”

The objective became quite simple. The roster needed to be overhauled; younger, quicker players would be targeted. For Johnson, stripping football down to its most simplistic level, speed and quickness equal success. Of course, this philosophy led Dallas to a trio of Super Bowl wins, the first with the youngest team in the league, and Team of the Decade status in the 1990s.

Fast-forward 20 years from the aforementioned film session, almost to the month, and Troy Aikman and Jason Garrett are in the Florida Keys, visiting with their former head coach on what was supposed to be a relaxing fishing trip. Instead, Garrett arrived with a notebook overflowing with questions on what it takes to be a successful head coach in the NFL. At the time, Garrett was the Dallas offensive coordinator, but he knew – heck, everyone knew – his time was coming, especially after having turned down head coaching offers from the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.

Johnson later said of Garrett and the trip, “He wore me out.”

Now into his second full season as head coach, it’s obvious some of the sage advice Johnson offered involved adding more speed and quickness to the roster. A byproduct of those personnel changes has been a youth movement of sorts, one which has transformed this current Cowboys squad.

Consider: In Week 14 of 2010, the Cowboys’ 22 starters averaged 29.2 years of age, which was tied for the oldest in the NFL with the Ravens and Brett Favre’s Vikings.

Entering the 2012 campaign, not even two years removed, the average age of the Dallas starters was 26.9, coincidentally on both offense and defense, while the roster overall checked in at exactly 26.0, which was the 14th youngest in the NFL and second to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Even last year, Dallas finished as the 10th-oldest team in the league.

That is staggering. In 21 weeks of regular-season games, Dallas went from the oldest team to one of the younger squads in the league, while also going from a 6-10 finish to a promising 2012 campaign kicked off with a road defeat of the defending Super Bowl champions.

Garrett addressed this very subject at the conclusion of last season’s 8-8 finish.

“We had a lot of players, veteran players, who were really good players for us, Pro Bowl-type players for us, and we made some hard decisions to get away from those guys and move on,” Garrett said. “Those aren’t easy decisions to make. We went with some younger guys and we felt like that was the right decision for our football team now and going forward.

“We knew there were going to be some growing pains, but we felt like we had to get on that course and not only do that with a particular position, but also get the structure of our team right from a financial standpoint as well. So we started down that course and we feel like that was the right move for our team in 2011 and moving forward.”

Even in the ever-changing culture of the NFL, the transformation of the roster has been stunning in such a short time frame. Currently, 23 players on the Cowboys’ active roster are 24 years of age or younger, while just five are older than 30. Tony Romo, who turned 32 in April, is the second-oldest player on the team after defensive end Kenyon Coleman, 33.

Let’s look at the changes at each position from the Week 14 home loss against Philly in 2010 to this season:

Quarterbacks: The only real change here is behind Romo, where the team is almost a decade younger in having landed arguably the league’s premier backup in 29-year-old Kyle Orton this summer in favor of the retired Jon Kitna.

Running Backs: Marion Barber out, DeMarco Murray in. Am guessing no one has a problem with that exchange. And while Barber isn’t as old as most of the departed players, his physical running style certainly accelerated his football shelf life.

Wide Receivers/Tight ends: Not much has changed here with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, although Roy Williams and Sam Hurd have been replaced by some younger, unproven options, including Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley.

Jason Witten and John Phillips remain, with rookie James Hanna now the third tight end after Martellus Bennett signed with the Giants.

Offensive Line: Perhaps at no time in franchise history has the front seen such a dramatic overhaul inside of two years. The starters in Week 14 of 2010 were Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. Combined age: 153, with four of the five at least 31. The starters for Week 1 of 2012 were Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Phil Costa, Nate Livings and Tyron Smith, who doesn’t turn 22 until November. Combined age: 130, with none of the five older than 30. That’s a ginormous difference. Take away Free, and that’s 25 years younger among four positions, six-plus years per man.

Defensive Line: Little fluctuation here, although Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent are seeing extensive playing time and were just rookies in 2010. Igor Olshansky has also moved on, while rookie Tyrone Crawford, a third-round selection, has shown promise.

Linebackers: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are still on the outside, but there’s been a complete upheaval inside with Sean Lee and Bruce Carter replacing Keith Brooking and Bradie James. In terms of speed and quickness, perhaps no position has been improved more, with the possible exception of cornerback. Brooking and James were both respected veterans, stronger against the run than in pass coverage, while Lee and Carter are two of the team’s better athletes. There hasn’t been a more Jimmy Johnson-like pick over the last two years than Carter, the classic example of “give me the athletic talent, we’ll shape him into a football player.”

Of the eight linebackers on the roster, Ware is the oldest at 30, and six are 26 or younger.

Secondary: Never mind 2010, just look at last year’s team. Terence Newman was 33, Abram Elam and Frank Walker 30. Replace that trio with Brandon Carr, 26, Morris Claiborne, 22, and Barry Church, 24. And yes, Church was on the team, but has now replaced Elam in the starting lineup. Of the six corners currently on the roster, Mike Jenkins is the oldest at 27, while 29-year-old Gerald Sensabaugh is the oldest safety. Not a single 30-year-old among the secondary.

Special Teams: Even at punter, the Cowboys didn’t re-sign longtime veteran Mat McBriar in favor of 23-year-old Chris Jones.

So it really has been across the board, a youth movement much like the one orchestrated by Johnson during his first two seasons at the helm. Only time will tell if the same results follow for Garrett.

DALLAS COWBOYS PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Practice squad RB has already had amazing journey

Dallas Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar joins the 53-man roster - The Boys Are Back blog

Patricia Jones says that her son, Lance Dunbar, first told her when he was 12 that he wanted to play in the NFL.

In the family’s native New Orleans, that meant a standout career at a local high school, followed by a short drive west on I-10 around Lake Pontchartrain to Baton Rouge to play for LSU, and finally, hopefully, a contract with the New Orleans Saints.

That’s the dream anyway, but few young men are talented enough or lucky enough to make it happen.

Dunbar’s path to the NFL did take him through his local college and his local NFL team. But it was the University of North Texas and the Dallas Cowboys, not LSU and the Saints.

You see, New Orleans isn’t home to Dunbar anymore. It hasn’t been since Hurricane Katrina.

“When I was in New Orleans I was actually a starting safety and a running back,” Dunbar says. “So there’s no telling what position I would have played, what college I would have gone to, or where I would have ended up. Coming to Texas, it felt like I got a new start. I went to play at Haltom (High School) and ended up playing offense the whole time.”

Even seven years later, the mention of “Hurricane Katrina” resonates mightily with those who lived through it. The violent storm swept through the Bayou and by the time the disaster was over, the levees were broken, more than 1,000 people had died and thousands more hade fled, never to return.

“I go back to New Orleans for holidays and I have a good time,” Dunbar says. “It’s kind of how it used to be now. But I don’t like staying there more than a week. I feel like I get bored. It doesn’t seem like it’s home to me anymore. I’ve moved away for so long, most of my friends that were there have grown up and gone away.”

Katrina

Opening day of football season was less than a week away when it became apparent Hurricane Katrina would hit New Orleans in August 2005. Dunbar had just played in his Jamboree game for De La Salle, the equivalent of a preseason scrimmage. De La Salle was one of the best prep schools in the city, a private school that excelled both academically and athletically. Dunbar was good enough to play varsity athletics in the eighth grade and had already put in two years on both the varsity football and basketball teams. He entered the 2005 season as a starting safety and a backup running back.

There is little doubt in Jones’ mind that had the family stayed in New Orleans, Dunbar would have found his way to a Division I school and, perhaps, the NFL.

By the Saturday before landfall, Jones knew it was time to get out of New Orleans. She packed up what she could and took the entire family to a Red Cross shelter in Hazelhurst, Miss., about two hours from New Orleans. The shelter was the family’s home for the next two weeks. From there, Jones and her family watched Katrina come and go, and watched the levees hold, then break. Because Jones heeded the warnings, her family didn’t have to live through the hell that became New Orleans in the days after Katrina. But she faced the same decision as others in the wake of the storm.

Where do we go now?

New Orleans had been home. De La Salle was a great school for a gifted athlete and smart kid like Dunbar. Plus, Jones admits, their home didn’t suffer as much damage as others in New Orleans. The family could have returned, but watching her city descend into lawlessness and despair was too much. She said she never really entertained the thought of taking her family back.

“New Orleans was pretty crazy after the storm,” Dunbar says. “There was too much happening. Everyone came to one side (of the city), the side that wasn’t flooded. It kind of got out of hand and mama didn’t want us around that environment.”

The storm provided a unique opportunity to start over. Jones could have moved the family anywhere. One day she received a phone call from one of Lance’s former youth coaches (J.R. Sheppard) in New Orleans, who was now living in Haltom City, a suburb northeast of Fort Worth. He encouraged her to move the family there.

Jones worked in a hospital system and was able to transfer from New Orleans to North Hills Hospital in North Richland Hills. So, sight unseen, Jones moved her family and some friends – 13 in all – to Haltom City that fall. Jones’ friend set up a hotel for the family near the school so Lance and his siblings could start school as soon as possible.

It didn’t take long for the family to make its final decision on where to stay.

“The kids really wanted to stay in Texas,” Jones says. “Once the kids started at Haltom, they loved it. They actually asked if we could stay. So that was really all I needed to hear.”

The hotel was a temporary residence. When the family did find its first permanent residence, its location was of  little surprise to anyone who knows Lance. It was right behind Haltom High School’s practice field.

Dallas Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar ran 15 times for 105 yards and a 58-yeard touchdown in 2012 Preseason game vs Miami - The Boys Are Back blog

Home in Haltom City

Clayton George found himself in a unique position to relate to Dunbar when he arrived as Haltom’s head coach in the spring of 2006.

George had just spent a couple of years as the head football coach at Dallas Hillcrest, his first head-coaching job after leaving Southlake Carroll. Hillcrest became a hub for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He coached several players from New Orleans and heard their stories about the storm and the tragedy that came afterward.

“I still can’t imagine what they went through and what they saw,” George says. “I had heard those things before I met Lance. I kind of knew where he was coming from.”

George inherited a player with unique talent as both a rusher and a receiver. Dunbar joined Haltom midway through the 2005 season and gained 640 yards and scored four touchdowns. In his one season at Haltom, George says he did everything possible to put the ball in Dunbar’s hands. That translated into 1,100 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, along with 750 yards receiving and two more scores in 2006.

George spent just one year at Haltom because, shortly after the end of the 2006 high school football season, he accepted a job as the wide receivers coach at the University of North Texas offered by his former Southlake boss, Todd Dodge.

But in less than 12 months, Dunbar and George had connected on a personal level. George got to know not just Dunbar but Jones and the rest of Dunbar’s extended family. George and Dunbar still talk regularly and the family invited George to their home on the final day of the NFL Draft. George was there to watch the dream come together for the player he calls his “favorite” of any player he’s coached.

Their relationship extends beyond Dunbar’s obvious talent.

“Lance is quiet and humble,” George says. “He’ll open up, but he’s reserved and quiet. He’s that way but he has a great sense of humor. He’s someone that was raised well. His character and integrity are tremendous. I sound so cliché talking about him.”

When George left for UNT, he told Dunbar he would come back for him. Dunbar finished off his career at Haltom in 2007 with a 1,200-yard season. Oklahoma State wanted him. Colorado wanted him. So did Virginia.

But Dunbar chose North Texas.

“Initially, I was going to go to Oklahoma State,” Dunbar says. “(But) I also wanted to play as a freshman. I didn’t want to sit out. I’ve always felt if you’re good enough you can make it anywhere.”

So Dunbar signed with UNT, a decision that admittedly made Jones happy. She and her husband went to every game. So did Lance’s father, Lance Dunbar Sr. Denton, Texas is a heck of a lot closer to Haltom than Stillwater, Okla. And it was proof that Texas was now home. The test? The day he signed with UNT, guess who called the Mean Green’s newest recruit?

LSU.

“LSU was definitely the school I wanted to go to when I was down there,” Dunbar says. “They were one of my favorite schools growing up. I was a big LSU fan, but that all switched after I went to North Texas.”

Dallas Cowboys QB Stephen McGee hands the ball to Lance Dunbar - The Boys Are Back blog

Making History

Dunbar wanted to play right away, and he did. When he received his first start for the Mean Green, he torched Louisiana-Lafayette for 224 yards and four touchdowns.

By the time he ended his UNT career, he had torn up the Mean Green record book, which was once the sole property of Patrick Cobbs. Dunbar finished with 4,224 yards, making him the program’s all-time leading rusher. Additionally, he is now UNT’s all-time leader in touchdowns (49), all-purpose yards (5,375), 100-yard rushing games (21), points (294) and rushing touchdowns (41). He was also the only Mean Green runner to have three straight 1,000-yard seasons and became just the sixth back in FBS history to compile 4,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards for a career. He earned All-Sun Belt first-team honors twice and Sports Illustrated named him honorable mention All-America twice.

He ended his tenure in Denton with a crescendo. He rushed for 313 yards against Middle Tennessee in a game played in a cold, driving rain for most of the contest. That night he broke Cobbs’ career rushing mark with Cobbs in attendance.

But that wasn’t enough to entice NFL teams to draft Dunbar in April. Had one done so, he would have become just the second Mean Green player to be drafted in the last 16 years.

But had one done so, he might not have ended up in Dallas.

Dunbar did not earn an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, so his one opportunity to impress NFL scouts came in March at the Mean Green’s pro day at Apogee Stadium. The Cowboys were among the teams in attendance, as was current UNT coach Dan McCarney.

“He did a great job,” McCarney says. “He opened some eyes that day that he does have quality speed and quickness and hands.”

George heard about it later from a friend, Cowboys offensive assistant Keith O’Quinn.

“He told me before Lance was picked up how well Lance stood out and how (Cowboys running backs coach) Skip (Peete) liked him,” George says. “It wasn’t that much of a surprise to me when Dallas called him. He did well in front of them.”

Draft day was quite the party at the Dunbar house, even though there was no guarantee Dunbar would be drafted. George says the house was packed with more than 60 relatives and friends, some from Haltom and others from New Orleans. Late in the draft, Dunbar received a call from the Cowboys letting him know they were interested in signing him as a free agent, if no one drafted him.

“By the time the draft ended the process was already rolling,” George says.

So does Dunbar have the goods to stick with the Cowboys? Well, George believes that if anyone can overcome the long odds that face any undrafted free agent, it’s Dunbar, who says he loves competition. McCarney compares Dunbar to a player he coached while an assistant at Iowa, Ronnie Harmon. Harmon carved out a 12-year NFL career in which he gained nearly 9,000 yards. McCarney says Dunbar has similar strength, hands and versatility.

The Cowboys are intrigued. Peete likes Dunbar’s pass receiving skills, decision-making and quick adjustment to learning NFL schemes. Dunbar spent plenty of time with the second team offense in the ramp-up to training camp.

The man Dunbar replaced in the Mean Green record book, Cobbs, was an undrafted free agent coming out of college. Before spending 2011 on New Orleans’ injured reserve list, he played five seasons as a backup running back and special teams star for several teams, including Miami, where he served as a captain in 2010.

What lies ahead for Dunbar? We’ll just have to wait and see. But his circuitous path in life and to the NFL has proven he can overcome just about anything.

“Thank God for the opportunity to be here in Texas, a football state,” Jones says. “I think it was an act of God that placed us here because we could have gone back home.”

Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar signs autographs - The Boys Are Back blog

Courtesy: Matthew Postins | Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine

This story originally appeared in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.

PINK PROMISE PARTNERSHIP: Dallas Cowboys employee Roxanne Martinez surprised by Komen founder Monday Night

Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder and CEO, recognized Dallas Cowboys employee Roxanne Martinez - The Boys Are Back blog

Arlington, Texas—Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder and CEO, took centerfield at the top of halftime Monday to recognize Cowboys’ own ticket office employee Roxanne Martinez.

“I had no idea,” said a chocked up Martinez. “I’m blown away.”

NFL - Dallas Cowboys kickoff Breast Cancer Awareness month on Monday Night Football - The Boys Are Back blog

Martinez, who beat her battle with breast cancer only a year and a half ago, was asked to participate in a special recognition in honor of the NFL’s national kickoff to Breast Cancer Awareness Month during the Cowboys’ game versus the Chicago Bears. She had no idea that recognition would come from the founder of the organization she is so passionate for.

“Komen really gave me an opportunity to give back to an organization that was helping me through my breast cancer journey,” Martinez, now a regular volunteer at Susan G. Komen Breast Center in Fort Worth, told Cowboys’ Blue Star magazine. “Now that I’m a survivor, it makes me proud that the Dallas Cowboys are promoting awareness and recognizing survivorship and I also try to do the same.”

Click here to read Martinez’s full story.

KOMEN_LOGO

Brinker’s surprise presentation to Martinez was only the beginning of a festive halftime honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Martinez was joined on the field by hundreds more survivors, co-survivors and Komen volunteers, including Martinez’s husband and 250 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders alumnae. The group, totaling 500, came together to form two human pink awareness ribbons, all while the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performed a swinging dance number in pink.

Pink, the theme to Monday’s game presented by Bank of America, could be spotted throughout the stadium on signs, flags, towels, uniforms and jerseys. Komen kiosks, quizzing game-goers on their breast cancer knowledge, sat in the plazas of the stadium, and public service announcements and other messaging were featured on the stadium’s 60-yard video board.

The group, totaling 500, came together to form two human pink awareness ribbons at halftime on Monday Night Football - The Boys Are Back blog

All was part of the Dallas Cowboys and Susan G. Komen for the Cure “I Promise” campaign. The campaign, supported by a $1 million donation of Cowboys marketable assets, was first inspired by Brinker’s 2010 book Promise Me, detailing her promise to her sister “Suzy”—who died from breast cancer in 1980 and for whom the organization is named—to change the way the world viewed and treated breast cancer. “I Promise” merchandise can be found exclusively on ShopCowboys.com and in Old Navy stores. Five percent of its proceeds goes toward cancer research.

Click here to learn more about the Dallas Cowboys’ partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the “I Promise” campaign—a campaign that doesn’t stop with Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s end, but continues year-round.

RELATED POST ON THE BOYS ARE BACK BLOG:

PINK RIBBON KICKOFF: Tonight game marks the beginning of the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness month

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Below are several local programs and services funded by the Dallas County Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. Additionally, Susan G. Komen for the Cure® works closely with a number of breast health agencies, organizations and companies to identify all the possible resources to support a woman through her breast cancer treatment.

Resources available in the Dallas area vary from getting your mammogram, identifying a breast cancer support group to even securing financial assistance as you go through your breast cancer treatment.

The American Cancer Society Dallas

1-800-651-4911 Website: http://www.cancer.org/

Bridge of Blessings

214-714-1077 Website: http://www.bridgeofblessings.org/

The Bridge Breast Network

877-258-1396 Website: http://www.bridgebreast.org/

Methodist Health Systems

214-947-0026 Website: http://methodisthealthsystem.org

Methodist Richardson Medical Center – Asian Breast Health Outreach Project

972-498-8601 Website: http://www.asianbreasthealth.org/

Parkland Health & Hospital System

Website: http://www.parklandhospital.com/

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

214-345-2598

UT Southwestern Medical Center of Dallas – Center for Breast Care

866-277-0710

YWCA Women’s Health Services

214-584-2305 Website: http://www.ywcadallas.org/

Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Grants Program

1-877 GO KOMEN 1-877-465-6636 Website: http://www.komen.org/

EDITORS COMMENT: Nearly everyone knows someone that has faced cancer or survived it. Who do you know?

IN MEMORY: Angela Lynn Knight (1964-2000)

P0STGAME RECAP: Rob Ryan’s defense carries Dallas Cowboys to 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs Tampa Bay 2012 - The Boys Are back blog

As the saying goes, sometimes you’ve just got to win ugly.

At least that’s one word to describe the Dallas offense as they were able to scrape out a 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay in front of 81,984 fans. Behind an offensive line that struggled to create running room and keep the pocket clean, nearly getting quarterback Tony Romo injured in the process, the Cowboys managed 297 total yards, including just 38 on the ground

Still, it was enough. Why? Because the defense, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. Coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit dominated throughout the day, despite not having two starters up front in Jay Ratliff and Kenyon Coleman and starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh out as well, all due to injury. Fellow safety Barry Church was then lost for the game, and the season, in the third quarter. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will have surgery this week.

No matter, the defense held Tampa Bay to a paltry 166 total yards of offense. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw for just 110 yards on 10 of 28 passing, while the visitors’ running game gained only 75 yards. Of those 110 yards by Freeman, 71 came on his team’s final drive when the Cowboys were sitting in a prevent defense.

Unlike last week when the defense eventually wore down against Seattle, this time they held strong in the second half, allowing Romo and Co. an opportunity to put the game away late. The quarterback finished with 283 yards on 25 of 39 passing with one interception, while Miles Austin had a big day with 107 receiving yards on five catches. Dez Bryant added 62 yards on six grabs, also giving the crowd a jolt with a 44-yard punt return.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Dallas defense celebrate big play - The Boys Are Back blog

Long before that, though, with less than five minutes having ticked off the clock, fans had to be wondering just what was wrong with their Cowboys. An already inept opening possession, only got worse when Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib stepped in front of Austin for an interception at the Dallas 29.

That was then followed by the Cowboys allowing Tampa Bay to pick up nine yards on their own, but handing over another 20 yards in penalties to give them first and goal at the Dallas 1-yard line. The Bucs got on the board with a Freeman loft to tight end Luke Stocker in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Fortunately, Tampa Bay was in a giving mood as well. On their second drive of the quarter, Freeman tried to dump a pass underneath, only to see the ball tip off the fingers of running back D.J. Ware and into the arms of linebacker Sean Lee, giving Dallas field position at the Buccaneers’ 23-yard line.

The Cowboys then turned to DeMarco Murray, the back touching the ball on all four plays of the drive, the last a run around the left end that saw him dive for the pylon and the score, the Cowboys evening things up at 7-7.

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray dives for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Boys Are Back blog

With both defenses clamping down, the Cowboys caught another break with just over six minutes to play in the second quarter. Tampa Bay linebacker Dekoda Watson broke free on what should have probably been a blocked punt. Instead, he missed the ball and ran into punter Chris Jones for the penalty.

But on the other end of the field, Bucs return man Jordan Shipley muffed the catch, linebacker Orie Lemon, just called up from the practice squad yesterday, there to dig the ball out of the scrum. With the additional 15 yards tacked on for the roughing the kicker call, Dallas had great field position at the Tampa Bay 24-yard line.

A Romo scramble picked up a first down to the Buccaneers 12, but there the drive would stall. Dan Bailey then came out for a 32-yard field goal, splitting the uprights to give Dallas a 10-7 lead with 2:51 left in the half.

The Cowboys made the curious decision to go with an onside kick, the attempt failing and giving Tampa Bay a short field at their own 49. But four Buccaneers penalties on the possession effectively killed any opportunities for the visitors, Dallas taking over at their 20-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.

And, they made a go of it, Romo hitting Austin for 15 yards and Ogletree for 19 more to cross midfield to the Buccaneers’ 40-yard line. But, with 16 seconds on the clock, Romo was sacked, pushing them out of field goal range, the score unchanged going into the break.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Dez Bryant breaks tackles - The Boys Are Back blog

Adjustments were made by Jason Garrett and his staff during halftime with the Cowboys’ offense coming out after the break and finding success on their first drive with short passes and quick slants. Romo found Ogletree for seven, Bryant for 18 and Austin for 21 yards to work their way down to the Tampa Bay 17.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Miles Austin - The Boys Are Back blog

But then on the ensuing play, Romo stepped up in the pocket to try and escape the pressure, only to have the ball knocked out of his hands, the Buccaneers recovering to take possession.

Soon thereafter, it happened all over again. However, this time the turnover occurred in Dallas territory. With Romo dropping back to pass, he was sacked by two Tampa Bay defenders, the ball coming loose and scooped up by cornerback Eric Wright at the Cowboys’ 31-yard line.

The Cowboys caught a bit of a break when the officials blew the play dead, thinking Romo was down before the ball came loose. A video challenge overturned the ruling, giving Tampa Bay the ball, but had they not blown the whistle initially, Wright would have waltzed into the end zone untouched.

That allowed the Dallas defense to do what it had been doing all day, stifling the Bucs, who were forced to punt when they were unable to move the chains.

With their defense keeping them in the game, the Cowboys offense got on the move again, this time the big blow coming on a 49-yard bomb to Austin that moved Dallas down to the Tampa Bay 30. Two snaps of the ball later, and Romo had a wide-open Jason Witten streaking down the middle, but the tight end was unable to haul in the catch, another tough afternoon for the former Pro Bowler.

Now in the fourth quarter, the offense was able to reach the Buccaneers’ 14-yard line before Romo took a vicious hit to push them back to the 21. Although Felix Jones brought a dump-off pass to the 8, the Cowboys would have to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Bailey, the advantage now 13-7 with 11:10 left in the game.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - Felix Jones bounces back - The Boys Are Back blog

That would be all the Cowboys would need with the defense playing the way it was but just for good measure, a punt to the Tampa Bay 18 was pushed back 9 more yards due to unnecessary roughness. From there, the Buccaneers had no chance, the Dallas “D” moving them back to the 1-yard line, thanks to a sack and strip of the ball by DeMarcus Ware.

With Tampa Bay punting out of their own end zone, Bryant took the return from the 50-yard line, went to the right sideline, then cut back up into daylight before being taken down at the Buccaneers 6-yard line. His electric 44-yard return was easily the longest by the Cowboys this season.

Settling for a 22-yard field goal, Bailey’s effort, as it turned out, actually provided a little comforting insurance. With the score at 16-7 with just over two minutes left in the game, and the defense sitting back in a prevent, the Buccaneers were able to strike big on completions of 29 yards, 12, 23 and 7 to work their way down to the Dallas 10-yard line.

But on fourth and three, the Buccaneers elected to kick the field goal, narrowing the score to 16-10, and setting up an onside kick with 40 seconds on the clock. It didn’t work. The kick bounced high into the air and into the waiting arms of tight end James Hanna.

Tampa Bay did its best to prolong the celebration, calling two timeouts in the waning seconds, and aggressively charging the Cowboys kneel-down effort just as they had against the Giants the week before, but it was to no avail. The win improved the Cowboys’ record to 2-1 on the season with a showdown at home against the Bears coming up next Monday night.

MIKE WOICIK: Strength coach’s awards help team camaraderie

Mike Woicik (right), pictured here with the Cowboys in 1994, returns for his second stint as the team's strength and conditioning coach - The Boys Are Back blog

Every championship run begins with offseason leaders. Before Troy Aikman and Tom Brady captured their Super Bowl victories, one man was pushing the two quarterbacks as well as their respective Cowboys and Patriots teams.

Winning was never an issue for strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik. Six total Super Bowl rings between Dallas and New England give credence to any football knowledge offered by Woicik.

His offseason program led to three titles with the Cowboys from 1990-96, including the team’s last championship in 1995, when current head coach Jason Garrett was still backup quarterback Jason Garrett.

Garrett knew how Woicik went about his business before the strength and conditioning coach rejoined the Cowboys last year, in a shortened season with no Organized Team Activities (OTAs) or minicamps. This year is the first since 1996 that Woicik could install his offseason awards program with the Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys coach Mike Woicik - 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

“It adds a little motivation to the whole thing,” Woicik says. “Really, what we want is for guys to come in. When they play football games, they keep score. We want them to keep score in their training.”

It’s during that time in the offseason when players’ self-discipline is the primary motivating factor that Woicik rewards those who go beyond the call of duty.  With three Super Bowl rings from two different teams, he knows his approach works.

And with nearly 100 percent offseason attendance this year, the Cowboys players know it does, too.

“It builds a lot of camaraderie, being able to work out together in the offseason,” says Sean Lee, one of the nine offseason award winners for 2012. “That’s something we had this year. We had a lot of guys there. The camaraderie was there. The hard work was there. And I think you’re seeing that on the field.”

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READY TO GO: Dallas Cowboys first-teamers look good in 20-19 victory over St. Louis Rams

Dallas Cowboys practice before St Louis Rams game - The Boys Are Back blog

Tony Romo looks ready. Same for DeMarco Murray. Rob Ryan’s defense? Definitely.

In the third game of the preseason, the “dress rehearsal” for what’s to come on Sept. 5, the Cowboys first-teamers appeared good to go in a 20-19 defeat of the Rams, a team that’s likely headed for a very long and frustrating 2012 campaign.

A crowd of 75,226 saw Murray on the field for only the first quarter, but he averaged 5.2 yards per carry (5 attempts, 26 yards) and added two catches for 16 more.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders kick - Dallas Cowboys kick butt - The Boys Are Back blog

Likewise, Romo saw only one quarter of action, but had his way with the St. Louis secondary, spreading the ball around to six different receivers while racking up 198 yards on 9-of-13 passing, his rating a healthy 151.4. He led his team to points in each of their first three possessions of the game, the opening drive going 60 yards in 13 plays before Dan Bailey split the uprights on a 38-yard field goal.

Romo then struck twice through the air, both his scoring throws connecting with Dwayne Harris, one of several in the thick of the battle for the third wide receiver position. On the first, Harris beat his man down the middle for a nifty 61-yard bomb. Then on the Cowboys’ next possession, Harris appeared headed for the sideline on a routine pickup, but at the last minute, he turned it upfield, split two Rams defenders and scampered the remaining yards before diving into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown.

Dallas Cowboys vs St Louis Rams sideline with Jason Garrett - The Boys Are Back blog

Harris likely solidified his place on the team, finishing with 118 receiving yards on three catches, but he wasn’t the only wideout to have a good showing with the first team offense. Kevin Ogletree picked up 75 yards on five catches with rookie Cole Beasley adding 40 yards on his three grabs. In the end, the Cowboys may not need a designated third receiver, instead taking the committee approach, one of the advantages of having a quarterback like Romo who can make any potential target look good.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the starting defense played the entire first half, limiting the visitors to lengthy field goals of 55 and 52 yards, the first points allowed by the starters this preseason.

The first of those field goals was set up by a 47-yard kick return that gave St. Louis possession on their own 40. That was followed by a 26-yard pass from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford to tight end Lance Kendricks to the Dallas 34, where the defense then held their ground.

Dallas Cowboys vs St Louis Rams - Tony Romo watches DeMarco Murray run - The Boys Are Back blog

Field goal No. 2 for St. Louis came in the second quarter after Kyle Orton was hit on a blitz up the middle, the Rams falling on the fumble to give them the ball at the Dallas 38. They couldn’t move the chains, but did add three points, the score now 17-6.

The Cowboys defense got their first real test of the preseason with their backs against the wall when the Rams marched all the way down to the Dallas 5-yard line, thanks in part to a successful fake punt when they originally faced fourth and 1 at their own 27-yard line. But on fourth and goal, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne dove and knocked away a Bradford attempt to receiver Steve Smith, keeping St. Louis out of the end zone.

Safety Danny McCray was injured on the play when he and Gerald Sensabaugh collided as the ball was in the air. He suffered a neck strain and did not return to the game.

Dallas Cowboys vs St Louis Rams - Defensive line vs Offensive line - The Boys Are Back blog

Taking over with 2:42 remaining in the half, Orton then worked the two-minute offense to perfection. He hit Beasley on an 8-yard pass, then found Felix Jones for gains of 12 and 9 yards. Continuing to spread the ball around, Orton found tight end James Hanna for 11, Ogletree for 12, Harris for 9, and then back to Ogletree for 15, the Cowboys calling their last timeout with 10 seconds left at the St. Louis 13-yard line. Bailey came on for the chip shot, the score 20-6 at the break.

In the first half overall, the Dallas defense limited the Rams to just 114 yards of total offense, or four fewer than what Harris alone earned for receiving yards in the first 30 minutes.

With the third quarter getting underway, the starters put on their ball caps and called it a night, leaving it to those fighting for roster spots. And St. Louis won the battle of reserves, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the game a little more interesting.

Dallas Cowboys vs St Louis Rams - Defensive rush and block - The Boys Are Back blog

For their first score, the Rams started on their own 30 with 2:42 left in the third quarter, and went the distance, reserve quarterback Kellen Clemens throwing a dart to receiver Austin Pettis from two yards out early in the fourth. But kicker Garrett Lindholm’s extra point was no good, the scoreboard reading 20-12. 

Two possession later, St. Louis found the end zone again, this time starting at its own 21 and needing 10 plays on the drive to reach pay dirt. The extra point was good, the score now 20-19.

Dallas Cowboys vs St Louis Rams - Harris has a two TD day - The Boys Are Back blog

But with 2:10 remaining in the game, that would be all the Rams could muster. Dallas able to run out the clock for their second preseason victory of the season.

The Cowboys will now have an extremely short week as they prepare for their final exhibition game on Wednesday against Miami, a last-ditch tryout of sorts for those fighting for roster spots, the starters content to remain on the sidelines and get ready for the Giants and the season opener a week later.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders - For the Dallas Cowboys, it was a good day at the office - The Boys Are Back blog

Kurt Daniels | Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine

WORK IN PROGRESS: Dallas Cowboys fall to San Diego Chargers in 2nd half

Victor Butler and Alex Albright gaining experience with Spencer and Ware sidelined - The Boys Are Back blog

Progress is definitely being made.

If the first preseason, a thrilling 3-0 affair in Oakland, was a study in frustration and worry for the Cowboys faithful, then the team’s performance in San Diego on Saturday at least showed signs of excitement and hope, especially concerning the first-teamers.

With nine starters out of the lineup, tender hamstrings seemingly the largest culprit, Dallas lost to the Chargers 28-20, their preseason record falling to 1-1. But the Cowboys’ defense, and in particular cornerback Brandon Carr, gave notice that they might be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.

Even with DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher not in the lineup, the first-unit group held the Chargers to only 69 total yards, never allowing San Diego to cross the 50-yard line. Taking center stage in the effort was Carr, who grabbed not one, but two interceptions in his quarter-and-a-half of play.

On the first grab, Carr was admittedly beaten on the route, wide receiver Robert Meachem getting behind the defense. But an underthrown ball by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers allowed Carr to gain ground and time his jump perfectly to bring down the pick.

The second interception was nothing short of a circus catch. Literally. Carr tipped a pass, then tipped it again, and again, finally completing his juggling act with another prized turnover.

Being able to go and get the ball is why Dallas opened the checkbook for the free agent Carr back in March. He and rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne, who was making his NFL debut, have all the makings of a dramatically upgraded secondary for the Cowboys this season.

"The first unit did pretty good,” said Carr. “We shut them out once again. It was good to go against Philip Rivers one more time and get the two picks off him this time. But the guys were just flying around trying to make plays on the ball.”

Dallas Cowboys OL vs San Diego Chargers - preseason 2012 - The Boys Are Back Blog

Meanwhile on the other side of the line, the first-team offense showed improvement from its near dysfunctional effort against the Raiders in the preseason opener. Quarterback Tony Romo, who finished the game with 75 yards on 9-of-13 passing, had a clean pocket for most of the two series in which he was in the game, although his own deft moves helped his own cause.

Romo was able to get his side into field goal range midway through the first quarter, Dan Bailey seemingly in midseason form with a 40-yard field goal to give Dallas a 3-0 lead.

"Yeah, I thought some of the young guys stepped up and played pretty good tonight,” said Romo. “I think our offense is continuing to get better and better each week, and I like the direction we are heading, but we have to eliminate the mistakes.”

DeMarco Murray, back from an ankle injury that cut short his 2011 campaign, also looked solid in his one possession of work, catching two passes for 18 yards. He also had two runs that went for just seven yards, but made something out of nothing in both instances.

The point being, Romo and Murray can make even an average line look good.

But the preseason is also about earning roster spots, and one in particular stepped up and made solid a solid case for himself – Kevin Ogletree.

One of the biggest question marks still to be determined is who will be the Cowboys’ third receiver. And although Ogletree is the veteran of the contending bunch, he has been perhaps the most overlooked. Not any more. He had a solid night, finishing with 60 yards on four receptions, including a tough 35-yard catch down the middle that saw him get hit by two defenders but still hang onto the ball.

Dallas Cowboys WR Kevin Ogletree vs San Diego Chargers - preseason 2012 - The Boys Are Back Blog

There is, of course, still much to be determined in the wideout ranks. After all, rookie Cole Beasley led all receivers with 104 yards on seven catches and Dwayne Harris picked up 42 yards on four receptions of his own. But Ogletree made it known tonight that he’s the lead horse in the race for the third position … for now.

Beasley and Harris did most of their damage in the second half, when little else went particularly well for the team. Rob Ryan saw his defense’s shutout streak come to an end soon after the third quarter got underway. They hadn’t given up a point and had surrendered only 376 yards of total offense through six quarters of play, but with the regulars calling it a night, the second unit allowed the Chargers to come out of the break and march 80 yards on 10 plays for a score, the lead narrowed to 10-7.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley (14) runs past San Diego Chargers linebacker Andrew Gachkar - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas got on the board late in that same frame thanks to a fumble recovery from linebacker Orie Lemon, who gave the Cowboys field position at the San Diego 35. The offense was unable to pick up a first down, but Bailey came out again, this time for a 49-yarder, and put three more points on the board.

And then the wheels fell off for the Cowboys, as San Diego put up 21 points in the fourth quarter to run away with the game. Two of those touchdowns came after Stephen McGee turnovers, one on an interception and the other a fumble after the quarterback took a big hit from behind.

Dallas Cowboys QB Stephen McGee vs San Diego Chargers - Preseason 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

With Rudy Carpenter taking the helm, Dallas did manage to get in the end zone with 53 seconds left on the clock, Wright catching a pass from 15 yards out to wrap up the scoring, 28-20.

Dallas will now stay in San Diego for two days of workouts with the Chargers before returning home for the annual Silver & Blue Debut, a practice open to the public that will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Kurt Daniels | Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine

RELATED: Jamize Olawale, rookie FB turned RB, impresses in San Diego

Dallas Cowboys RB Jamize Olawale vs San Diego Chargers - preseason 2012 - The Boys Are Back BlogWhich player fighting for a roster spot made a positive impression? His name is hard to pronounce. But now people know it. That’s a positive sign for Jamize Olawale, the Cowboys’ rookie fullback-turned-running back. A 6-1, 238-pound product of North Texas, Olawale has the size and strength pound away at opponents. During the second quarter, he demonstrated that might when he barged into the end zone and finished off a two-yard run that resulted in the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the preseason. But Olawale isn’t just powerful. He’s also quick. Olawale flashed that acceleration on a 10-yard pass from Romo in the first quarter, turning up field to gain a first down.

Photos: Rainer Sabin

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