America's team comes into this game with a 5-4 record, facing a tough 6-3 Washington Redskins team. This marks the 96th regular season meeting between these two franchises, but the game lacked the usual intensity of the rivalry. Don't get me wrong - practically any game from week 10 and on will be filled with emotion and at least some desperation, but the typical fiery hatred was not brewing between the teams. Notable players coming back from injuries are the Cowboys starting quarterback, Tony "broken pinky" Romo, and Redskins starting running back, Clinton Portis. While Romo was out, the Cowboys dropped 2 of the 3 games they played.
Jason Witten, who I simply cannot say enough good things about, is starting at tight end for the Cowboys again with a broken rib. You hear that, Romo? A broken rib, not a broken pinky finger! Felix Jones, typically the Cowboys back up at running back is out with a hamstring injury, which means Cowboys starting running back, Marion Barber, will be carrying the ball much more. Barber easily makes my top 5 favorite running backs, but his fumbles are surprisingly high as he comes into the game with 6 on the season.
This would be my first game catching the Redskins this season, and their new head coach, Jim Zorn. Zorn is a former quarterback himself, so he coaches his young starter, Jason Campbell, on literally every play. Zorn brings a West Coast offense feel to the Redskins passing game, but leaves their running game as it was before his reign.
After Cowboys defensive lineman Jay Ratliff sacks Jason Campbell, the Cowboys now have at least one sack in the last 30 games. But the Cowboys defense did not phase the Redskins on this impressive scoring drive. Portis got several early touches, and Redskins big, strong full back Mike Sellers picks up a big passing play. Coach Zorn makes a gutsy call for the Redskins to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Cowboys 11 yard line. They go for it with a rush to Portis, who not only picks up the 1st down, but damn near scored. This setup the easy touchdown pass to Sellers, capping a 10-play, 49-yard drive. As part of this drive, Portis surpassed the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the season - not too shabby for a guy that missed the last two games, and we're only on week 10.
Romo starts the game going 6 for 6, and although he looks pretty comfortable, there were a couple passes he threw that were obviously very cautious when the Redskins defense got right in his face. This was actually a pretty drive for the Cowboys, with nice pick ups from Barber (both on the ground and in the air), and Roy Williams. Both of Barber's plays were made possible by massive blocks for Witten. While it was of no consequence to the drive, Terrel Owens got absolutely up-ended after a 2-yard gain by Redskins corner back Fred Smoot. I only mention it because I love seeing Owens get rocked. On Romo's 8th pass of the game (so he was 6 for 7 at this point), he throws behind Owens, who handily beat his man, corner back DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins, allowing for the easy interception by Hall. The Cowboys escape the first quarter being down only 7-0.
Kind of interesting that the Cowboys run several pitches to Barber, rather than your typical hand off. Rather than pounding Barber up the middle, they pull a tackle off the edge to lead block, allowing Barber to get to the perimeter. My guess is they were being cautious with Barber, considering Jones was not suiting up for the game, and wanted Barber to avoid the heavy running early in the game.
Romo is picked off for a second time, once again going for Owens on the right side of the field, running a slant. This time around, Owens gets drilled by corner back Carlos Rogers of the Redskins, which pops the ball straight up into the air; this gave Rocky McIntosh enough time to run it down and get his first career interception. Romo was going to Owens a lot in this first half, but did not throw him (or anyone else, for that matter) any deep balls. The cast Romo is wearing on his throwing hand is definitely effecting his accuracy and partially his confidence.
Not a whole lot to mention off the Redskins side in this first half. I liked Campbell's pocket presence, and quarterbacks that scramble are always fun to watch. Campbell had a big run on a 3rd and 7 for the first down, where he knocks over free safety Pat Watkins of the Cowboys secondary at the end of the run. The Redskins most impressive drive of the half, hands down, was their opening drive.
Romo finally opens it up on the Cowboys last drive of the first half. He goes for a deep ball to Witten, for 28 yards, and then follows it up for another big pass for 25 yards to Owens. This drive leads to a Cowboys touchdown, with Barber pounding it in from the 2 yard line. On the following possession, the Redskins start with great field position after a nice kick return from running back Rock Cartwright; he was freed up from some sexy blocking by the wedge. With the great field position, and a couple nice passes from Campbell, the Redskins are able to put another 3 points on the board with a field goal. Tight end Chris Cooley was really the only Redskins player worthy of noting in this first half, with some honorable mention to Portis. The Redskins go into the locker room up 10-7.
Even though the Redskins led going into half time, I can't say that they were the better team on the field. Romo started feeling it towards the end of the half, and the Redskins defense still had the pounding running from Barber still to come. Unlike any other game I've seen out of the Cowboys, they actually played like a team in this first half. Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware both had sacks in the first half, but the Redskins defense was definitely more physical. Neither team really had any big plays, on either side of the field; most certainly a conservative first half.
Redskins open the second half with several pass plays. Cowboys defense steps up their physicality a notch, with strong safety Keith Davis getting a big hit on Portis, and corner back Terence Newman clobbering Santana Moss. Cooley gets some easy touches with short plays underneath, and the Redskins continue with their short yardage pass plays. The problem with these types of plays is that unless you scare the defense with a big play here or there, they are going to play your receivers much tighter at the line, making these 2-yard pass plays about as ineffective as rushing plays with no blocking. I suppose the Redskins woke the fuck up, and went for a big 21-yard pass to running back Ladell Betts. To me, it was very odd that Portis was not a factor on this drive, and they didn't give Campbell any opportunities to run it himself. The 12th play of this drive is a huge play from Cowboys Newman; he literally took the ball right out of Santana Moss' hands for the interception.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they did nothing with their next possession. But it's not like the Redskins did any better on their last drive of the third quarter. They get a big 24-yard pass play to Antwaan Randle El (surprisingly, his only catch of the game), Portis gets a big 20-yard run, but Ratliff sacks Campbell for the second time in this game, forcing the Redskins to take a 46-yard field goal. Not to say 46 yards is unheard of, but with 35 or even 40, you feel a lot more confident of your chances. Of course, kicker Shaun Suisham misses the 46 yarder, which leaves the game at the Redskins up 10-7.
Barber is unleashed in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys go to four rushes in a row to Barber, who is just having his way with the Redskins defensive line. At the same time, Romo is looking his best of the game. Even though my main man Witten dropped a really easy one, his back up, rookie tight end Martellus Bennett comes through with a clutch catch off a very well-placed through from Romo. This scoring drive went 8 plays, spanning 67 yards.
Newman was playing Santana Moss pretty damn well for the most part. His biggest mistake was not taken advantage of, which came on the Redskins next drive. Campbell throws a bomb to Santana Moss, who blew right by Newman, but he dropped it right through his hands. Had he came down with the catch, it would have put the Redskins inside the Cowboys 10 yard line. In general, this was an extremely sloppy drive by the Redskins, at a monumentally crucial part of the game. Not only do we have the first dropped ball to Moss, but Devin Thomas also drops another ball, which would have resulted in a first down. The Redskins face a 4th and 4, and they are down 4 points, 10-14. They could go for it, which is pretty down risky, or they could attempt the 56-yard field goal (let's not forget Suisham already missed from 46 earlier in the half), which is also very risky. Coach Zorn elects to take a time out and think it over, and I'm sure part of the time out was "if only one of those two motherfuckers would have caught those balls, we wouldn't be in this mess".
After the time out, we see Campbell and the offense step onto the field, which pretty much means it is all-or-nothing at this point. This is where they separate the hockey moms from the future Vice Presidents. It is a passing play, to no one's surprise, intended for Santana Moss, but broken up by Newman beautifully. There is still plenty of time left in the game for the Redskins to make a defensive stop, and get the ball back. Plenty of time if the other team does not have Barber carrying the ball; the fourth quarter is where Barber makes his living.
Barber, as expected, keeps getting the ball to break the Redskins spirit. Barber tells the Redskins defensive line to jump, and they ask how high. Not only does he keep picking up first downs, but most importantly, he is staying in bounds, milking that clock like it's Friday at 4:30 and you can't wait to start your weekend. The Cowboys trot down the field with ease, with Barber pulling the sled. There is only one pivotal play left, on the Redskins 19, with 4th and 2. Rather than go for the field goal, and give the Redskins a chance to tie it up, the Cowboys decide to go for it on fourth down. My mom could guess who gets the ball on this call - Barber takes it to the right sideline and dives forward just getting the first down. That's all she wrote, and the Cowboys win 14-10.
Barber easily had the best game of any player on that field. The man was fucking relentless. In the fourth quarter, every rushing play the Cowboys ran was to Barber, save a kneel down by Romo at the very end of the game. Barber pounded the Redskins for 66 yards in the fourth quarter alone. I hate to say it, but I actually liked how the Cowboys played this game, even though it was definitely on the conservative side. That's to be expected though, when our quarterback is playing with a cast on his arm. The Cowboys played like a team that was coming in with high expectations, and only at a meager 5-4 record; they played like an anxious team that needed a big win badly. Romo had this to say after the game:
Everyone worked hard all week, and it showed on the field.
Doubtful that everyone worked hard, but I give the Cowboys offensive line a lot of credit; it's not like those running lanes for Barber grow on trees. Witten and Owens had pretty quiet games, but they did their part when they were called upon. The team got over their own super star status and decided they preferred looking bad and winning, than looking good and losing. As for the Redskins - I don't really know why you were 6-3 coming into this game. They didn't play with any intensity on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense was pretty flat in the fourth quarter. Those hard hits of the first quarter became broken tackles int he fourth. Campbell's calmness in the pocket during the first half became shaky and confused in the fourth quarter, but his receivers definitely did not help with two key dropped balls. This wasn't the most entertaining game to watch, but it was nice seeing the Cowboys play with purpose for a change.