Cowboys Clinch Title But Expose Some Defensive Flaws
The Dallas Cowboys treated their many fans to another heart-stopping last-minute victory Sunday by scoring the tying touchdown and kicking the critical extra point with 18 seconds left in the game they won 28-27 against the Lions at Detroit.
In doing so, the Pokes (12-1) clinched their first NFC East Division title since 1998, the 20th in franchise history and the seventh since Jerry Jones bought the franchise in 1989.
The Cowboys last won their division in 1998, earning a 10-6 record behind the talented trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Dallas lost a wild card playoff game to Arizona to end its season.
A happy first-year head coach Wade Phillips commented after Sunday’s game, “Our immediate goal was to win the division and play a home playoff game and by beating Detroit we are assured of both. That’s very important. We’re going to play at least one game at home. We’re now going to try and get a bye and also get the home field.
“This was the ninth time we came from behind this year and it shows you the character and heart of this team,” Phillips continued.
But there was plenty of pre-game hype all last week as the Cowboys linebackers, led by former LSU star Bradie James, remembered comments made by Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna at Texas Stadium last year after the underdog Lions upset the Cowboys 39-31 to end the regular 2006 season.
Kitna said in a post-game interview last year that the Cowboys linebackers, especially James, weren’t effective.
James never said much about it at the time but last week called Kitna’s comments “classless” and said Sunday’s game had been circled in red on his 2007 calendar all year.
After watching the way Kitna and his offense rolled over, around and through the Cowboys defense and dominated the time of possession, this Korner believes Kitna hit the nail on the head with his evaluation of the Cowboys’ linebacking corps last December.
Luckily, none of the first 12 opponents of the Cowboys—except for the New England Patriots—picked up on the apparent weaknesses of the Dallas defense. The Cowboys’ modus operandi appears to feature outscoring the opponent and let the defense take care of itself.
We must emphasize that we can find NOTHING wrong with the Cowboys’ offense–it has been hitting on all cylinders throughout the season. That is why the Pokes have scored at least 24 points in every game.
The Cowboys employ the same theory that Kitna used Sunday—dominate the time of possession in every game, score often and score quickly.
What’s so puzzling to this Korner is that if Detroit’s offensive line is so dominating and its running game is so potent, why do the Lions have a 6-7 record and a five-game losing streak???
In reality, the offensive line had allowed Kitna to be sacked a league-high 47 times before Sunday’s game. And the Cowboys were tied for fourth in the NFL with 33 sacks. Why they could only get to Kitna one time for minus 10 yards Sunday is a major mystery.
Perhaps James and his linebacker cohorts really aren’t as good as they think and that Kitna made a good observation last year. After all, the linebackers need to stop the run and the linebackers also need to blitz to sack the quarterback and create turnovers. And they had done a good job until Sunday when they didn’t get any turnovers.
Detroit rolled up 390 yards of total offense, including 152 rushing and 238 through the air. And when any NFL quarterback has all day to find his receivers, he will make the defensive secondary look bad. And that’s exactly what happened Sunday in Detroit.
The only reason the Cowboys aren’t 11-2 today is because of quarterback Tony Romo, whose motto must be Refuse to Lose. He moved the Cowboys the length of the field in the final 2:15 with no time outs when they trailed 27-21 and pulled out the victory when he hit tight end Jason Witten on a 16-yard touchdown pass. It was Witten’s career-high 15th reception of the game for 138 yards and a TD.
Witten was almost the goat instead of the hero of the game when he fumbled on the one-yard line trying to reach the ball across the goal earlier in the fourth period. “I was excited to have the ball back after thinking I had lost the game for us,” Witten said.
The mark of a champion is to create your own breaks and the Cowboys had a couple, one when the usually reliable Detroit veteran kicker Jason Hanson missed a 35-yard field goal attempt early in the final quarter and when Romo fumbled on the game-winning drive and former Lion Kyle Kosier recovered for Dallas.
One the very next play, Romo converted a fourth-and-six with a pass to Marion Barber, who finished with 10 catches for 61 yards and a touchdown and ran for two TDs.
Romo was 35-for-44 for 302 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Cowboys win 12 of their first 13 games for the first time in franchise history. ”I thought Tony was John Elway-esque,” Phillips concluded.
This Korner believes the Cowboys have the right stuff to reach the Super Bowl, but need to work on some of the weaknesses uncovered by the Detroit Lions Sunday if they expect to win their first playoff game since 1995.
Perhaps Sunday’s near-miss might awaken the sleeping giant and make the Dallas Cowboys a team that will go all the way to the Super Bowl. But there’s a long way to go and a short time to get there.
KWICKIES…Perhaps the best-kept secret from the news media in Southeast Texas was the $1 million eighth race at Delta Downs Friday night. The Fifth Running of the Grade III Boyd Gaming Delta Jackpot (from slot revenue) featured the nation’s top two-year-olds with the winning horse earning $600,000 and second place $200,000. The favorite Z Humor and 15-1 long shot Turf War, a Canadian horse, came down the home stretch neck-and-neck and finished in a dead heat with each horse winning a guaranteed $400,000. There also was a million dollars offered to the spectator who guessed the exact finish of all 10 horses, which nobody won.
Two former Houston quarterbacks—David Carr and Steve McNair—are expected to be released in the off-season by their present teams, Carolina and Baltimore. Carr, the top draft pick by the Texans in 2002, was released by Houston after the 2006 season and signed by Carolina. But he was so bad in Carolina that he was third on the Panthers’ depth chart behind 44-year old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted free agent Matt Moore.
Despite having a league-high 17 players on injured reserve, the Houston Texans (6-7) kept their slim playoff hopes alive by upsetting a good Tampa Bay team 28-14 in Reliant Stadium Sunday afternoon. Backup Quarterback Sage Rosenfels connected on 27-of-36 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns and Andre Davis returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards for another TD.
Utility infielder Mark Loretta and relief pitcher Trever Miller were the only Houston Astros free agents offered salary arbitration by the club. Loretta accepted the offer but Miller turned down the offer and plans to test free agency. If Miller signs with another team, the Astros will receive a compensatory draft selection between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft.
Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Trent Edwards is 5-1 as the team’s starting quarterback. The Bills are 7-6 and have a great shot at an AFC wild card.
JUST BETWEEN US…The Dayton Broncos are the only Southeast Texas team still in the state playoffs. The Broncos led Waller 21-0 at the half Friday night only to fall into a tie early in the fourth period. A. J. Dugat scored a touchdown with 5:43 left to give Dayton a 28-21 victory. Waco La Vega, which ousted West Orange-Stark from the Class 3A playoffs a week ago, fell to district rival China Spring 31-28 last weekend. Lamar Consolidated’s diminutive 5-6 running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, scored five touchdowns including the game-winner in the third overtime as the Mustangs beat New Braunfels 33-27 Saturday. Rodgers broke the state’s all-time record with his 132nd career touchdown that proved to be the game-winner.