Cowboys End Saints' Streak and Answer Critics With Clutch Road Win

December 20, 2009

Faced with a must-win situation, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys rose to the occasion and defeated the previously-unbeaten New Orleans Saints 24-17 Saturday night in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Cowboys (9-5) victory ruined the Saints' (13-1) ambitious dreams of a perfect season, and allowed Dallas to maintain control over their playoff destiny, should they win their remaining two games. Instrumental in the win was the play of Romo, who outplayed counterpart Drew Brees by completing 22-34 passes for 312 yards.

Dallas began the game in dominant fashion, forcing the Saints' explosive offense into consecutive three-and-outs. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' offense looked sharp from the outset, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions for a quick 14-0 lead.

The 'Boys first score came via a 49-yard bomb from Tony Romo to Miles Austin after a play-action fake to running back Marion Barber. Austin ran a nice stop-and-go route on the play, and Romo hit him right in stride for the easy score.

On their next possession, Dallas drove down into the red zone, where Barber then took over, punching it in from the three yard line. That touchdown was set up by another nice Romo-to-Austin 26-yard completion when Romo recognized that Austin was matched up in single coverage with a safety.

In the second quarter, Saints' quarterback Drew Brees began to get untracked, marching the Saints deep into Cowboy territory before eventually settling for a 34-yard field goal to narrow the score to 14-3.

However, on the Saints' next two possessions the Dallas D clamped down again, forcing a pick and then a fumble from Brees. The latter turnover came by way of a DeMarcus Ware sack, and led to a 44-yard Nick Folk field goal. By halftime, Dallas had a comfortable 17-3 edge.

The Cowboys opened the second half with the ball, and immediately produced a textbook 13-play, 7 minute sustained drive capped off by another Barber touchdown run for a 24-3 lead. The balanced drive mixed in 7 rushes and 6 passes, and was highlighted by a beautiful, tiptoe 17-yard sideline reception by free agent wideout Kevin Ogletree.

Still, the Saints were far from finished, as they made a furious fourth quarter rally behind Brees while running their "hurry up" offense. New Orleans scored 14 unanswered points, trimming the Cowboys lead to 24-17 with 8 minutes to go in the game.

With their playoffs lives effectively on the line, Romo then took control. He converted a clutch third down, hitting Austin perfectly in stride on a slant for big yardage. Romo would eventually drive the Cowboys down into the red zone for a potential "gimme" 24-yard field goal attempt from Folk, while chewing up over five minutes of clock in the process.

Unfortunately, for the Cowboys, the struggling Folk made things interesting by hitting the right crossbar and missing the chip shot field goal.

With 2 minutes and 16 seconds left in the contest, but with no time outs, Brees had one final crack at the Cowboys D.

However, Cowboys star linebacker DeMarcus Ware put a stop to any comeback hopes, sacking Brees once again and forcing another lost fumble from the Saints quarterback in the waning seconds.

The final numbers were quite revealing, as Dallas won the turnover battle, 3-0. The Cowboys also overpowered New Orleans on the ground, gaining 145 yards to the Saints 65. That production allowed Dallas to dominate the time-of-possession battle, 36:26 to 23:34.


1. The Tony Romo Critics Are Delusional

For years media critics have simplistically labeled Romo as a player who can't win the big game. Such criticism has been based on his two playoff losses, and the Cowboys poor December record in recent years, but does not tend to delve much deeper than simple "won-loss record" analysis. If one listens to the nonsensical chatter enough, it is as if Romo is almost likened to a Jeff George-caliber quarterback.

In truth, Romo is an elite quarterback, who game after game, consistently moves the chains in the ultimate clutch situation - the two minute offense. While he is not yet in the same consistent groove as a Brees or a Peyton Manning, he also is not a mere "good" quarterback, such as a Matt Cassell. Instead, Romo is a top 10, Super Bowl caliber QB, who is in fact more athletic than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and some of the other top passers in the game.

Because of that athleticism and his ability to scramble and improvise on the fly, Romo may have the greatest upside of any quarterback in the game, including those elite names mentioned above.

More importantly, looking at wins and losses alone does not tell the whole story, and is an incomplete barometer of how to assess a quarterback. Against the Saints, Romo played a near flawless game, yet nearly had to go to overtime because his kicker shanked a sure-thing field goal. This was of course after offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took the ball out of Romo's hands by calling a running play on third and goal. Hence, lazy won-loss analysis will never tell the complete story.

2. Roy Williams Needs To Produce

It has been well-documented that Williams is not an efficient double-move route runner, as he is best served running simpler patterns or fade-type jump balls in the corners. However, what has yet to be determined is whether he is a clutch performer who can make the tough catches in traffic.

After steadily showing improvement over the last few weeks, Roy Williams regressed in the Cowboys most important game of the year. He produced only one catch for 14 yards, and for the most part was nonexistent in the Cowboys attack. Worse yet, he had a deflating drive-killing drop on a key third down in the fourth quarter after Romo hit him right on the hands.

3. Kicker Nick Folk Should Be Waived

Remember in the old Jimmy Johnson days when running back Curvin Richards fumbled twice in a game and was cut the next day? In the case of Folk, it is astonishing that after he missed some crucial kicks in the last several weeks, he still continues to be a part of the roster.

At first, the Cowboys thought it was Folk's new holder, punter Matt McBriar. However, McBriar has since been replaced by Romo, and the shanks have continued.

Quite frankly, there is no other position in the NFL that is so easily replaceable as the placekicker. A GM can pick up a Gramatica brother any day of the week and get decently competent placekicking production from at least the 45 yard range.

Jerry Jones really has gone soft if Folk remains on the roster come next week. More importantly, he will deserve any future defeats resulting from Folk's misses, as Folk's performance this season has given him ample notice of his inability to make important kicks.

4. For Once, The Talent On Paper Also Showed Up On The Field

Throughout the season, the Cowboys have shown that they have the talent to play with anyone, but had yet to put together a focused, truly professional performance. That all changed on Saturday when they were faced with a must-win game.

Against the Saints, there were far less of the drive-killing penalties and turnovers that have plagued the Cowboys this year. The team was focused, mistake-free, and intense for 60 minutes, and displayed mental toughness by holding firm during the Saints fourth quarter comeback.

5. DeMarcus Ware, the NFL's Version of Willis Reed

Ware came off last week's stretcher to demonstrate once again why he is the game's best linebacker. Playing mainly on third down due to his neck injury, Ware nevertheless made an impact by getting two sacks and forcing two fumbles.

6. The Cowboys Young Defensive Stars Continue to Improve

Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins seem to get better with every game, and they certainly came up big against New Orleans. Spencer was a pass rushing terror throughout the contest, consistently putting Brees on the ground and getting two sacks in the process.

Meanwhile, Jenkins was outstanding in coverage, and even picked off one pass when Brees underthrew a deep ball. Jenkins is slowly surpassing Terrence Newman as the Cowboys best one-on-one cover corner.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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