Report card: Jason Garrett holds Cowboys together
The Cowboys' running game never got in a good rhythm, gaining only 49 yards on 24 carries. The Cowboys could not block Bengals DT Geno Atkins, who had three tackles for losses in addition to his sack and three quarterback hurries. But there were two big bright spots for DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 53 yards on 21 carries. He went over the top of the pile for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter and made a tough, 6-yard run on third-and-5 with 1:17 remaining in the game to ensure that the Cowboys would have a chance to win as time expired.
It wasn't necessarily a pretty day for Tony Romo and the Cowboys' passing game. The Bengals' front four got consistent pressure, sacking Romo three times and forcing several hurried throws, a handful of which Romo is fortunate weren't picked off. The Cowboys' starting receivers were nonfactors for most of the game. But Romo finished with 268 yards on 25-of-43 passing and threw a 27-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant. Romo was at his best while leading the Cowboys' comeback, completing 11 of 15 passes for 128 yards and the score during the fourth quarter.
Why didn't the Bengals run the ball more often? That's a question that will be asked a lot in Cincinnati. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had three consecutive 100-yard games entering the day, carried only 12 times. He gained 89 yards, an average of 7.4 per carry. Receiver Marvin Jones gained 37 yards on an end-around when a play-fake to Green-Ellis fooled the Dallas defense. It's a mystery why Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden didn't opt to test the middle of a Dallas defense missing its top two nose tackles and top two inside linebackers much more often.
The Bengals helped the Cowboys' cause with some drops, including a couple of uncharacteristic ones by star receiver A.J. Green, including one play that should have been a touchdown. Nevertheless, the Cowboys contained Green (three catches for 44 yards) and quarterback Andy Dalton (20-of-33 for 206 yards and a touchdown with one interception). Cornerback Brandon Carr's 37-yard interception return, which came after he dropped into a zone and perfectly read Dalton's eyes on a throw to Green, set up the Cowboys' first touchdown. The Cowboys had a season-high five sacks, including two by Anthony Spencer.
Punter Brian Mooman had a miserable day, averaging 33.0 yards per punt. His two shanked punts -- 23-and 29-yarders -- set up a pair of Cincinnati field goals. Moorman did bust out of the yips to boom his last punt 49 yards, pinning the Bengals inside the 10 on their first possession of the fourth quarter, a critical shift in field position. The Cowboys got cute on their only kickoff return, with Dwayne Harris faking a handoff to Dez Bryant. That resulted in a 14-yard return that might have been a big play if not for a quick whistle that ruled Harris down. Dan Bailey calmly delivered by booting the 40-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
Forget about X's and O's for a moment. This wasn't about Jason Garrett's game plan. It was about his ability to hold a team together after an awful tragedy. Garrett handled a horrible situation about as well as humanly possible, deftly balancing delicate emotions with the cold, hard reality that the Cowboys had to be ready to play a game that was critical to their playoff hopes. The Cowboys showed tremendous poise and character by rallying from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. That's a testament to the mental toughness that Garrett has instilled in his team.