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Playing above the level of the opponents - it matters

Tim's picture

You can nitpick (and I will,) but you can't say Dallas played down to the opponent's level. They dominated on both sides of the ball throughout the game.

Before you get too caught up in the idiotic TV commentary on the Cowboys' "letdown" in the second half, let's point out something very important: it was not Tampa 15, Dallas 3 - it was clock 1, Tampa 0. Demarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff did not play in the second half. Alex Albright did.

That matters. You may disagree with the strategy, but the fact is that time was on the Cowboys' side, and they managed the time well. The drive that put Tampa within 16 (16?) took more than six minutes off the clock and put the game into the fourth quarter. That's not a bad drive for the Dallas defense. It's smart coaching and good clock management.

Romo feasted on the Tampa secondary tonight, completing 77% of his passes to seven different receivers. He was nearly perfect in the first half, with four incompletions - one of them a smart throwaway, and one a terrible drop by Miles Austin. Another was effectively a throwaway, but also a catchable ball towards Witten in the face of a jailbreak blitz. He threw three touchdown passes, and made a heads-up quarterback sneak call to rush for a fourth. I'll add a footnote later on "Romo in December," but suffice it to say, you just saw Romo in December.

I was really encouraged by what I saw from a few players who we criticize a lot around here. Marcus Spears had two key stops on third downs, including a tackle for loss on third and two. Anthony Spencer forced a fumble on a Ware-like tomahawk chop while tackling a scrambling Josh Freeman in the first quarter. I thought he did a good job dropping back in coverage when I kept an eye on him on a few plays, also. Martellus Bennett had three catches, all of them pretty tough catches, and all followed by some tough yards after. He also made some very key downfield blocks on a few long Felix Jones runs.

The stars did their part tonight. Felix Jones ran hard, and deserves a lot of credit for making something out of very little on a lot of runs. Sammy Morris, hot off the couch, carried the load well, also. Austin had a bad drop, and also appeared to have run the wrong way on an incompletion leading to the only Dallas field goal of the game. But he also fought for a ball to score a touchdown early, and converted some third downs when it really mattered.

Dallas got the ball with 5:48 remaining and a 16 point lead. They went three and out on three runs. They also took 2:20 off the clock, and that was a really good drive. You see the difference between that and the Patriots game? I hope Jason Garrett does.

Now a few nitpicks:

Dez was a little disappointing on punt returns. Too much dancing and running backwards. He's better than that.

Romo needs to keep both hands on the ball. That fumble should not have happened. This is an area he had trouble early in his career, but he has really improved over the last three years. That lay was a lapse, and in a close game it might have mattered.

Ditto Miles Austin. The drop and route miscomunication might matter in a close game.

McBriar did not look right to me on his punts. He comes down flatfooted on his plant foot and does not get the hang time and placement we expect. I can't help but think that foot injury is still bothering him.

Now, my footnote on "Romo in December." Let's take a look at what Romo has done over his last eight December games, which is 2009 to the present, and I am including "virtual December," the season-ender vs. the Eagles in January 2010.

Romo has completed 69% of his passes for 2419 yards, with 17 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He has a passer rating of 110.3. His win-loss record is 4-4, but are you really going to tell me the problem in those games has been Romo?

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