Category Archives: Dallas Cowboy Highlights

TWISTS AND TWEAKS: Tony Romo back pain doesn’t stop late game surge against Redskins | MRI today

TWISTS AND TWEAKS - Tony Romo back pain doesn’t stop late game surge against Redskins - MRI today

LANDOVER, Md. – There wouldn’t be any excessive dancing and celebrating from quarterback Tony Romo after his game-winning touchdown pass, given how he looked physically at the time.  

Romo, who gingerly jogged back to the Dallas Cowboys sideline after a brief moment of jubilation following the successful fourth-down pass to DeMarco Murray, had been fighting through a back injury throughout the final quarter. 

“I tweaked it in the game,” Romo said. “For whatever reason, just the twist or whatever that was, definitely just made it not feel comfortable.”

Romo’s back wasn’t 100 percent entering the game, but he said he didn’t feel like it was going to be a major problem going in.

The injury was noticeable and looked more like a leg problem than a back injury, as he limped around following one of his patented spin moves to evade a sack. It appeared his back injury was at its worst after he made the move, threw an 8-yard pass to Miles Austin and converted a crucial third down in the fourth quarter.

Romo said he took a hit earlier in the game that first triggered the back pain, and then late in the game had that play which aggravated it worse.

“I felt it after that play the rest of the game,” Romo said. “You just play through it just like anything – it’s football.”

Even simple handoffs to DeMarco Murray looked painful as the quarterback struggled to meet the running back in the backfield. Romo said it didn’t feel comfortable, but the bright side is the pain is in a different spot than the back problems he had last year.

Head coach Jason Garrett said it looked as if Romo got leg-whipped or kicked somehow.

“He certainly was hobbling around a little bit and you just suck it up, pull your sock up, spit on it and keep going,” Garrett said.

Romo didn’t leave the game. In fact, the quarterback played better than he had all game after the injury, as the Cowboys put up 10 points in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys scored just seven points in each of the first two quarters and went scoreless in the third quarter.

Though the pain was noticeable, Romo was still able to maneuver around the pocket and buy enough time for Murray to get open along the sideline on the game-winning touchdown pass.

“We knew Tony was hurt, but he got right back in there the next play,” said Dez Bryant. “He never went over there to the trainers or anything. He knew how important that drive was and we went down there, executed and scored.”

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said Romo’s getting “special treatment” for the back, and it won’t keep him from playing going forward.

“We think it’ll be OK, but it was a tightening –  it wasn’t a contusion,” Jones said. “It was a little tight, but they’re working on him and we’ll work on that all week. He really had a little of it in practice, to give you an idea, this past week – just a little tightness.”

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COWBOYS REDSKINS GAME 15 RECAP: Dallas Cowboys come from behind win full of surprises | 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins

COWBOYS REDSKINS GAME 15 RECAP - Dallas Cowboys come from behind win full of surprises - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins - Dez Bryant Terrance Williams

What surprised you most on the final offensive drive?

I watched it from field level and I am looking forward to catching it on tape as we head home, but just the confidence that Tony Romo continued to show in Terrance Williams surprised me most. Give both Williams and Romo a great deal of credit. There was no doubt that the Redskins were not going to allow Dez Bryant or Jason Witten to beat them in that situation, so working the ball in the direction of Williams was the smart play throughout the drive.

Even if Romo would have gone in the direction of Cole Beasley, I would have expected it. What was even more amazing about it was how poised Williams was in the way he ran his routes, which allowed Romo to find him. It would have been very easy for Williams to allow the moment to be too big and be lazy or not committed to what he needed to do on the drive. He executed well and he rewarded his quarterback with some big time plays.

By the coaches playing Williams early in the season and giving him responsibility, it made him ready for this type of moment. It was nice to see that Romo trusted him as well.

COWBOYS REDSKINS GAME 15 RECAP - Dallas Cowboys come from behind win full of surprises - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins

How much does DeMarco Murray mean to this offense?

You have heard me say this a bunch: When you have a running back that is a complete player, you have a chance in this league to move the ball with success. 

Murray has played this season with a chip on his shoulder. There were those that doubted his ability, whether he could be a difference-maker as a running back, and that he was too injury prone to have any long-term success. What Murray did today was nothing short of amazing. Other than the run on the final drive where he made the mental mistake and loss nine yards on the carry, he ran the ball with toughness and determination.

He stood tall in the pocket on blitz pickup and refused to give an inch, but he also was once again outstanding in having the awareness to find space underneath in routes. From my angle on the sideline, I wasn’t sure that Romo saw him, but he was able to get him the ball. What was impressive about the catch was Murray’s ability to secure the ball and then keep his balance in order to fight his way into the end zone.

There are plenty of important players on this team, but if you don’t think DeMarco Murray is one of them, you really are not in tune with the game.  

COWBOYS REDSKINS GAME 15 RECAP - Dallas Cowboys come from behind win full of surprises - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins - Dallas Defense

How confident were you that the defense could get one final stop?

This defense has had its share of problems this season. They have struggled with pressure, they don’t always play the run well enough, and when it comes to handling a receiver on third down to get off the field, they are far from perfect.

But give Monte Kiffin and this defense a ton of credit on the final two Redskins drives. It was evident that Washington was interested in trying to protect a lead and was committed to trying to do just that. Although offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan slammed Alfred Morris into the line time and time again, the defense did not allow the Redskins to get in a manageable third-down situation and despite a pass to Aldrick Robinson, they were able to bow their necks and make a stop with Orlando Scandrick playing against Pierre Garcon in the middle of the field, forcing a punt.

When the Redskins took the ball over on their final drive, the Cowboys defense went in lockdown mode. The coverage from field level was airtight and it was difficult for any of the Washington receivers to find any space. Scandrick, Sterling Moore, Brandon Carr, Jeff Heath and Barry Church were at their best when this defense needed them the most.

I kept my eyes down the field and I never witnessed the open receivers that at times we had seen earlier in the game. The coverage and pressure made Kirk Cousins look like the young, inexperienced quarterback that he was. With their season on the line, this Cowboys defense did something I am sure none of us believed they could do – made two stops and gave this squad a shot to play for a division title next week.

Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Dallas Cowboys Analyst/Former Scout

HYPE VIDEO AND DOWNLOAD: Dallas Cowboys touchdown song featured on highlight video

HYPE VIDEO AND DOWNLOAD - Dallas Cowboys touchdown song featured on highlight video - Dez Bryant TD

HIGHLIGHT HYPE: Dallas Cowboys Touchdown Song

The Dallas Cowboys Touchdown Song, performed by The Burning of Rome, is featured on this Dallas Cowboys TD highlights video. (Watch Video | Play Audio)

Dallas Cowboys touchdown song

 

Download the full song here ( or here) and rock it in your car, on your phone/tablet, or at your tailgate.

THE TEXAS-2 MISFITS: Chippy the Hippy schooled by NFL professor Monte Kiffin

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PHILADELPHIA – The first three rounds occurred not on only the West Coast, but actually in college football.

The only thing relevant about Monte Kiffin vs. Chip Kelly is what happens at this level. The USC-Oregon stuff was an interesting side note, but doesn’t mean anything – and never did – when it comes to these two squaring off in the NFL.

Clearly, because Round 4 went to Kiffin. In fact, this was a knockout.

Say whatever you want about the up-tempo, fast-paced offense that Kelly brought from Oregon to the Eagles, but the Cowboys not only slowed it down, but shut things down Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. And they did this without their best defensive player in DeMarcus Ware, who missed the first game of his career with a quad strain.

No Ware, no problem. The Cowboys had guys like Jason Vega, Kyle Wilber, Caesar Rayford, Drake Nevis and Jarius Wynn on the defensive line, and they still managed to shut down the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and the Eagles’ attack.

This game of chess between Kiffin and Kelly was pretty much one-sided from the start. Sure, the Eagles were in the game mainly because their defense kept the Cowboys offense at bay for most of the afternoon. It was a punt-fest for a while, but make no mistake, Kiffin had his bunch of “no-names” swarming to the ball left and right and shutting down whatever the Eagles threw at them.

And before anyone plays the Nick Foles card, just remember this one – nobody cares. Nope, not after Peyton Manning torched the Cowboys three weeks ago and scored 51 points. And before that, it was Philip Rivers doing the same. No one seemed to care back then when two of the NFL’s best, including arguably the best of all-time was picking the Cowboys defense apart. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Kiffin said to put the Denver loss on him? Well, this one is also on him.

Kiffin’s defense was ridiculed plenty when they couldn’t stop Danny Woodhead or Knowshon Moreno. So what about McCoy?

Well, the Cowboys dominated him Sunday. McCoy is a great player and we saw him slice and dice through the Cowboys defense two years ago up here. But on this day, it was different. McCoy had 81 total yards on 24 touches (18 carries, 6 receptions). It’s still respectable numbers, considering what the Cowboys are used to. But for the NFL’s most dynamic back, especially with Foles playing for Michael Vick, the Eagles simply needed more.

And they didn’t get it.

This defense wasn’t just fast to the ball on Sunday, they were sound in their techniques. They stayed in their running lanes all day. I thought Brandon Carr was great in coverage, but he seemed just as dominant in run support. How many times did we see McCoy trying to stretch a running play outside, but Carr wouldn’t let him have the corner? He forced several running plays back inside where it seemed like Sean Lee was usually there to stuff the play.

It wasn’t just those two. Bruce Carter was all over the field, and did a great job in coverage. The defensive linemen up front were creating a push up the middle, and came off the edge with force. The Cowboys looked like a defense that has played together for years – or even months.

For some of them, it’s only been days or weeks. Wynn got here Monday. Nevis has been here three weeks. Vega got here when the season started but only on the practice squad. Sunday was his first game. We all know about George Selvie showing up in the middle of camp as a body to fill space. And let’s not forget Nick Hayden got here this summer and Kyle Wilber didn’t play much last year on defense. 

These defensive misfits came together Sunday and shut down what was supposed to be next big thing in the NFL. Chip Kelly and his rock-and-roll offense never got going on this day.

Sure, Foles looked pretty bad at times. And yes, it’s now clear that Michael Vick will get his job back when he returns from injury. But this was the same Foles who lit up Tampa Bay last week and looked like he was ready to turn that proverbial corner. Instead, he was rushed and flustered all day by a Cowboys’ pass-rush that only had one starter who was projected to be there when training camp began.

Now, that one guy, Jason Hatcher, was all over the place. Last year he said the Cowboys needed more leaders. This year, he’s not only had a team meeting after practice, but he’s starting to perform like a leader, too. Hatcher already has a career high in sacks with six, and he played like a player possessed on Sunday. And, he had plenty of help. Even though none of them are household names.

But they came together Sunday under Kiffin’s guidance.

The veteran coach was supposed to be out of his league when it came to facing Kelly. While there is a rematch to be played in the season finale, it was pretty clear on Sunday that Kiffin won this battle. And the Cowboys picked up a huge road win because of it.

TOP 10 FRANCHISE HISTORY: Ranking the best Dallas Cowboys Safeties

Dallas Cowboys Top 10 Safeties - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING, Texas – Rarely do the Dallas Cowboys enter a draft with a glaring need at any one position. And by the time it rolls around this late-April, who knows how badly the Cowboys will need a safety.

But as it stands currently, the team looks rather thin at the position, where they are counting on two players who were injured most of last year.

In fact, the Cowboys have entered several drafts in recent history with a need at safety.

So it begs the question: Just who are the best safeties in Cowboys history. It’s a rather top-heavy list, but the staff of DallasCowboys.com came up with the Top 10 with a couple of honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention: The two that just missed the list had tons of potential. One developed into a better safety after he left and the other had injuries that plagued his career. Randy Hughes was supposed to be the next Cliff Harris and was on his way. He was a fearless hitter with range. But constant shoulder injuries cut Hughes’ career short, as he played just six years with the Cowboys (1975-80). As for Brock Marion, a seventh-round pick who started alongside Darren Woodson, he went to the Dolphins and became a Pro Bowler.

Dallas Cowboys safety Bill Bates started 47 games, mostly from 1986-88 - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

10. Bill Bates – It’s hard to leave off Bates on any list, particularly one featuring top safeties. That was Bates’ position his entire career although he thrived more as a special teams player. Still, Bates started 47 games, mostly from 1986-88. He did have a game-clinching interception in the 1991 playoffs to give Jimmy Johnson his first postseason win.

Mike Geachter – A seven-year starter for the Cowboys in the 1960's, Gaechter had 21 career interceptions, good for 13th in club history - The Boys Are Back blog

9. Mike Gaechter – A seven-year starter for the Cowboys in the 1960s, Gaechter had 21 career interceptions, good for 13th in club history. His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown was the longest in franchise history for nearly 40 years before Bryan McCann (101 yards) topped that in 2010.

8. James Washington – If you can make the list for basically one game, Washington has done that. Sure he was a starter on Super Bowl teams, but not all of them. He was a role player at times, but his performance in Super Bowl XXVIII was one of the best in franchise history. He was involved in three turnovers, including a game-tying fumble return to open the second half. He also had an interception and forced a fumble in the Cowboys’ 30-13 win over the Bills.

7. Michael Downs– He was the other rookie free agent who started for the Cowboys in 1981. Everson Walls got the attention with his 11 interceptions as a rookie, but Downs also made his mark early on. He started for about eight seasons on some bad teams, but still led the team in picks three times and is tied for fifth in franchise history with 34 interceptions.

Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams - He started off on fire, making five Pro Bowls - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

6. Roy Williams –When the Cowboys drafted him eighth overall in 2002, they anticipated having the best safety in franchise history when it was all said and done. As it turned out, Williams did make five Pro Bowls and had quite a start to his career. But it turned sour toward the end as he struggled in coverage and seemingly lost his confidence. Still, early on, Williams was a catalytic player who had a presence in the secondary. Continue reading →

LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW: Dallas Cowboy’s postgame show on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins - NFC East Rivals - The Boys Are Back blog

From within The Boys Are Back blog

you can LISTEN LIVE to Dallas area sports broadcasts

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Catch Dallas Cowboys talk shows, pregame/postgame interviews, commentary, analysis, and daily/weekly shows featuring

key players and coaches of

America’s Team.

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Interviews start about 30 minutes after final snap

SHOW STARTS 11:00 pm

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Listen Live to: The Fan 105.3 Dallas (KRLD) … Flagship of

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DUCT TAPE & WD-40: The Replacements – Seven Dallas Cowboys defensive players holding team together

Dallas Cowboys OC Rob Ryan vs Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is working with seven players who weren’t on the team to start the season, including five who signed after Thanksgiving. All seven played against the Steelers:

Cornerback Sterling Moore : 37 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 1

Safety Eric Frampton : 29 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Sept. 25 for special teams role

Cornerback Michael Coe : 10 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 11

Defensive end Brian Schaefering : 10 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 12

Nose tackle Robert Callaway : 6 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed to the roster Dec. 8 after Josh Brent charged with intoxication manslaughter

Linebacker Ernie Sims : 5 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, started but left early because of concussion, signed Oct. 24

Linebacker Brady Poppinga : 5 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, started in sub package, signed Nov. 26

AWAKENING THE SLEEPING GIANT: Dez Bryant dominating in second half of games (and season)

AWAKENING THE SLEEPING GIANT - Dez Bryant dominating in second half of games (and season) - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – When you look back on the start of the season, which by now feels like ages ago to some, wide receiver Dez Bryant was actually having a slow start to the year.

Four games went by before he even found the end zone.

And look at him now … Bryant is tied for second in the NFL with 10 touchdown catches, including one in six straight games. He’s scored eight touchdowns here in the last six games.

But that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you think about it, six games ago was the start of the second half of the season.

And all 10 touchdowns by Bryant … have occurred in the second half of games.

Bryant has literally been a second-half player this year, both in games and in the regular season.

After the game Sunday, Bryant talked about a never-say-die-attitude and said it stems from his teammates.

“Just don’t quit. When you look in this locker room and you look at the players, if we’re down going into half or we’re just down period, you can never sense it from anyone, that anyone is about to quit,” Bryant said. “It’s all about fighting, fighting, fighting and we’re about to score this drive and play football,  and that’s what we do.”

Bryant fought more than just the situation or an opponent, he had to fight through the pain in his fractured left index finger, an injury that jeopardized his chances of playing earlier in the week. But it became clear Bryant was going to do everything possible to play. Even with the injury, he came through with a huge touchdown catch – in the second half of course.

Here’s a quick recap of Bryant’s second-half moments in the second half of the season so far:

Philadelphia, Nov. 11 – After another quiet first half where he had no catches, Bryant came on strong, finishing with 87 yards on three catches, including a diving 30-yard touchdown grab that tied the game late in the third quarter.

Cleveland, Nov. 18 – Bryant was pretty strong from start to finish, grabbing 12 passes for 145 yards. But his clutch moment occurred early in the fourth with a 28-yard touchdown catch in the end zone that gave the Cowboys their first lead. They would need overtime to win.

Washington, Nov. 22 – For the second straight game, Bryant totaled 145 receiving yards, and most of it occurred in the second half. He caught an 85-yard touchdown to get the Cowboys back in the game and then had a spectacular 11-yard scoring catch as well. He just missed catching a third score late in the game that could’ve made a big difference.

Philadelphia, Dec. 2– The Cowboys were again down by two scores and called on Bryant to make the big plays. His 23-yard touchdown catch tied the game in the third quarter and then he gave the Cowboys the lead for good on a 6-yard scoring pass in which he simply ran over the defender to the end zone.

Cincinnati, Dec. 9 – He had just four catches for 50 yards, but half of his production occurred after he suffered the broken finger, which didn’t stop him from a 27-yard touchdown catch midway through the fourth. Bryant had another nine-yard grab on the game-winning drive.

Pittsburgh, Dec. 16 – It took a while for the Cowboys to test Bryant’s finger but in the second half, he started to come alive again. He caught a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Cowboys a third-quarter lead. He had four catches for 59 yards, but his presence alone made a huge difference.

THE ELITE LIST: Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Ware making his mark on history

DeMarcus Ware teamed up with Jason Hatcher to take down Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden - The Boys Are Back blog

DEMARCUS WARE STACKS UP AGAINST THE ALL-TIME GREATEST PASS RUSHERS:

When DeMarcus Ware teamed up with Jason Hatcher to take down Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Ware became just the fifth player in NFL history to record seven consecutive seasons with 10 or more sacks. So just how elite is the group Ware just joined? Well, the other four men on this list all currently sit in the top 10 of the NFL’s career sacks list and were all first-ballot Hall of Famers. Yeah, it’s that good. Here’s a look at the names Ware now sits aside in NFL history.

Reggie White - Philadelphia - Green Bay - Carolina - The Boys Are Back blog

Reggie White – Phi/GB/Car – Double-digit sack seasons: 12 – Career sacks: 198

White entered the league as a 24-year-old and wasted absolutely no time in establishing himself as the greatest defensive end to play the game. He recorded 13 sacks as a rookie with the Eagles, then followed with 18, 21 and 18 in his next three seasons. In fact, White had at least 11 sacks in each of his first nine NFL seasons, all but one of which came in Philly. Most amazing of all, Smith is the only man on this list who played on the strong side, meaning opposing quarterbacks usually had a great view of the freight train coming at them.

John Randle - Minnesota - Seattle - The Boys Are Back blog

John Randle

Minnesota/Seattle

Double-digit sack seasons: 9

Career sacks: 137.5

John Randle started his career out with eight-straight seasons of double-digits sacks, including an NFL-leading 15.5 in 1997.

He finally snapped his streak in 2000, when he recorded just eight sacks with the Vikings, before moving onto to Seattle for the final three years of his career.

Randle would have one more double-digit sack season with the Seahawks — at age 34 — before retiring in 2003.

He finished fifth on the all-time sacks list.

(though he’s since been passed by Michael Strahan and Jason Taylor).

 

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Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

Lawrence Taylor – NY Giants – Double-digit sack seasons: 7 – Career sacks: 132.5

LT didn’t have the staying power in the NFL that some others on this list enjoyed, but Taylor did manage to become just the second player in NFL history to record a 20-sack season (at least, since sacks became an official stat in 1982). Taylor dropped the QB 20.5 times in 1986, and he would go on to post seasons of 15.5 and 15 sacks before hitting a wall at age 32. Taylor’s prime was a bit short, but he was still the most fear pass rusher in football in the mid-80s.

Bruce Smith - Buffalo - Washington - The Boys Are Back blog

Bruce Smith – Buffalo/Washington – Double-digit sack seasons: 13 – Career sacks: 200

Here’s an amazing stat from Smith’s legendary career: the NFL’s career sacks leader never once led the NFL in sacks in any given season. But Smith was among the most consistent pass rushers in NFL history, and the only thing that kept him from having 12 straight double-digit sack seasons was a problematic knee that kept him out much of the 1991 season. Smith entered the league the same year as Reggie White, and while White usually earned the nod as the more feared player, Smith lasted three more seasons than White, giving him just enough time to become the first player ever to 200 sacks.

DeMarcus Ware - Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

DeMarcus Ware

Dallas Cowboys

Double-digit sack seasons: 7

Career sacks: 109.5

Of the men on this list, only Reggie White got to seven double-digit sack seasons faster. And while catching White or Smith on the career sacks list will be a tall task, Ware’s numbers match up with anyone’s at this stage in his career.

Through his first eight seasons in the NFL, White had 124 sacks; Smith had 92; Randle had 85.5; Taylor had 114.5 (counting years 2 through 9, because sacks weren’t recorded his rookie season). Ware? He’s currently at 109.5, and he’s on pace to finish the year with 117.5. That would put him behind only Reggie White on this elite list.

FOCUSED ON FOOTBALL: After his best game, Diamond Dez Bryant may be key to season

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches a pass in front of Cleveland Browns cornerback Buster Skrine - The Boys Are Back blog

“Being Dez.”

That term does not exactly have a universally accepted meaning. Last Wednesday, when Dez Bryant talked to the media after practice and said, “I think I’m back to being Dez,” it was obvious that he meant it in a positive context.

But due to a controversial young career as a Cowboy, “being Dez” simply means being immature to some people. To just as many, it means being a supremely gifted receiver who can control the outcome of an NFL game.

When Bryant stepped out of bounds rather than fight for the first down on a second-and-16 pass in the second quarter with the Cowboys struggling and down 13 points, it caused a collective eye roll/groan from Cowboy fans everywhere. A “here we go again” sort of feeling.

But Bryant’s mental lapse did not fit either of the common definitions for “being Dez.” Call him what you want, but Bryant is a fighter. Avoiding contact is not one his most common character traits. Asking Bryant to get up for a battle is usually not the hard part. Getting him to calm down afterward is often a little bit tougher.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) goes up for a pass - The Boys Are Back blog

And Bryant showed the fight in him from that point on in the game. He was basically unstoppable for most of the day, particularly in the second half. All in all, Bryant had his best game of the season. He tallied 145 yards off of 12 catches and a touchdown.

Bryant has let Tony Romo down on his route running in the past, but Romo trusted him against the Browns and it paid off. Bryant was targeted a season-high 15 times. This is tied only by his performance in Baltimore. But the difference between Sunday’s game and the Ravens matchup was that Romo trusted Bryant with the deep ball as well as the short pass.

At a certain point, it became clear that Bryant’s defender (typically Buster Skrine) simply could not guard him. He was too athletic, too skilled and too fast to be contained. When Romo looked to go deep with Bryant, sometimes the only option for the Browns was defensive holding. Bryant caused a number of defensive pass interference calls that kept the Cowboys’ offense on the field.

Which does beg the question of whether or not the Cowboys should throw deep to Bryant more often. With such a talented receiver and the quick enforcement of pass interference penalties in today’s game, the feeling is that Bryant will either come down with the ball or earn a first down through penalty while trying.

With a quarterback who threw a lot of early season interceptions it might not seem ideal to seemingly ask him to just throw the ball up for Bryant to go get. But a few of Romo’s interceptions this season came from Bryant messing up short or intermediate routes so there is risk of an interception, no matter what the route.

As pathetic as it may seem, down by 13 at halftime, it felt like a game in which the Cowboys had no business beating the Browns. They had 68 total yards at the half. They only managed 63 yards rushing for the entire game. The defense was solid except for a few miscommunications, two of which happened to result in Cleveland touchdowns.

And worst of all, the offensive line was banged up and ineffective. Linemen were playing out of position, backups were playing the entire game and a franchise tackle left with an ankle injury. As a result, Romo was sacked seven times for 56 yards. It seemed hard to believe that he would ever get enough time in the pocket to lead the Cowboys to a comeback victory.

But as you know, the Cowboys did come back and win. And they did so by relying heavily on Bryant. He became the go-to guy and it was no secret. The offensive line should receive some credit for playing better in the second half, but Romo was able to get the ball out quicker because he often knew exactly who he was throwing it to: Bryant.

Dallas Cowboys receivers coach Jimmy Robinson talks with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant - The Boys Are Back blog

The chemistry that Romo and Bryant developed in the second half was the kind of thing usually reserved for Romo and Witten. But with Bryant, the feeling was that he could explode for a touchdown or huge gain on any given play.

You could say that Bryant has been a knucklehead at times. Maybe accuse him of being unfocused or call him a distraction. But yesterday against the Browns was an example of why the Cowboys are so patient with him. Bryant played like a franchise receiver.

Bryant passed the amateur-viewer test. If someone who knows extremely little about football were to have sat down to watch the Cowboys or Browns, they would have left with the impression that Bryant was one of the most talented and gifted players on the field. They would understand, without the help of the commentators, the impact he had on the game.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates a catch vs Cleveland Browns 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys still have a lot of things to work on if they expect to make a push for the playoffs, but the production that they got from Bryant puts them on another level as a team in my opinion. If they can fight through the injuries of their offensive line and get more out of their running game (something that might be improved by the return of DeMarco Murray), and still get similar production from Bryant, then the Cowboys might have found the key to their season.

And that’s just letting Dez “be Dez.”

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches a touchdown pass vs Cleveland Browns 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

THE DREADED HAIR-COLLAR: Dallas Cowboys tight end John Phillips penalized 15 yards for collaring Cleveland’s horse

Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs dragged down by his dreadlocks by Dallas Cowboys tight end John Phillips - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys complained about the Cleveland Brown horsecollar tackle that wasn’t really a horse collar at all.

Dallas Cowboys tight end John Phillips was penalized 15 yards for a horsecollar penalty late in the fourth quarter, which led to the Browns scoring a go-ahead touchdown on the next play. But replays showed that Phillips had pulled Josh Cribbs down by Cribbs’ dreadlocks, which is legal.

"It sure looked like he pulled his hair," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We had a pretty good view of it. It was right in front of us. But those guys have to make those judgment calls in a split second. So that is what it is."

The play is not a reviewable play, which is why the replay official never called for Ed Hoculi to go under the hood.

Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs dragged down by his dreadlocks by Dallas Cowboys tight end John Phillips 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs dragged down by his dreadlocks by Dallas Cowboys tight end John Phillips 2012 Cowboys Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

Images courtesy: Steve DelVecchio | Larry Brown

RELATED: JOHN PHILLIPS – "All hair. One hundred percent all hair. All hair."

John Phillips testified Monday at Valley Ranch about his horse-collar penalty.

“All hair,” he said. “One hundred percent all hair.

“All hair.”

But, there was no judge in the locker room. No place to appeal. It’s still his penalty.

Still, the fourth-year tight end told reporters he was surprised he actually got flagged on the dragdown of Joshua Cribbs on the fourth-quarter punt return. The penalty put the ball at the 17-yard line, and Ben Watson’s touchdown catch put the Browns up 20-17 with 1:07 left.

“I knew they were probably going to throw it, but i didn’t think they’d actually give the penalty,” he said. “I thought they would talk to each other and realize it was all hair.”

Nope.

Phillips was afraid he had cost the game.

“Well, it sucks,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, because I put our defense and our team in a compromising situation. We had to punt the ball back to them, and I give them 15 more yards, and then they scored on the next play. Obviously, I felt terrible. I guess it’s not a reviewable play, right? It’s just one of those things.”

ONE YARD SHORT: Dez Bryant a step away from first down, but he makes up for it later

Dez Bryant didn’t know exactly where he was when he stepped out of bounds, 1 yard short of the first down in the second quarter. He was trying to do the right thing by following his coaches’ advice to take what he can get and then get down or get out of bounds instead of risking a fumble fighting for an extra yard or 2 against multiple defenders trying to punch out the ball.

"Oh, man, I saw where we was at and I was like, ‘Damn!’" Bryant said after the game. "I didn’t mean to do that. It’s not like me to run out of bounds. I seen like four or five guys coming and stepped out. I didn’t see the first down marker. That’s my bad. I should have known where we was at on the field."

The crowd let him know it was not a smart play, booing him loudly.

"I heard the boos from the crowd. That hurt my heart," Bryant said, putting his hand over his heart.

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant scores TD vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys picked up the first down on the next play — a third-and-one — as Felix Jones got the needed yard (barely). Bryant made it up, too, with 12 catches for a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown.

"I just feel like being focused, just staying focused, not losing composure," Bryant said. "Paying attention to Tony [Romo], paying attention to Miles [Austin], paying attention to everybody. Not only me, but everybody being focused and keeping our head down and playing good football, ain’t no telling where we can go."

Bryant had one play where he broke free and appeared ready to race for a touchdown, but the play had been blown dead. His forward progress had been stopped, according to officials.

"That was too quick," Bryant said of the whistle. "I felt like I broke those tackles, and he blew the whistle too quick. Somebody told me that [the official] fell. Did the guy fall? That’s probably why he blew the whistle. That’s not fair to me, but hey …"

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

BOYS BACK TO .500: Win over Browns far from pretty; Cowboys take what they can get

The Dallas Cowboys mascot Rowdy, congratulates Dan Bailey (5) on his game winning field goal against the Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys showed some resiliency coming back from 13-0 deficit, force overtime and then win on Dan Bailey’s 38-yard field goal

ARLINGTON, Texas — A wild 23-20 overtime win over Cleveland on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium is an example why there are skeptics whether the Dallas Cowboys are a viable playoff contender.

The standings say that’s the case. With six games left the Cowboys are only one game behind the New York Giants. But inconsistent play and glaring shortcomings raise doubt.

“A Hall of Fame pitcher told me a long time ago, ‘You have to somehow win a game when you don’t have your best stuff,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett. “I don’t think we had our best stuff today, but we found a way.”

The schedule favors Dallas.

Climbing back to .500 for the first time in a month, the Cowboys (5-5) play four of their final six games at home. Only one team left on the schedule — Pittsburgh — has a winning record.

But against the Browns (2-8) the Cowboys trailed 13-0 at halftime and needed 10 first downs by penalty — nine called against Cleveland’s secondary — to escape with a win in a game Dallas’ beleaguered offensive line allowed quarterback Tony Romo to be sacked seven times.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for winning,” Romo said. “I know it’s hard no matter who you play. At the same time, we need to play better going forward if we’re going to do things we hope to achieve.”

Sparking the second-half rally was wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had a career day. The former Oklahoma State star collected 12 receptions for 145 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard touchdown that put Dallas up 17-13 with 6:46 to play.

That’s when the game, arguably the Cowboys’ postseason hopes, bounced back and forth.

“Anyone who was watching understood how important this win was,” Romo said. “You could feel it, the sense of urgency our team played with.”

A Dallas goal-line stand stopped the Browns three consecutive plays at the 1-yard line to protect the 17-13 lead with 1:42 to play.

The Browns, though, used all three timeouts to get the ball back at the Dallas 17-yard line following a 21-yard punt return and a Dallas horse-collar penalty.

Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden, the rookie from Oklahoma State, fired a 17-yard touchdown to Ben Watson to give the Browns a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in regulation.

“We continue to battle,” Weeden said. “I don’t know why we’re not getting it done late. That’s the frustrating part.”

After Weeden’s TD pass, Dallas moved quickly down the field, aided by 50 yards on two penalties — a 35-yard pass interference and 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct. The Cowboys settled for a 32-yard Dan Bailey field goal with: 02 left in regulation to tie it.

After both teams failed to score on their initial overtime possession, Romo marched the Cowboys down for a game-winning 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the extra period.

Instead of a statement win for Weeden and the young, improving Browns, it was another frustrating loss. Cleveland has lost six games by seven or less points.

“Yeah, we’ve lost our share, but we’ve been in every game,” said Weeden, an Edmond Santa Fe product who had his entire family, numerous friends and OSU fans make the trip to watch him play. “You can’t say we don’t play hard or we don’t fight. We just haven’t been able to finish.”

That’s also been an issue for the Cowboys. But this time they found a way to escape.

Dallas’ owner Jerry Jones’ response was revealing when asked if the win could provide momentum to make a run at the playoffs.

“Well, it gives us a mathematical chance,” Jones said. “As it would turn out, I liked the way we came back today. To get to 5-5 this way, a kind of strange way to earn it, you could look at it negatively. But I hope it will be a doctorate’s degree for us going forward these next six games.”

Considering Dallas’ suspect offensive line suffered another injury (left tackle Tyron Smith), does Garrett feel the Cowboys can find “their best stuff,” facing a short turnaround before they host Washington on Thanksgiving Day?

“You just have to keep grinding,” Garrett said. “We can play better. This is a positive thing for our football team. Hopefully, we’ll get some guys back and get going again.”

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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DALLAS STAR WATCH: Trent Richardson hopes idol Emmitt Smith will be in Dallas

Trent Richardson named SEC Player of the Week - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Trent Richardson named SEC Player of the Week

BEREA, OHIO — Trent Richardson attended the same high school as Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. The talented rookie also owned a No. 22 Cowboys jersey with Smith’s name on it.

Trent Richardson, talking with high school students - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Trent Richardson, talking with high school students

On Sunday afternoon, Richardson hopes to play in front of his idol for the first time as a professional when the Browns travel to Dallas.

Trent Richardson idol Emmitt Smith - The Boys Are Back blog

“I’m one of Emmitt’s biggest fans, so it would mean a lot to me if he’s at the game,” Richardson said Wednesday following practice. “He’s someone who I’ve gotten to know pretty well and he’s a great man.

“We talk probably two or three times a month, and the thing I appreciate the most is he’ll be straight with you. He’ll tell me exactly how I’ve been doing and what I need to do to get better.”

Smith regularly attends Cowboys home games and resides in North Texas, but team officials couldn’t guarantee his attendance this weekend. The Pensacola Escambia High graduate is completing on the all-star edition of “Dancing With The Stars,” which airs live from Hollywood each Monday.

Not surprisingly, Richardson said he is tuning in each week to watch Smith strut his stuff in the ballroom.

“Definitely, he got moves, man,” the third overall draft pick said, laughing. “He’s a champion in all phases; dancing, playing football, everything.”

Smith still sits atop the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 18,355 yards (eight years after his retirement), while Richardson leads Cleveland with 575 yards through nine games this season.

Trent Richardson Cleveland Browns running back - The Boys Are Back blog

Though Richardson is quick to say he hasn’t earned the right to be compared to his mentor, it’s worth noting that he is on pace to eclipse Smith’s rookie rushing total of 937 yards with Dallas in 1990.

“He’s the person I wanted to be like the most when I was growing up,” Richardson said. “I watched him all the time, just like I go back and watch tapes of Walter Payton and Jim Brown.

“How can you be a great running back if you don’t watch tapes of guys like that to learn from?”

Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith - NFL all-time leading rusher - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith – NFL’s all-time leading rusher

Richardson added that his ailing ribs feel much better after the Browns’ bye week, but he still isn’t close to 100 percent healthy. The 5-foot-9, 230-pounder suffered torn cartilage during Cleveland’s Oct. 14 victory over Cincinnati.

“He says he’s healthier, but I haven’t like punched him in the ribs or anything to check,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur joked. “But he’s going to be out there practicing and said he feels good. That’s a positive sign for our team.”

Courtesy: Brian Dulik | Chronicle-Telegram (Ohio)

Editors Comment: It should be noted that while Emmitt Smith is his idol and mentor, Cleveland’s stud running back Trent Richardson sports a jersey of another famous Dallas Cowboy … Tony Dorsett.

LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW: Dallas Cowboy’s postgame show on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

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DOUBLE DIGIT DOMINATION: With next sack, DeMarcus Ware will join select group

IRVING, Texas — With a sack Sunday at Philadelphia, DeMarcus Ware will join four Hall of Famers to have at least seven straight seasons with double-digit sacks in their careers.

The Dallas Cowboys vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - DeMarcus Ware dominates - The Boys Are Back blog

Reggie White had nine straight seasons with at least 10 sacks from 1985 to ’93 with Philadelphia and Green Bay. John Randle had eight straight and Lawrence Taylor and Bruce Smith had seven straight. Since 2006, Ware has had 11.5-, 14-, 20-, 11-, 15.5- and 19.5-sack seasons.

Ware is tied for second in the NFL with nine sacks, while the rest of the Cowboys’ defense has seven.

The good news for both is that they are facing Michael Vick, who has been sacked 27 times thanks to a remade and porous offensive line.

Ware has sacked Vick 6.5 times in his career with six coming last year, including a four-sack effort at Philadelphia.

“I feel like as a quarterback if you get hit a certain amount of times, it does rattle you in the pocket and sometimes you start watching when those guys are coming and it will make you make some indecisive decisions,” Ware said. “So you always as a pass-rusher going into the game, you got to get hits on the quarterback. You might not sack him, but you have to get pressure and get those big hits to make him to start looking out for you.”

AND THE WINNER IS: Dallas Cowboys Midseason Awards

DMN Dallas Cowboys Midseason Awards - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – We’re at the halfway point in the regular season and obviously the Dallas Cowboys aren’t happy with a 3-5 record. The talk of head coach Jason Garrett’s future has been a topic, albeit one that owner Jerry Jones has dismissed.

The Cowboys haven’t been able to close out games this season, but the schedule might turn in their favor for the final eight games, where only one team with a winning record exists.

The DallasCowboys.com staff of Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner and Nick Eatman weigh in with their assessment of the season’s first half.

Best Moment:

Bryan: The victory on the road against the Giants on opening night. It was a game that nobody had them winning. Might be the only time they have really played a complete game.

Rowan: Winning the opener in New York. The Cowboys felt a victory against the Super Bowl champion Giants might be a statement win and one that could propel them going forward. It turned out to be one of the few positive moments from the first half of the season.

Nick: There’s only been three wins and it’s not going to be beating Tampa Bay or Carolina. Has to be the opener against the Giants when they took it to the defending champs from start to finish. Kevin Ogletree had a career night and the Cowboys kept answering the bell.

Worst Moment:

Bryan: The last 5:21 of the game against the Falcons. If the defense gets a stop there, Tony Romo has a chance to once again try and score with a no-huddle offense that had previously moved the ball well for their only touchdown of the day. Instead, the offense gets the ball with 22 seconds left and no chance to win the game.

Rowan: When Dez Bryant was called out of bounds on a miraculous catch in the back of the end zone at home against the Giants. Not only would that have given the Cowboys a winning record at the time, and their biggest comeback in franchise history, but it would have also been one of the few breaks for both Romo and Bryant, who’ve had their struggles at times.

Nick: Without a doubt, hearing the referee say, “After review, the receiver’s hand landed out of bounds” following Bryant’s near catch against the Giants. That was a killer for this team. They could’ve had the biggest comeback in Cowboys history from two players, Dez and Romo, who needed a boost like that. While it was still a classic, it would’ve probably been the best game I’ve ever covered had it not been for a few inches.

What They Do Best:

Bryan: Cover punts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Chris Jones or Brian Moorman, Joe DeCamillis has this unit ranked among the best in the NFL. Rarely do you see their gunners out of position and when given an opportunity to make a tackle, they get the job done. It’s a sound group. 

Rowan: Stop teams from driving the field. The defense has played significantly better than the offense this season, particularly in limiting teams from gaining chunks of yardage. The offense continually puts the defense in rough spots with turnovers, and for the most part, the defense has held its own.

Nick: Other than find creative ways to lose games? This team is pretty good at defending the pass. What’s really frustrating is if you would’ve heard two weeks ago that neither Eli Manning nor Matt Ryan would throw a touchdown against the Cowboys and their offenses would only get one each, you never would’ve thought the Cowboys would go 0-2 in those games. But, the Cowboys have had a good pass rush and played well in the secondary, ranking fifth overall on defense.

Where They Struggle The Most

Bryan: Finishing games. Look at the way this team has lost games and that will tell you all you need to know.

Rowan: In the red zone. Not a lot of teams will be able to score in there with a rushing attack as feeble as the Cowboys’, which ranks 30th in rushing average. Dallas scores a touchdown only 44 percent of the time it reaches the red zone and 50 percent of the time it gets inside the 10-yard line.

Nick: It’s the offensive line. That hasn’t changed really since last year, other than probably regressing some. Romo is always running for his life and they can’t run the ball in the red zone, a sure sign this offensive line can’t generate a good enough push when needed.

Best Offensive Player:

Bryan: Jason Witten. Nobody has played with more toughness and skill than him.

Rowan: Witten. The man who is now the team’s all-time leader in receptions has been one of the few reliable targets for Romo this year. After a slow start coming back from a spleen injury, Witten has recorded at least six catches in the last five games, including a 13-catch performance and a record 18-reception outing.

Nick: The wording of this category is tricky. The football player might be Dez. The most valuable is probably Romo because when he’s on they always have a chance, and when he’s not, they have none. But the best offensive player through eight games has to be Witten. Who would’ve said that after those first three games when he wasn’t 100 percent? But, he’s been fantastic of late. Then again, when your best player is a tight end, it’s hard to be successful on offense.

Best Defensive Player:

Bryan: Week in and week out, Brandon Carr has been asked to cover the opponent’s best receiver, plus line up at safety. Carr has been a stable, steady player, which is something you need when trying to match up against different schemes.

Rowan: No player on this defense would cause the kind of commotion and alterations needed after Sean Lee was lost for the year. He had about as productive a start to the season as anyone could ask for and will continue to be the leader of the defense for years to come.

Nick: Sure, I’d like to be cute here and find another worthy selection, but you really can’t. DeMarcus Ware has been the most productive and most durable defensive player on this team for a while. Ware has played in all 120 games of his career, missing just one start, and that was the Saints game in 2009 when he was heroic in a huge upset win. He’s been great again this year and gets my vote. 

Editors Pick: Bruce Carter

Best Special Teams Player:

Bryan: It’s amazing that Danny McCray’s special teams play hasn’t suffered because of all the time he’s seeing with the defense as a starting safety. His ability to read schemes, beat blocks and finish plays gets him noticed a lot on tape.

Rowan: It’s Dan Bailey. The only area he’s not automatic is over 50 yards, which is understandable for any kicker. When the Cowboys get in legitimate field goal range, he’ll put it through almost every time.

Nick: It’s too easy to go with Bailey, but what about the snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who has been virtually perfect again this year. He’s the most consistent player on the team. With so many players shuffling in and out of the special teams units, they’ve had little consistency, but Ladouceur is the normal exception.

Don’t Forget About …

Bryan: As much as I wanted to get rid of Phil Costa, he does play on his feet in securing blocks and getting on the second level. Is he great? No, but he is able to do things that Ryan Cook can’t scheme-wise.

Rowan: All the injuries this team has endured. The Cowboys lost their two best young players at different points and for different durations in Lee and DeMarco Murray, not to mention their starting safety in Barry Church and nose tackle Jay Ratliff for the beginning of the year. Health going forward will be crucial.

Nick: The Cowboys have been a different team when DeMarco Murray is in the game, and if he can return soon, possibly even this week, the offense has a chance to turn things around in a hurry.

Biggest Disappointment

Bryan: The way this team loses games. It really has been a throw here, a catch there or a key stop not made that’s kept the Cowboys from having a much better record.

Rowan: There have been quite a few disappointments, from a meager rushing attack to a shaky offensive line to a hoard of penalties every other week. But turnovers, particularly interceptions, have kept this Cowboys team from being above .500. 

Nick: Since I was preaching back in June how important the Seattle game would be, I’ll stick with that. After winning in New York, the Cowboys simply got manhandled against the Seahawks in Week 2, which gave us a preview of how they would lose the physical battle up front in other games, too.

Second-Half Outlook:

Bryan: Need to focus and find a way to get on a little four-game winning streak, the game at Philadelphia and then three in a row at home. If this team is going to do anything productive this second half of the season, it starts against the Eagles on Sunday.

Rowan: While the lousy start wasn’t expected after a win in New York, it should get easier for the Cowboys the rest of the way. They only play one team with a winning record, so there’s no excuse to go 3-5 again in the second half of the season.

Nick: We knew all along the Cowboys might have an easier road in the second half of the season than in the first, and that should be the case. But the question was always the same: Will it be too late? The Cowboys are 3-5, and although just one of their last eight opponents currently has a winning record, it’s hard to think they will be consistent enough to make a serious playoff run. I still think 8-8 will be the final verdict.

KEYS TO THE LOSS: Plenty of problem spots, but it starts in the trenches

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog - Head to Head

ATLANTA – Yes, this team has all kinds of issues, and for the most part, they revolve around a lack of consistency. One week the receivers are making big plays, and the next they come up empty.

The running backs have been hit, but mostly miss this year, and the quarterback, yeah, we all know how up and down Tony Romo has been.

But aside from one game in Baltimore, the one thing that has been rather consistent has been this offensive line. And that’s not really a compliment. The offensive line has consistently struggled, and it was never more evident than Sunday night against the Falcons.

And it was across the board like always. Nate Livings and Ryan Cook had all sorts of problems getting their blocks, while Tyron Smith struggled on the outside. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free weren’t exactly dominant, but at least held their own.

But none of them were without problems.

Pick your play. Pick your key moment in the game and I’m sure the offensive line had something to do with it.

This team had its moments to make plays, but like always, kept shooting themselves in the foot – or better yet, missing a block on the outside, grabbing a lineman for holding or simply not having enough push up the middle.

Sure, this team misses DeMarco Murray as the running back. He’s the best one they’ve got and he’s been hurt. But the Cowboys have now used four different backs this year at various times and nothing really seems to be working.

Against the Falcons, the Cowboys’ lack of a consistent running game ended up hurting them in the end.

Last week, we thought the Cowboys lost the game in the first half when they got down, 23-0. Yet, they found a way to claw back and take the lead before eventually losing by five points in the final minutes.

This week, although the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys arguably lost this game in the first quarter once again. Two chances to score inside the Falcons’ 20 and both times they settled for field goals.

Again, there were plenty of problems to go around, but I think it all starts up front with the line.

Too many times in this game the Cowboys had moments in which they simply needed to run the ball and pick up necessary yards, and they couldn’t convert. It happened early in the game on those scoring drives and then again before halftime with a third-and-1 at midfield.

But honestly, I can’t understand why this team continues to try to go big-on-big in short-yardage situations after constantly failing at it.

It happened several times against the Giants last week and it occurred yet again Sunday night in Atlanta.

When it’s third-and-1, why in the world do they continue to go with a jumbo package of three tight ends and a fullback? It basically draws all 22 players into the center of the field. There’s really no trickery or misdirection here.

It’s basically my guy vs. your guy and let’s see who wins. Well, how many times do we need to see it? The Cowboys had five total rushing touchdowns last year. They’ve got four already this year, but that’s not exactly a high number.

It all starts with the line up front and they just don’t get the push.

On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys get down to a first-and-goal from the 10. Now that’s always a tough place to punch it in, but on second-and-goal from the 6, they need more than a 1-yard run from Felix Jones. He was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, setting up a passing situation on third down that resulted in a field goal.

The biggest rushing miscue was right before the half when they had third-and-1 at midfield with a 6-3 lead. That’s the only time in the game they went with Phillip Tanner, and he was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

If you’re trying to be aggressive, it’s a spot on the field you at least consider going for it. You have a chance to go up 9-3, or even 13-3, and all you need is a yard. But other than letting Tony Romo go out and try to draw the defense offside, there was no real thought in going for it.

That’s how much the line is struggling. They don’t really trust them to get a yard.

And it’s not just in the running game. Romo didn’t have much time to throw all night. He was often rolling out, scrambling left and right and trying to make throws on the run.

Even in the final play from scrimmage, Romo couldn’t even get enough time to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone – instead having to dump it off to Felix Jones for a meaningless 39-yard pass in which he decided to get tackled and end the game. (Looking back on the coach’s film, Jones might have had something working if he had seen Jason Witten and Kevin Ogletree all alone on the right side of the field, although it would’ve taken quite a throw across the field from a running back).

But let’s not forget about the fact Romo didn’t even have time to set his feet and throw it to the end zone.

It’s not like the Falcons are a menacing, relentless defense that can’t be stopped. Yet the Cowboys simply couldn’t get them blocked Sunday night.

You can’t run it or throw it consistently when you can’t block them. And you can’t sustain much, especially when it gets tight in the red zone.

Add it all up and you can’t win. This team has all kinds of problem areas, but offensive line has been the No. 1 issue for this team, and it was on full display Sunday in Atlanta.

Claiborne, Carter youngsters on the rise for Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) picks off a Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

ATLANTA — If you are young and a member of the Dallas Cowboys, chances are something bad happened to you recently.

That is, unless your name is Morris Claiborne or Bruce Carter.

While clouds hang over the heads of youngsters plagued by either injuries (DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee), legal/family issues (Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith) or mistake-riddled play (Bryant), life for Claiborne and Carter just keeps getting better.

Tonight, the Cowboys need the two sons of the South to shine in the Georgia Dome.

Claiborne, a first-round pick from LSU, and fellow cornerback Brandon Carr will be charged with slowing down Atlanta’s dynamic receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan agree Claiborne seems up to the tall task after watching him record five tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in last week’s loss to the Giants.

Claiborne is the only Dallas defender to record turnovers in back-to-back games this season. Two weeks ago, he intercepted a pass in the end zone in the win at Carolina.

“If you look at him over the course of the season, you’ve seen him grow physically and also in his demeanor and how aggressive he’s playing,” Garrett said. “There were a couple of plays against the Giants where he’s making tackles, and he’s really consciously trying to rip the ball out.

“The ball didn’t come out, but his mentality is that of a playmaker. And in relation to the football on the back end, that’s a real positive for us. He’s grown right before our eyes.”

Told Claiborne’s confidence level seems to increase each game, Ryan said, “Doesn’t it jump off the tape that way? The game is really starting to slow down for Mo. And he’s just going to get better and better.”

The same can be said of Carter, a second-year inside linebacker from North Carolina who also excelled against the Giants, notching seven tackles, a tackle for loss and one pass breakup. With Lee out, Carter also called the defensive signals.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett - The Boys Are Back blog

It was a remarkable performance, considering that a year ago last week, Carter made his NFL debut after starting his rookie season in the trainer’s room rehabbing a knee injury left over from his senior year.

“It’s a whole lot different,” said Carter, who was limited to special-teams duty against Philadelphia on Oct. 30, 2011. “Last year, I was nervous playing in my first NFL game. This year, I’m really in the mix.”

Garrett said Carter played “particularly well” against the Giants.

“He handled his communication role and did a good job covering and running to the ball and making hits on the ball,” Garrett said.

New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff - The Boys Are Back blog

Like Claiborne, Carter has a tough matchup tonight, facing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.

“It’s going to be our biggest challenge of the season,” Carter said of facing the Falcons, who average nearly 30 points a game. “But we’ve got to go in there, stick together and fight our way through.”

Count on Claiborne and Carter swinging to the very end.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, rushes past Dallas Cowboys dedenders Bruce Carter, second from left, and Sean Lee - The Boys Are Back blog

BRINGING HIS ‘A’ GAME: Cowboys need Romo to have another November reign

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs Baltimore Ravens - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – If one team beat another team 19 out of 21 teams, you wouldn’t call it a coincidence.

If a guy made 19 of 21 free throws, he’d be a good free-throw shooter.

So if Tony Romo has won 19 of his 21 games in the month of November, there’s got to be something there, right? Maybe?

Well, the Cowboys at least hope so, especially with this team sitting at 3-4 and needing some kind of spark to make a run at the playoffs.

In the past, that spark has occurred in November, especially with Romo as the quarterback. Since he took over as the starter back in 2006, Romo is a remarkable 19-2 record in the month of November with losses occurring against Washington in 2006 and then in Green Bay in 2009.

Last year, the Cowboys went 4-0 in November, beating Seattle, Buffalo, Miami and Washington. So the schedule can often play a factor, considering all four of those teams missed the playoffs in 2011.

And it’s not just Romo as the Cowboys have been somewhat successful without him in November. In 2010, with Romo out with broken collarbone, Jon Kitna led the team to a 2-2 record during a 6-10 season.

The Cowboys’ PR staff keeps all kinds of stats regarding Romo’s record as a starter when different things occur. For instance, they’ve got his record at home, on the road, indoors, outdoors, when plays on turf or grass, when he throws no picks, one pick, when he’s sacked once or more, or not at all, when the offense has more than 300 yards …. and so on.

None of the stats have a higher winning percentage than Romo playing his ‘A’ games in November (90 percent). The next would be when Romo has a QB rating of over 100.0 … the Cowboys are 33-9 (78.5).

Whether it’s the fact the Cowboys usually get more home games in November with the Thanksgiving game, coupled with being at home the week before, or it’s the time of year the Cowboys just start clicking … or a simple coincidence that keeps trending every year – the Cowboys need it to continue more than ever this year.

ON THIS DAY–TEN YEARS AGO: Emmitt Smith made NFL history

10/27/02---DIGITAL IMAGE--- Dallas Cowboys vs Seattle Seahawks at Texas Stadium -- Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith celebrates setting the all-time career rushing record in the game against the Seattle Seahawks in Irving, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2002. Smith broke the record with an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter. CREDIT:  Dallas Morning News Photo by Irwin Thompson 
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Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently broke Johnny Unitas’ streak of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a record that had stood since 1960. It was considered the league’s most untouchable record.

Ten years ago today, Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s record for career rushing yards. He retired after the 2004 season with 18,355. No active running back is close since LaDainian Tomlinson retired after last season, with 13,684 yards. Rams running back Steven Jackson is the NFL’s leader among active players with 9,473 yards.

“Records ultimately always seem to get broken,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Some of those ones that are untouchable and last a long time at some point seem to be eclipsed, but because the way the league is, it doesn’t seem like we have these bell cow rushers who get the ball 25-30 times a game like they did years ago.

“Of all of Emmitt’s greatest traits, and he had thousands as a player –- as instinctive a player as I’ve been around, great balance, great power, explosiveness, feel, vision all that stuff -– I think at the end of the day, his most redeeming quality was his durability. Because he was a marked man ever since he was probably 13, 14 years, and everybody knew who Emmitt Smith was going into every game. Every defense wanted to stop him. And week in and week out, year after year after year, he showed up and was so productive. It’s hard to find that in this era of football. …I don’t think anybody might be able to eclipse what he accomplished.”

Smith’s marketing team released a statement from Smith about the 10-year anniversary of his record.

“It was certainly a milestone for me and was difficult to accomplish,” Smith said. “Football is the ultimate team sport; one that’s not really about breaking records. My accomplishments throughout my career were due not only to my abilities, but also certainly to the efforts and sacrifices of others. I can’t take all the credit. We did this as a team and that is something I’ll always cherish.”

VIDEO: Emmitt Smith’s historic run, career highlights, and Jerry Jones’ induction speech to the NFL Hall of Fame crowd in Canton, Ohio.

GAMEBALLS: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs Carolina Panthers - The Boys Are Back blog

Offense: Tony Romo

The numbers for Romo were fine, but I want to focus on his ability to take the different personnel groups that head coach Jason Garrett was using and making it all work.

Romo knew he was going to get some soft coverage on the outside, and with Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble out of the game, there were going to be some opportunities for him to make throws. In the first half, he was able to find tight end Jason Witten for some key catches, before turning around in the second half, and getting wideout Miles Austin going again after he had the fumble that led to Carolina’s points late in the second quarter.

What I think Romo has done a much better job of in his career is when one of his receivers makes a mistake, he gets that player going right back into the game. It’s a really nice trait to have.

Defense: Anthony Spencer

Anthony Spencer vs Carolina Panthers QB Fig Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

From my view both in the press box seat and on field level, it was a really nice game for Anthony Spencer. Without much work the last several weeks, he was able to shine when his teammates needed him the most. There was a lot talk over the offseason about whether the Cowboys had done the right thing by putting the franchise tag on Spencer, but today he proved that he was worth every penny that the front office is paying him. Spencer has always been known as a run stopper, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has told anyone who was willing to listen that Spencer was just as effective rushing the passer. Against Carolina, Spencer proved him right. For a team that has been struggling to finish out games, Spencer’s play was just what they needed. You can bet that Ryan is happy to have him back.

Special Teams: Punt Coverage Unit

Dallas Cowboys punter Moorman - The Boys Are Back blog

I could have selected Dan Bailey and the job he was able to do getting those field goals home, but you have to give Brian Moorman and this punt coverage team a ton of credit. Moorman was a master at directional punting today. In four opportunities, the Panthers managed only four total yards on returns. Moorman averaged 49.3 yards per punt with a net of 48.3. There were plenty of times where he was able to flip the field position, which forced the Panthers offense to take the ball a long way down the field. In a backup role, Moorman has more than done his job and was a big reason why the Cowboys were able to successfully win this game.

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