Dallas Cowboys Go 2-0 In Garrett Era With 35-19 Win Over Lions

November 22, 2010

Arlington, Texas -- With backup quarterback Jon Kitna playing mistake-free football and rookie defensive back Bryan McCann continuing to work his magic, the Dallas Cowboys picked up their second straight victory under interim coach Jason Garrett, defeating the Detroit Lions 35-19 Sunday before 81,261 boisterous fans at Cowboys Stadium.

The Cowboys got on the board early with an impressive 98-yard scoring march capped off by Kitna's 1-yard lob to rookie sensation Dez Bryant. The pair took advantage of one-on-one coverage by running a fade route that Bryant snagged for a 7-0 lead with 5:10 left in the first quarter.

The Cowboys struggled to keep that momentum however, as the Lions trimmed the deficit to 7-3 on a 47-yard field goal.

Things then quickly turned in Detroit's favor late in the first half when Felix Jones committed a costly error.

As the Cowboys attempted to run out the clock, Jones fumbled at his own 15 yard line with only 37 seconds remaining in the half. The gift turnover gave the Lions field position in the red zone, which they quickly converted into a Nate Burleson 9-yard touchdown reception for a 10-7 halftime lead.

Detroit seized the momentum again early in the third quarter when its defensive pressure caused the Cowboys offensive line to commit a holding penalty in the end zone. By rule, that penalty gave the Lions a safety, expanding their lead to 12-7 lead with 11:24 left in the quarter.

Under former coach Wade Phillips, such a fiasco might have started a pattern of errors and produced another deflating loss for the Cowboys. But in the last two weeks, Jerry Jones' midseason coaching change has apparently fostered a new, more resilient attitude within the team.

Still, that switch might be Jones' second most important personnel decision this month, behind the now genius move to activate McCann from the practice squad.

One week after a 101-yard pick six versus the Giants, McCann made another momentum-altering play for the second consecutive game.

During a Lions punt, Detroit's John Wendling tapped the ball to avoid a touchback, but none of his teammates were nearby to down the ball. McCann -- who was not even the punt returner on the play -- alertly picked up the ball and began running. A convoy soon developed along the left sideline, leading to an electrifying 97-yard touchdown return and a 14-12 Cowboys lead.

On the ensuing possession, it was the Lions who began to fall apart, as they fumbled away the ball with 8:40 left in the third quarter. Dallas took over at the 19-yard line, eventually converting the golden opportunity into a 21-12 lead on a 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Miles Austin with 6:33 left in the quarter.

Detroit responded promptly with a 14-yard touchdown pass to star receiver Calvin Johnson, trimming the deficit to 21-19 with 4:10 left in the third.

The Cowboys then answered that threat with another 4-yard touchdown pass, when Austin ran a quick hook to the goal line and Kitna threw an accurate ball in a tight window between two Lion defenders. The score gave Dallas a 28-19 lead with 11:15 remaining in the contest.

That play reflected Kitna's overall solid performance and game management throughout the day. Altogether Kitna was an efficient 18 of 24 for 147 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

No surprise, Kitna's favorite target was tight end Jason Witten, who found the soft spots in the Lions' secondary for 48 yards on four catches.

On those few occasions when his pass protection broke down, the 38-year old Kitna was able to move out of the pocket and scramble for yardage. In total, he tallied 40 yards on the ground.

The most important of those runs came with 3:17 left in the game and the Cowboys attempting to seal the victory.

Facing a fourth-and-one at the Lions' 29, Garrett called a gutsy bootleg which Kitna turned into touchdown down the left sideline. The run was the longest of Kitna's 14-year career and gave the Cowboys a 35-19 edge they would not relinquish.

Although he surrendered an interception to Cowboys corner Terrence Newman, Lions' backup quarterback Shaun Hill played decent in defeat, completing 32 of 47 passes for 289 yards. Even more impressive was receiver Nate Burleson, who had seven receptions for 97 yards.

However, Detroit was hampered by a stingy Cowboys defense that sacked Hill three times, while giving up only 75 yards on the ground. The Lions also did not help their cause by committing 10 penalties.

The Cowboys rushed for 134 yards on their way to their first home win of the season. It gave the franchise a second reason to celebrate, as former Cowboy great and NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith was honored in a halftime ceremony in which he received his ring from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Cowboys (3-7) will next face the defending champion New Orleans Saints (7-3) in Dallas for their traditional Thanksgiving Day game. The Saints will have revenge on their minds, as the Cowboys ended the Saints perfect season last year with a dominant performance in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the Lions (2-8) will face the New England Patriots (8-2) in their traditional Thankgiving Day home game.


1. The Lions Did Not Utilize Calvin Johnson Enough

Although Johnson caught 6 balls for 46 yards and one touchdown, it still seems as though he did not get nearly enough touches. With the Lions running game stifled, Johnson should have naturally been Detroit's go-to guy.

However, Detroit elected to throw underneath much of the game, rather than taking advantage of Johnson's deep ball skills. In fact, when the massive Johnson occasionally would match up in the slot against diminutive nickel corner Orlando Scandrick, the Lions rarely looked in his direction despite the clear matchup advantage.

2. The Book On Jahvid Best Is Partly True

Coming into the season, rookie running back Jahvid Best was pegged as a fast, but injury-prone, home run threat. On Sunday, the "injury-prone" portion of the scouting report proved true, as Best struggled with turf toe.

Best carried the ball three times for a paltry two yards. When the Lions tried to put him in space with their passing game, he had difficulty getting separation, even from linebackers.

3. Coaching Makes A Difference

In two games under Garrett, the Cowboys look like a vastly improved team. Gone are the litany of bonehead penalties that previously plagued the squad. More importantly, so is the defeatist attitude, as this team is showing some fight despite slim hopes for a playoff berth.

Although quarterback Tony Romo remains injured, the offense somehow appears more explosive. Garrett also has ensured that more players get involved, as there finally was a Tashard Choice sighting in crunch time. The talented running back responded with a couple of nice plays, setting up Austin's first touchdown catch.

None of this guarantees Garrett a job next year over a Gruden or a Cowher, but it certainly does not hurt his cause.

4. Dez Bryant Should Be the Offensive Rookie of the Year

Bryant's numbers Sunday were fairly pedestrian -- 3 catches, 8 yards, one touchdown -- but even on an average day he makes breathtaking plays with his outstanding speed and strength.

On the Cowboys' opening drive, Bryant caught a simple short pass in the flat that had trouble written all over it, but he made a great one-on-one move by breaking a tackle in the open field and running for the first down.

His later touchdown catch was impressive as well, as he leapt, snagged the ball at its highest point, and wrestled it away from the Detroit defensive back.

In just half a season, Bryant has established himself as perhaps the best player on a team full of Pro Bowlers. His hands, special teams skills, yards after the catch, and knack for the big play, all give him the edge over the Rams' Sam Bradford for Rookie of the Year consideration.

5. Felix Jones is Back

One player rejuvenated by the coaching change is Felix Jones. Seeing him in person on the football field, Jones looked explosive in the hole, as he carried the ball 11 times for 51 yards. He also had 3 catches for 35 yards, including a couple of plays he might have taken to the house but for a shoestring tackle.

6. Bryan McCann is Here to Stay

McCann's intelligent punt return produced a deafening roar from the partisan crowd, and should give Jerry Jones notice that the defensive back's days on the practice squad are over. Not only is this playmaker a breakaway return threat on special teams, but he is a smart, fiery player whose attitude can change games and the demeanor in the Cowboys' locker room.


By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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