Tag Archives: Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns

CARDIAC COWBOYS: Five fourth-quarter comebacks

Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey (5) watches his winning kick sail through the uprights - The Boys Are Back blog

What a difference a year makes: The Dallas Cowboys blew five fourth-quarter leads last season. This season, they have had five fourth-quarter comebacks.

Dallas rallied again Sunday against the Steelers, down 24-17 in the fourth quarter. They scored a tying touchdown with 6:55 remaining in regulation and then won on a 21-yard Dan Bailey field goal only 39 seconds into overtime.

They also had fourth-quarter comebacks against the Panthers, Browns, Eagles and Cincinnati. And in the road game against the Eagles, the Cowboys were tied 17-17 going into the fourth quarter.

"We just put our heads down and go to work," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "At the end of the day, whether we are down three, whether we are tied, whether we are down 10, we are just going to battle and fight to get the job done. By no means has it been pretty over the last six or seven games, but I do know that our football knows it can compete and win late in football games. We believe we are going to go down and score or get a stop late."

OFFENSIVE SNAPS: Hairy (Dwayne) Harris and Cole Beasley playing more

Cowboys Chargers Football

IRVING – A look at the snaps played by Dallas Cowboys’ offensive players in the team’s 23-20 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns, while analyzing what it means:

RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 90 of 90
LG Nate Livings: 90 of 90
QB Tony Romo: 90 of 90
RT Doug Free: 90 of 90
RG Derrick Dockery: 90 of 90
TE Jason Witten: 90 of 90
WR Miles Austin: 86 of 90
OL Jermey Parnell: 74 of 90
WR Dez Bryant: 74 of 90
RB Felix Jones: 46 of 90
RB Lance Dunbar: 37 of 90
WR Kevin Ogletree: 30 of 90
WR Dwayne Harris: 26 of 90
WR Cole Beasley: 21 of 90
FB Lawrence Vickers: 20 of 90
LT Tyron Smith: 16 of 90
TE John Phillips: 11 of 90
TE James Hanna: 8 of 90

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Takes: For the first time this season Dwayne Harris (26 plays) and Cole Beasley (21) combined for more playing time than Ogletree (30). They also produced four catches on four targets for 28 yards and Harris drew a pivotal 35-yard pass interference which set up the tying field goal that forced overtime.

Ogletree caught one of three passes directed toward him, but did draw a key personal foul late in the fourth quarter. He left and did not return.

Jermey Parnell, seeing extensive action for the first time in his career, struggled. He gave up two sacks and was penalized once for holding. Another was declined.

John Phillips’ playing time continues to shrink, while Hanna sees more action.

Editors Note: Dez Bryant was targeted 15 times, had 12 receptions, including a TD. Also, Lance Dunbar played a significant amount of time vs. Cleveland.

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

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL: Tackles, right side of line, Felix struggle protecting Tony Romo

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) looks up at Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) after getting sacked - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Browns took down quarterback Tony Romo seven times Sunday after averaging just 2.2 sacks per game entering Cowboys Stadium.  They would have finished with eight sacks had defensive back Sheldon Brown not been penalized for illegal contact in the first quarter.

Every sack that counted occurred after left tackle Tyron Smith left the game with an ankle injury, which could keep him out for an extended period of time. Unless Kevin Kowalski works in at center or one of the centers can return from injury to allow Mackenzy Bernadeau to shift back to guard, this is the likely starting group again Thursday against the Redskins.

Eight different Browns players recorded at least half a sack, and none of those players had more than two sacks on the season at the time. Romo still threw for 313 yards despite, not because of, the amount of time he had to throw.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo (9) scrambles away from the pressure of Cleveland's Jabaal Sheard - The Boys Are Back blog

With the Cowboys’ offensive line in a state of flux, it would be easy to simply blame the entire group for the constant pressure from the Browns’ defensive line and linebackers.

But that’s not the reality. Every play, only one or two players missed their assignments.

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker pulls down Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

There were a few trends in the sacks. Four of them occurred in the second half or overtime, when Romo threw the majority of his passes. Five of them occurred in shotgun formation. They weren’t always the fault of the backups, though rarely could guard Nate Livings be pinpointed as the problem.

Both tackles struggled and Doug Free was partially responsible for four of the seven sacks, but no one lineman can shoulder the entire blame. Sometimes, the sacks weren’t on the offensive line at all.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo sacked seven times vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Here’s a breakdown of the seven sacks on Romo:

First sack (9:53 left in second quarter):

On a third-and-12, Romo sets up in shotgun with Jason Witten and Lawrence Vickers to either side of him. Romo sends Kevin Ogletree in motion and the receivers all go deep. They’re all 30 yards downfield before any of them get open. Backup tackle Jermey Parnell gets burned inside by Juqua Parker and doesn’t get any help in the backfield, as Witten and Vickers both ran routes. Romo could have dumped it off to Vickers to avoid the four-man rush, but he didn’t have much time to think before Parker hits him.

Second Sack (5:07 left in second quarter)

It’s the first offensive play since allowing the sack on the previous drive, and again the only routes run fewer than 10 yards were by Vickers and Witten, who were both covered. Dez Bryant ran a deep in, Miles Austin ran a go route and neither of them were open. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard got outside of tackle Doug Free, forcing Romo to move up in the pocket. John Hughes worked around Bernadeau and right guard Derrick Dockery was too late to help. Even if the receivers did get open, Romo wouldn’t have had time to deliver a pass before Hughes got to him.

Third Sack (1:51 left in second quarter)

Later on the same drive, the Cowboys faced a crucial third-and-10 while trailing by 13 points at the Browns’ 41-yard line. In a three-receiver set, Romo took the shotgun snap with Witten and Lance Dunbar to either side of him. Everyone got their blocks except for Free, who Sheard went right around. No receiver got open and Romo was hit before he could even begin his escape attempt. The Cowboys had to punt after driving 32 yards.

Fourth Sack (6:08 left in third quarter)

The Cowboys put themselves in prime position for their first score with a second-and-6 on the Browns’ 19 yard-line. The play was busted from the get go as running back Felix Jones moved left and Romo faked right on what appeared to be a play action pass. Jones couldn’t get over to his right to help in blitz pick up against incoming linebacker Kaluka Maiava and safety Usama Young. Free was also slow to get to Maiava near the line of scrimmage. Romo had some choice words for Jones afterward, as the Cowboys were forced into a third-and-long. Parnell was called for holding on the next play, and the drive resulted in a field goal.

Fifth Sack (7:21 left in fourth quarter)

The sack occurred immediately before Bryant’s go-ahead touchdown reception, and again, it happened at the Browns’ 19-yard line. Romo looks to his left in the shotgun with three receivers on the outside. Had the throw been there, the protection was good enough initially to get a pass off. After his pump fake, he was toast. Free’s man got free inside, forcing Dockery to help. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, the lineman Dockery was blocking initially, went right around Free, who stayed on his man. Rubin then took down Romo on a wide open shot, though the Cowboys salvaged the drive shortly after.

Sixth sack (5:10 left in fourth quarter)

This was the sack most people will remember, causing the Cowboys’ lone turnover of the day on Romo’s fumble.

On a first-and-20 on the Browns’ 28-yard line, Austin got inside his defender down the middle of the field, while Bryant beat his man on a go route by about two or three yards. By the time any of those routes opened up, Romo was in the process of being sacked and stripped.

Seven Browns defenders stayed near the line of scrimmage, matched by seven Cowboys blockers. Parnell didn’t block anyone on the play.  Livings stayed with defensive tackle Billy Wynn, while Parnell let defensive end Frostee Rucker move inside untouched on a stunt. Bernadeau was ready for such a move, but he let Rucker go straight by him. Rucker forced the fumble on Romo, allowing linebacker Craig Robertson to corral the football.

Seventh sack (13:53 left in OT)

Nobody was within 10 yards of Witten down the middle of the field on a first-and-10 pass at the Dallas 40-yard line. Romo could have hit the tight end to get near field goal range had he had a split second longer, but the Browns beat Free on the blitz for the sack. Sheard, the defensive end on Free’s side, crashed inside on the play and was picked up by Dockery. The blitzing linebacker, Robertson, then blew past Free on the inside to get to Romo. 

These sacks don’t include Robertson’s takedown of Romo in the first quarter after Jones failed to pick up the blitz, as Brown was called for illegal contact on the play.

In addition to Free’s troubles, Dockery and Parnell each had their share of issues in their first extended look of the year and Jones was shaky on a couple blitz pickups. The same crew of linemen will most likely face Washington on Thursday.

The Redskins aren’t one of the best teams in the league at reaching the quarterback, but then again, neither were the Browns.  Offensive line coach Bill Callahan might be the busiest man in Dallas with a short week and limited time to figure out what to do to ensure Romo won’t be gobbled up on Thanksgiving Day. 

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker (95) pressures Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - 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.”

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys vs Cleveland Browns 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

HEAD2HEAD: A look at the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns match up

After resuscitating their season last Sunday with a victory over Philadelphia, the Cowboys return home to face Cleveland. The Browns are on their way to posting another poor record. But they have been competitive, losing by single-digit margins in games against Baltimore and Indianapolis. This game isn’t appointment viewing and a Cowboys’ victory won’t cause the masses to change their opinion about where this team stands. But if Cowboys lose the damage will be significant. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

Last Sunday, in the Cowboys’ 38-23 victory over Philadelphia, Dallas enjoyed its best rushing performance since DeMarco Murray suffered a sprained left foot Oct. 14. Against the Eagles, Dallas gained 101 yards on the ground. Despite the good effort, evidence shows Dallas has missed Murray, who is listed as doubtful. In the four games Murray has been sidelined, the Cowboys have averaged only 2.97 yards per carry. That number may increase Sunday against a Browns defense yielding 132.2 rushing yards per game – the sixth-highest average in the NFL.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Cowboys pass

This month, Tony Romo has yet to throw an interception. In two games, he has avoided committing any turnovers while posting a quarterback rating of 114.8. Romo’s performance, while unspectacular, has been steady and efficient. If he is given sufficient protection against a Browns defense that has recorded 20 sacks, he should continue his streak of success. Cleveland is allowing 247.9 passing yards per game – the 11th-highest average in the NFL. The Browns have also intercepted 10 passes – tied for sixth-most in the league this season.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Browns run

When Cleveland drafted Alabama’s Trent Richardson with the third overall pick last April, they appeared to be picking up a running back that could be a driving force for the Browns’ offense for the years to come. But the Browns are averaging only 89.2 yards per game on the ground and Richardson has been tackled in the backfield on 19 carries this season. The Cowboys haven’t always fared well against physical rushers like Richardson (See Lynch, Marshawn), but they are limiting teams to 105.2 yards per game – the 13th-lowest average in the NFL.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Browns pass

Only two NFL starting quarterbacks – Arizona’s John Skelton and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel — have posted a lower quarterback rating than Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden. The 29-year-old rookie has struggled, throwing nine touchdown passes and 12 interceptions while completing only 55.1 percent of his throws. Of course, Weeden’s lack of success isn’t just the result of inexperience. The offense he runs lacks firepower. The Browns’ top receivers — Greg Little and Josh Gordon – are talented but have played a combined total of 34 NFL games. The Cowboys, who have the eighth-ranked pass defense, should be able to corral them.

Edge: Cowboys

Special teams

The Cowboys’ special teams have experienced marked improvement in recent weeks. Last Sunday, Dwayne Harris’ 78-yard punt return for a touchdown was the difference in Dallas’ victory over Philadelphia. Harris has now scored as many return touchdowns as Cleveland’s more accomplished specialist Josh Cribbs has produced in the last three seasons. And Cribbs has already turned the ball over twice this season. While Cleveland’s Phil Dawson is the only NFL kicker who has made all of his field goal attempts this season, making all 17 tries, his performance has only been marginally better than the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey, who has converted 88.9 percent of his 18 attempts.

Edge: Cleveland

Intangibles

A noon kickoff and the prospect of facing a lousy opponent may keep the Cowboys’ offense a tad punchy before the start of this game. But the defense should be wide awake. After all, coordinator Rob Ryan gets a chance to exact some revenge against his previous employer. Ryan oversaw the Browns’ defense during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but his job status was placed in jeopardy when Cleveland fired Eric Mangini and replaced him with current coach Pat Shurmur. Before a move could be made, Ryan left to join the Cowboys. And on Sunday he will face his old team for the first time since leaving.

Edge: Cowboys

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TRADING PLACES: Dallas Cowboys activate C Kevin Kowalski and place S Matt Johnson on IR

Dallas Cowboys center Kevin Kowalski - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys have activated center Kevin Kowalski. To make room for him on the roster, they moved safety Matt Johnson to injured reserve.

Kowalski underwent surgery for severe tendinitis in his ankle and was placed on the physically unable to perform list to open the season. He returned to practice only last week.

The move is a strong indication that the club does not believe starting center Ryan Cook, who has a hyperextended knee, will be able to play in Sunday’s game against Cleveland. Mackenzy Bernadeau will slide over to start at center while veteran Derrick Dockery will assume Bernadeau’s job at right guard.

Kowalski will likely be active for the game as a backup center, since it’s clear the club has no faith in reserve guard/center David Arkin.

Johnson had been carried on the active roster the entire season even though a series of hamstring injuries meant he never played in a regular season game and rarely practiced. This move means he can now focus on getting ready for the 2013 season.

COMING HOME: Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan

Even though Phil Dawson has become the face of the Browns as their longest-tenured player during the expansion era, he will always have a special place in his heart for his first love — the Dallas Cowboys.

Dawson, the Browns’ reliable kicker, grew up a die-hard football fan in Dallas. In the mid-to-late 1980s, Dawson’s father received Cowboys season tickets for a few years in exchange for his services as an accountant. The father-son duo attended virtually every home game when Dawson was in middle school. They were at legendary coach Tom Landry’s final game in 1988 at the old Texas Stadium.

Dallas Cowboys special teams Bill Bates at Texas Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

“I can remember taking history books and having to do my homework and claiming I was doing it because I took my book with me,” Dawson said Wednesday after practice. “I have some very good memories. I learned the game of football from my dad and a lot of that was sitting there watching Cowboy games. He taught me a few things and helped me look at things and explain things. Those were some good memories.”

Dawson, 37, is eager for his homecoming Sunday, when the Browns (2-7) visit the Cowboys (4-5). It will be the Browns’ first appearance at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which opened in 2009, and Dawson hopes the retractable roof is closed so he can play in favorable kicking conditions. Since the Browns’ rebirth in 1999, the only time they have played the Cowboys on the road was in 2004.

“It’s fun to share it with family and friends and go back to my hometown,” said Dawson, whose wife, Shannon; sons, Dru and Beau; and daughter, Sophiann, live in Austin, Texas. “I know they’ll all enjoy it, which makes it special for me. But I’m going down on a work trip. I have plenty of time in the offseason to enjoy friends and family and the environment and the cuisine and the whole deal. But when I get off the airplane, it’s all business, and I’ve got a job to do.”

Dawson’s job this week has included playing the role of a ticket agent. He expects more than 30 friends and relatives to attend the game.

“[The list is] growing each and every day,” he said. “I’m about to close down the ticket office. I can’t afford many more.”

Dawson’s family has strong allegiances to the Cowboys. His son, Dru, is not an exception.

“My son, Dru, has a Cowboys room,” Dawson said. “His bedroom is blue, all the Fathead stuff all over the walls. He’s got the star [logo], the NFL emblem. He’s got the stadium. I don’t know if he has any of the players. He has the mural-type stuff all over the place. And then there’s obviously Browns helmets.”

The setting isn’t unlike that of the bedroom Dawson had as a youngster.

“I had a Doomsday Defense poster on my wall,” Dawson said. “I’m kind of dating myself. Obviously, my high school years were the dynasty with the three Super Bowls. I was pretty spoiled as a football fan.”

Bill Bates was the ultimate free agent for Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

Dawson was a huge fan of special-teams standout and safety Bill Bates, who played for the Cowboys from 1983-96.

“I loved Bill Bates,” Dawson said. “I didn’t know I’d wind up being a special-teams guy, but I always kind of pulled for the underdog and he was an undrafted guy that was supposed to be too small and too slow but played forever down there, was just a special-teams ace and even when he got in on defense, he did a tremendous job. I’ve always pulled for guys like that.”

When Dawson was an offensive tackle and kicker for Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, he even tried to adopt the style of his favorite player.

“I can remember playing in high school and everyone wanting to look like Bill Bates — the neck roll and the gloves and the wrist bands and the towel, all that stuff,” Dawson said. “… Football is king down there. Unless you grow up in Houston, the rest of the state is Cowboys, and that’s all you did was follow the Cowboys.”

Dawson, of course, won’t be cheering for the Cowboys this weekend. He has made 23 consecutive field goals dating to last season and hopes to keep the streak alive at the expense of his hometown team.

“We’re off to a good start,” Dawson said of his streak. “I certainly don’t want to diminish that, but there’s still seven games to go. So I could screw this whole thing up pretty quick. I like where I am right now, but I’m only as good as my next kick, and the last thing I want to do is to go home to my hometown and poop the bed, so to speak.”

Courtesy: Nate Ulrich | Akron Beacon Journal

INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns

IRVING, Texas — Before Cowboys practice on Friday, coach Jason Garrett said starting running back DeMarco Murray was doubtful for Sunday’s game against Cleveland.

Well Murray didn’t practice on Friday at Valley Ranch and he most likely will miss his fifth consecutive game with a sprained foot.

"He is doing more and more each day," Garrett said. "Ran a little bit more yesterday so that’s a positive thing."

Cornerback Mike Jenkins (back) and center Ryan Cook (knee) also missed practice.

Cowboys centers Ryan Cook and Phil Costa were not seen on the field at practice Friday.

Cook, who wasn’t in uniform, headed into the team’s weight room wearing a brace on his right knee. He has missed practice the last two days because of a sore knee.

Costa has been out since injuring his ankle Oct. 21 in a victory over Carolina. With Cook and Costa sidelined, the Cowboys are expected to slide Mackenzy Bernadeau over from right guard. Bernadeau’s spot, in turn, would likely be filled by reserve Derrick Dockery.

With Jenkins out, it allows the Cowboys to give Vince Agnew more snaps in some passing situations.

Tight end John Phillips (ankle) and fullback Lawrence Vickers (knee) were expected to practice. Defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle), center Phil Costa (ankle) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) didn’t practice.

 

Week 11
Dallas Cowboys 
Name Position Injury Practice Status Game Status
Sean Lissemore DT Did Not Participate In Practice
Matt Johnson S Did Not Participate In Practice
Mike Jenkins CB Did Not Participate In Practice
Dan Connor LB Full Participation in Practice
Phil Costa C Did Not Participate In Practice
Lawrence Vickers RB Limited Participation in Practice
Jay Ratliff DT Full Participation in Practice
DeMarco Murray RB Did Not Participate In Practice
Ryan Cook C Did Not Participate In Practice
John Phillips TE Limited Participation in Practice

To see the Cleveland Browns injury update, click HERE

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.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Lawrence Vickers fired up again … about his old team coming to Big D

Dallas Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers ready for Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers doesn’t care about his sore knee or that he played 27 plays last week or that he had four touches last week. All he cares about is beating Cleveland.

"Cleveland was home. I was there five years," Vickers said. "I gave that organization a lot. I learned a lot. I got a lot from them. I appreciate them for even drafting me. It’s personal in the sense that it’s like playing your family. Whenever you play against family, you want them bragging rights. So yeah, it’s personal."

Vickers was a sixth-round draft pick of the Browns in 2006. On Thursday, Vickers named the two head coaches, the four offensive coordinators and the seven starting quarterbacks he played for and with in Cleveland before leaving for the Texans as a free agent during the 2011 off-season.

"If you give something five years of your life, and you put all you put into it, it’s going to be personal to you," Vickers said. "Point blank, period. It is what it is. It’s not that, ‘Oh, I’m mad.’ I’m not mad, upset, at all. Cleveland gave me a chance. They were the team that picked me in the draft, so I’ll forever love Cleveland. They gave me the chance to do what I wanted to do, and that’s play football. So it’s no hate thing. It’s I’m going to celebrate."

Vickers’ sore left knee kept him out of practice Wednesday, and he was limited Thursday. But Vickers says he won’t miss Sunday’s game for anything.

"It would take for me to die [to not play]," Vickers said. "Lord bless me, I hope I don’t do that. I ain’t missing this for nothing in the world. It’s personal. Believe that one."

HUMOROUS FLASHBACK: Lawrence Vickers leaves practice with fire ants in his pants

May 23, 2012; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers (47) stretches during organized team activities at Dallas Cowboys headquarters.  Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

I must start off this post by saying that we’re not making this up. 

Dallas Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers was forced to leave Wednesday’s OTA practice once he felt the burning sensation of fire ants in his pants.

“Fire ants got in my pants,” Vickers said. “I was freaking out. Oh, ants!”

Fire ants are reportedly a nuisance in the Dallas around this time of year.  Vickers was bitten by them about four months ago.  At that time he found out he’s allergic to them when he started wheezing and his neck started to swell up.  Now he carries an EpiPen with him for cases like today.

MORE ABOUT VICKERS –> PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dallas Cowboys FB Lawrence Vickers

TEXAS HOLD-EM: Weeden must know when to be aggressive, conservative (RIVAL HEADLINE)

Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur - The Boys Are Back blog

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur minced no words Wednesday afternoon when asked what quarterback Brandon Weeden needs to do better in these last seven games.

"Don’t throw interceptions. Done. End of story," said Shurmur. "I want to be right to the point."

But he still doesn’t want Weeden to lose the gunslinger mentality that he brought with him from Oklahoma State.

"The essence of a quarterback is you have to be a good decision-maker," Shurmur said. "And you decide when it’s important to try to be aggressive with a throw and then it’s also important to then be smart with the football. I’ve looked at all of those interceptions and there are times when he could’ve made better decisions. There’s of course things that have happened where a ball bounces off a guy’s chest. So you look at all of those things. You don’t want to play anxious football, but you also have to be smart."

He said despite Weeden’s chances, he still believes in him wholeheartedly.

"I think he’s got a chance to be an outstanding player. I don’t think there’s any question about it," Shurmur said. "He’s got to lead us to victories and don’t throw interceptions."

He said Weeden sees defenses well and understands concepts.

Shurmur addressed a number of other topics in his press conference Wednesday afternoon:

On Greg Little addressing the team on Monday about making sacrifices: "I knew he was going to do it. He called me and asked if he could talk in the first team meeting. I thought his comments were very insightful and I was glad he did it. I’ve always appreciated Greg because he’s a competitor. He’s a tough guy. He’s fun to work with because he listens."

On Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo: "The game is never over when he’s got the ball in his hand. He’s got outstanding weapons to throw the football to. Jason Witten leads all tight ends with 66 receptions, he’s got explosive players on the outside, they run the ball well and he’s proven he can win games in this league. He makes big-time plays and that’s what makes him dangerous."

• He said tight end Ben Watson is the honorary fourth game captain this week.

On right tackle Mitchell Schwartz: "I expected him to be a very good player from day one because he was the starter. I’m extremely hopeful he’s going to be a good player for a long time."

• He said Trent Richardson told him his ribs feel better after the bye week.

On whether certain players will get more playing time after the bye-week evaluation: "Maybe yes, maybe no. Probably maybe yes."

On Josh Cribbs: "We know what kind of an impact he has on special teams, which can’t go unnoticed. He does more than just the average punt returner and kick returner, because he’s involved in all of the coverage units and he’s an outstanding competitor in that phase and I really appreciate it."

On Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne: "We spent a lot of time evaluating him, had him in, he was one of the guys we talked to quite a bit. He’s an outstanding player. He plays very well in bump-and-run. He challenges all the time. A guy that challenges and is very talented has a chance to be successful."

Courtesy: Mary Kay Cabot | The Plain Dealer

FLASHBACK: Jason Garrett has fond memories of Cleveland childhood

Video - Jason Garrett Press Conference - Cowboys vs Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Jason Garrett grew up around the Cleveland Browns. His father, Jim, was a Browns assistant coach for seven seasons from 1978-84. The Cowboys coach has fond memories of his time in Cleveland.

"That was the time of the Cardiac Kids," Jason Garrett, 46, said Wednesday. "Sam Rutigliano was the head coach. He did a great job there. Brian Sipe was the quarterback. They really had some great teams, some fun teams."

The Browns went 51-54 in those seven seasons, with two playoff appearances. But those teams set the stage for Cleveland reaching the AFC Championship Game three times in the late 1980s.

Sipe played for the Browns from 1974-83, passing for 23,713 yards with a 74.8 passer rating before departing for the USFL. He played two seasons in the USFL before retiring.

"Sipe was my guy," Garrett said. "He was fantastic. I didn’t really know him. I was a relatively young kid, but I was a huge fan. He was unbelievable."

Video - Watch Now - The Boys Are Back blog - Press play

Jason Garrett Press Conference 11/14

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media from Valley Ranch as his team begins their preparations for the Cleveland Browns.

RIVAL GAMEPLAN: Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson is teams best shot vs. Dallas Cowboys

cleveland browns rookie rb trent richardson vs dallas cowboys 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cleveland Browns asked rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to win games for them through the first seven games of the NFL season.

But a 1-6 start convinced the Browns to shift the offensive focus to another rookie — running back Trent Richardson.

Richardson joined the Browns as the third overall pick of the 2012 draft but missed the preseason following an arthroscopic scope of his left knee in early August. Richardson was ready for the start of the season, but the Browns brought him along slowly, never handing him the ball more than 19 times in any of those first seven games.

Richardson did post a 100-yard game against the Bengals in September. But Weeden was the focal point of the offense, throwing 50 passes against the Ravens, 40 more against the Bills and Colts and in the 30s against the Eagles, Giants and Bengals.

Brandon Weeden impressing fans in Cleveland - The Boys Are Back blog

But in the last two games, the Browns have returned to their rushing roots. This is a franchise that sent running backs Marion Motley, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cleveland handed Richardson the ball 24 times against San Diego and 25 times against Baltimore. The second best running back ever to come out of Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia High School rewarded the Browns with a pair of 100-yard games — and he scored the game’s only touchdown in a 7-6 victory over the Chargers.

The Browns are coming off a bye, and you can bet Richardson will be the feature attraction when they visit Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.

The Cowboys have been stout against the pass but pedestrian against the run this season. They rank 13th in the NFL in run defense, allowing an average of 105.2 yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. Marshawn Lynch and Michael Turner rushed for 100 yards in victories over the Cowboys this season.

The Cowboys also will be down two of their best run defenders, end Kenyon Coleman and linebacker Sean Lee, who are on injured reserve.

The Browns like to pound the 5-9, 230-pound Richardson inside — much like the Cowboys pounded their Escambia product Emmitt Smith inside during their Super Bowl era. Richardson left Alabama as the school’s all-time leading rusher and this season ranks third among rookie NFL rushers with his 575 yards and second among rookie scorers with his six touchdowns.

If the 2-7 Browns have a shot against the Cowboys, it’s with the ball in Richardson’s hands.

Related: MATCHUP – Cowboys Dez Bryant vs. Browns CB Joe Haden

Browns Get CB Joe Haden Back Following Four-Game Suspension - The Boys Are Back blog

HADEN
Haden is the Browns’ best cornerback and will likely see his fair share of Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on Sunday. Haden played in Cleveland’s season opener against Philadelphia – he had an interception and made six tackles – and then was suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. Haden (5-11, 190), who reportedly tested positive in the off-season for the stimulant Adderall, has made 27 tackles. The Cowboys have four interceptions as a team. The Browns have four players who have made two interceptions apiece, including Haden. The former Florida standout has eight interceptions in only 27 career starts over three seasons.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates after back judge Greg Yette (38) signals a touchdown - The Boys Are Back blog

BRYANT

Bryant doesn’t have a catch in the fourth quarter of five of his nine games this season, but unlike last year when he didn’t consistently impact games in the second half, it hasn’t been an issue. That’s because Bryant is making big plays at key times, such as his diving 30-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the third quarter Sunday at Philadelphia that tied the score at 17. Bryant has 45 catches for 590 yards and three touchdowns, but the Cowboys would like to see him be more consistent. The Cowboys just concluded a five-game stretch in which they played four road games, and Bryant was either hit or miss every other game.

Brandon George | DMN contributed to this post

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAY: Dallas Cowboys host Cleveland this week, with Thanksgiving coming in a hurry

Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game - The Boys Are Back blog

Last season, the Cowboys played in Washington the week before Thanksgiving. They pulled out a 27-24 overtime victory before traveling home for a short week getting ready for Miami.

This season, the Cowboys are at home the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The Redskins, who play at Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving, are at home against Philadelphia on Sunday. NFL rules make it mandatory for the team playing a Thursday road game to play a home game the previous Sunday.

"I just think it’s a matter of hours," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of being at home this week. "I think we played in Washington last year and got home pretty late at night and had the quick turnaround. As you guys know, that Thursday game comes quickly. Your Monday practice is kind of a walk-through, and you’re just trying to transition as quickly as you can to get ready for the game and before you know it you’re out warming up before the next game. Even the fact it’s an early game, we played a 12 noon game, those three or four hours you have between playing the early game and the later game that makes a difference. It certainly helps. It helps our preparation. We’ll be that much more ready for Monday’s practice."

Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Week schedule - The Boys Are Back blog

The NFL opted this season to have a Thursday game every week. Road teams have been at a disadvantage. They are 3-6 in the Thursday games this season. (That does not include the Cowboys’ season-opening victory over the Giants on a Wednesday night, since neither team played on a short week.)

Road teams are 22-36 in Thursday games since the NFL Network started its late-season Thursday broadcasts in 2006. That includes the annual Thanksgiving Day homes hosted by the Cowboys and Lions, who are a combined 5-7 as home teams in the past six seasons, and a Jets victory over the Bills in Toronto.

LIGHTNING ROD: What Jerry Jones says about Holmgren’s interest in the Dallas Cowboys

Mike Holmgren visiting Cowboys Stadium and Dallas Cowboys this week - The Boys Are Back blog

PHILADELPHIA (105.3 THE FAN) – The best explanation for why Jerry Jones would attempt to sidestep last weekend’s rumors about Sean Payton as a future Cowboys coach but then this weekend talk fairly openly about rumors about Mike Holmgren as a future Cowboys coach has nothing to do with Payton, with Holmgren, or with sitting Dallas coach Jason Garrett.

It has everything to do with Jerry being Jerry.

“Of course, Mike Holmgren is a heck of a coach,” Jones said on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan before Sunday’s Cowboys-at-Eagles kickoff. “But the facts are that Jason Garrett gives us an outstanding chance to be what we want to be. So, there you have it. I wouldn’t comment one way or the other there with Mike.”

Of course, he just did comment one way or the other regarding Holmgren, with whom Jones became friendly years ago when the Super Bowl-winning coach (then with the Packers) served with Jones on the NFL’s powerful Competition Committee. And Jones said more, explaining that when he heard about the CBSSports report about Holmgren harboring “serious interest’’ in Dallas if there should be a vacancy, he visited with Cowboys play-by-play voice Brad Sham of The Fan to catch up on the news.

“I was interested in why he said he would like to be the coach,” Jones said. “And that was good. We are good friends, have a lot of respect for each other, served on the Competition Committee together for eight years. He’s very familiar with how we operate the Cowboys, and does have a high appreciation for our talent that we have on the team right now. All of that is a compliment. Thank you, Mike.”

Mike Holmgren Seattle Seahawks vs Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

As noted last week, Holmgren – not successful in his executive position with the Cleveland Browns – is among Jones’ confidants, a friendly advisor as Jerry runs his team as the owner, president and GM.

Jones also has a relationship with suspended Saints coach Payton. And with hundreds of other football names, some more headline-grabbing than others.

If a football person wants a job, or wants a raise, strategically, he might leak info about being interested in Dallas. Meanwhile, if a reporter wants attention, he might make certain to release inside info under the spotlight of an NFL Sunday … and to raise the profile of the story by including the lightning-rod Cowboys in the first paragraph.

It is not Jerry Jones’ plan to fire Garrett, though Dallas’ 3-5 start has placed the young coach the middle of these sort of stories.

“We need to win a game,’’ Jones said earlier this week. “I looked for an uptick when Jason took over (in the middle of the 2010 season). I look for that now. The arrow is going up.’’

So why is Jerry Jones willing to let himself be drawn into conversations like this? Because which ever way the arrow is pointing, Jones likes to make certain the TV cameras are pointed at him and his Cowboys.

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