A swirling, frigid wind. Bone-chilling cold. And a Dallas Cowboys season on the deep-freeze brink.
Those were the Sunday evening elements in the New Jersey swampland as Tony Romo and an ongoing erratic offensive unit saddled up for a final late fourth-quarter rescue mission.
“It was a critical moment. That’s where you prove yourself as a quarterback and an offensive team in general,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We call it nut-cuttin’ time.”
Well, so do ranchers and farmers.
More important in this situation, however, was Romo and Co. proving they could cut it, and proving doubters wrong, not that the doubters didn’t have pertinent facts on their agenda.
This has not, of course, been a good offense in well over a month.
But a long drive, including three clutch third-down completions, led to the always dependable Dan Bailey hammering home a 35-yard field goal at the buzzer.
Cowboys win 24-21.
The season has been saved, at least going into Thanksgiving.
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OK, that last opinion is strictly mine. When “the season saved” theory was asked postgame to Garrett, he gave a shocked look that said, “stupid question.”
“We don’t deal in hypothetical,” answered Red J.
But based on how the Cowboys had been limping along, getting blown away in New Orleans two weeks ago, folding up for another loss in Detroit two weeks before that, and hanging around in a bad NFC East with a 5-5 record, I rest my case.
Season saved at 6-5, saved at least going into Thanksgiving, when the Oakland Raiders come to Arlington.
Coming off a bye week, Garrett added that the Cowboys had been stressing one thing for the last 10 days, and saving the season was not a talking point. “The challenge,” he said. “Coming in here today, meeting the challenge on both sides of the ball and getting done what we need to get done.”
Interestingly enough, the challenge was met, first by a down-and-out defense, a unit wrecked by injuries, and a unit humiliated two weeks ago by the Saints. The defense turned one turnover into a touchdown and also kept Eli Manning and Co. out of the end zone twice on first-and-goal inside the 10.
Giving up 21 points, even giving up a late NY touchdown, then a 2-point conversion that tied the game 21-21 with just under five minutes to play, was a good day for the Cowboys’ defense.
But that Giants rally put the challenge back on Romo.
Starting at his 20-yard line, Tony immediately faced a third-and-7 from the 23. Dez Bryant, who had a roller coaster of a day, beat single coverage for a 19-yard gain.
Right away, however, there was another third-and-5 from the 47. Dez ran an inside route and hung on to the throw for 8 yards across midfield.
Miles Austin — remember him? — had his only catch of the day for 17 yards to the 28, but another critical third down was on the way after Dez coughed up the ball following an apparent catch at the NY 10.
The ruling was an incomplete pass on that Bryant play. The Cowboys pleaded for a catch and waited out the replay official, who never pushed his buzzer to signal the referee.
The Giants, however, wanted the play called a lost fumble. The Cowboys and Dez were also fortunate that wasn’t the ruling.
But on third-and-10, Romo responded again by throwing 13 yards to Cole Beasley at the NY 15. That put Bailey in close range. Despite his sonic foot, the swirling wind made it hazardous for any long field-goal attempt.
As always, L.P. Ladouceur had a true snap, Chris Jones had a sure hold with cold hands, and Bailey banged home the winner. Garrett gave a special mention for all three afterward, and rightfully so, considering the conditions.
Much was made in the postgame scene of some offensive coaching changes the Cowboys had made in the bye week, with Garrett taking the play calls on the field from offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, and giving them directly to Romo. That had previously been the duty of quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who moved to the press box to help Callahan with passing-plays coverage.
Garrett made a point afterward of downplaying the moves. Production-wise, he was correct with the downplaying.
Before the grand finale, the offense had a couple of key moments, producing a pair of touchdown drives, with Jason Witten on the receiving end of Romo end-zone passes.
Overall, however, the offense had settled into a second half of erratic behavior until the Giants completed their rally from 15 points back and tied the game late.
Then came that “challenge” Garrett was talking about.
Some good Romo happened. Some good Dez happened. A win happened.
Garrett: “I thought our quarterback did a fantastic job, I thought our offense overall did a fantastic job, on the road, under these kind of weather conditions.”
More than anything, I thought the season was saved.
The head coach, however, didn’t want to hear that.