August 19, 2017

Cowboys 24, Lions 20

The fourth and final game of wildcard weekend featured the Detroit Lions heading south to Dallas, Texas to take on the Cowboys.  The Cowboys started at their 20-yard line and had a quick three and out.  Punter Chris Jones hit a 41-yard punt that was downed at the Detroit 38-yard line.  On second and ten from the 49, quarterback Matt Stafford went deep for wide receiver Golden Tate and he hauled in the pass for a 51-yard touchdown.  Kicker Matt Prater made the point after and the Lions jumped out to an early 7-0 lead with 11:22 to go in the first quarter.

The Cowboys managed to get a first down on their next possession, but the drive came to a halt when quarterback Tony Romo couldn’t complete a pass on fourth and seven to wide receiver Cole Beasley.  Jones punted and the ball was downed at the Detroit one-yard line.  Three plays netted five yards and the Lions were forced to punt.  Punter Sam Martin’s punt went out of bounds at the Detroit 44-yard line.  Wait a minute.  There’s a flag on the play.  The Cowboys were flagged for running into the kicker and that gave the Lions a first down at the 12-yard line.  A short pass to Tate and a scramble by Stafford netted a first down at the 23-yard line.  An 11-yard carry by running back Joique Bell, a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson and an 18-yard pass to Bell moved the Lions into Dallas territory.  Two more carries by Bell put them at the 18.  From the 18, running back Reggie Bush ran up the left side for a touchdown to cap a 99-yard drive.  Prater made the point after and the Lions were up 14-0 with two minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Cowboys still couldn’t get the ball rolling and ended up punting again.  As a matter of fact, there was a lot of punting going on until the 2:15 mark.  That’s when the Cowboys finally got on the board.  On third and 12 from the 24, Romo let one fly and the pass was caught for a 76-yard touchdown by wide receiver Terrance Williams.  Kicker Dan Bailey made the point after and the Lions led 14-7 with 1:37 to go in the first half.

The Lions started at their 20 and two passes to running back Theo Riddick gained 20 yards.  From the 40, Stafford completed a 19-yard pass to Johnson.  That was followed by an incomplete pass and a five-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Fuller.  That set up a third and five from the Dallas 36.  Stafford completed a pass to Tate that was ruled short of the first down marker.  But replay showed that the yardage gained was good enough for a first down.  Stafford completed a nine-yard pass to Bush as time was running short.  With three seconds to go in the half, Prater made his 39-yard field goal attempt and the Lions led 17-7 at halftime.

Things got off to a great start for the Cowboys in the second half.  Stafford looked for Tate over the middle and the pass was picked off by linebacker Kyle Wilber.  That gave the Cowboys the ball at the Detroit 19-yard line.  But on third and one from the ten, Romo was sacked for a loss of 13 yards by defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.  Well, Bailey is a good kicker.  He shouldn’t have much trouble with a 41-yard field goal.  Wrong.  The kick sailed wide right and the Cowboys failed to cash in on a golden opportunity.

The Lions took over at their 31 and on second and six, Stafford found tight end Brandon Pettigrew for a gain of 11 yards.  After a short carry by Bush, Stafford looked for Johnson again and found him for a gain of 28 yards and a first down at the Dallas 26-yard line.  But the drive would stall at the 19-yard line.  Prater came on again and his 37-yard field goal attempt was good.  That gave the Lions a 20-7 lead with 8:41 to go in the third quarter.

The Cowboys took over at their 20 and moved the ball with running back DeMarco Murray.  Murray had three carries and a seven-yard reception.  That gave them a first down at the 50-yard line.  On third and ten from the 50, Romo threw a short pass to his left that was caught by wide receiver Dez Bryant.  Bryant turned on the speed and weaved his way through several defenders.  He was finally dragged down at the seven-yard line.  Murray took it the rest of the way on the next play, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on the Cowboys.  From the 17, Romo found Beasley across the middle for a gain of 15 yards.  From the two, Romo completed a short pass to tight end Jason Witten, but he was stopped short of the end zone.  On third and goal from the one, Murray ran up the middle and was stuffed for no gain.  That brought up a crucial fourth and goal from the one.  The Cowboys decided to go for it and Murray ran off left tackle for a touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Lions lead was now 20-14 with 2:54 to go in the third quarter.

The Lions had a quick three and out on their next possession and the Cowboys took over at their 31.  They quickly moved to mid-field as Romo found Beasley for a gain of 19 yards.  Murray ran for five more yards and on second and five from the Detroit 45, Romo completed another pass to Beasley.  This one was good for 12 yards.  Then another flag was thrown.  Unnecessary roughness was called on the Lions and the Cowboys now had a first down at the 18.  That’s when the Lion defense stepped up.  Murray was stuffed for no gain and Romo was sacked on back to back plays.  That was meant it was time for Bailey to try another field goal.  His 51-yard attempt was good and the Lions led 20-17 with 12:16 to go in the game.

The Lions got the ball back at their five-yard line.  On second and 12 from the three, Stafford completed a 21-yard pass to Fuller for a first down at the 24.  A short run by Bush and a 19-yard pass to Johnson moved the Lions to the Dallas 45-yard line.  From the 45, Bush ran for a gain of four yards.  Bell got the call on the next play and ran for five yards.  That made it third and one from the 46.  Instead of running it again, Stafford threw to the left side for Pettigrew.  The pass was incomplete due to the fact that Pettigrew was interfered with by linebacker Anthony Hitchens.  The flags flew and it looked like the Lions would have another first down.  All of a sudden, the flag was picked up and the zebras reversed the call.  You’ve GOT to be kidding.  Actually, when it comes to the NFL, hardly anything I see the zebras do shocks me.  Still, that was definitely pass interference.  That made it fourth and one from the 46.  All the Lions needed to do was get one yard to keep the drive alive.  Instead, Stafford tried to draw the Cowboys offside.  In other words, he didn’t snap the ball and took a delay of game penalty.  Lions, you baffle me.  You really do.  To make things really incredible, Martin shanked the punt.  It went TEN freaking yards.

Starting at the 41, the Cowboys went to work.  A 13-yard pass to Murray got them into Detroit territory.  That was followed by a few short runs by Murray and Romo completed a 21-yard pass to Witten on fourth and six.  The pass to Witten gave the Cowboys a first down at the 21.  A defensive holding on the Lions netted another first down at the 16.  The next two plays gained three yards and on third and seven, Romo completed a short pass to running back Lance Dunbar, but he was thrown for a loss of two yards.  Wait a minute.  There’s another flag on the ground.  This time, it was defensive holding on linebacker DeAndre Levy.  That gave the Cowboys a first down at the eight-yard line.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by a five-yard run by Murray.  That moved the ball to the three-yard line.  A false start on the Cowboys moved them back to the eight.  From the eight, Romo took the snap, had time and fired a pass across the middle that was caught by Williams for a touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys led 24-20 with 2:32 to go in the game.

The Lions took over at their 20 and on second and four, Stafford was sacked by defensive end Anthony Spencer.  The ball came loose and it was recovered by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.  All he had to do was fall on it and that would pretty much seal a win for the Cowboys.  Instead, he tried to advance it and the ball was loose once again.  It was recovered by offensive tackle Riley Reiff and the Lions retained possession at their 23-yard line.  With two minutes to go, Stafford spread the ball around to three different receivers and moved into Dallas territory.  On fourth and three from the Dallas 42, Stafford was sacked for a loss of nine.  The ball came loose again and Lawrence fell on it.  That was the nail in the coffin.  The Cowboys came from behind and won 24-20.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 42 for 323 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Golden Tate led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 89.  On the ground, the Lions rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries.  Joique Bell was the leading rusher with 43 yards on 12 carries.  Defensively, linebacker James Ihedigbo led the team in solo tackles with seven.  Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh led the team in sacks with two.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo completed 19 of 31 for 293 yards and two touchdowns.  Jason Witten led the team in receptions with five and Terrance Williams had the most receiving yards with 92 and two touchdowns.  DeMarco Murray carried the ball 19 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.  The only other player with any rushing stats is Romo.  He had two carries for minus two yards.  Defensively, safety J.J. Wilcox led the team in solo tackles with seven.

Up next for the Cowboys is a trip to Green Bay to take on the Packers.  That game will be on Sunday at 1:05 eastern time.

 

Cowboys 41, Bears 28: Thursday Night Badness

Offense. Defense. Special Teams. Coaching. Actuary.  You name the category and the Dallas Cowboys were better in it than the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, as the Bears fell 41-28 at Chicago’s frigid Soldier Field.

Dallas dominated from kickoff to kneel-down in this one, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, making better adjustments, sticking with a solid game plan, (having a solid game plan) and performing better in all pertinent areas.

The Cowboys came in with a poor run defense and the Bears responded by running the ball just 15 times.

On the other side of the ball, Dallas entered with one of the league’s top running games and the Bears got gouged for 194 yards, including 179 on 32 carries for DeMarco Murray who routinely was provided with holes wider than the Eisenhower Expressway to run through.

The Bears made a superstar of a man named Cole Beasley.

The whole evening was ugly, sad, and, worst of all; typical of one of the most abrasive seasons in Chicago sports history.

This was the second straight Thursday nationally televised game for the Mopers of the Midway and once again an entire nation saw a Bears team that has talent but lacks focus, has ammunition but no fire, and possesses potential but no pass rush.

The Bears must be given some credit, though. They trailed 35-7 in the fourth quarter and even the most loyal Bears fans were either headed for the exits or flipping the channel to see just what particular brand of hot water Gilligan was getting into, but the Bears did not give up, putting up 21 points in the final frame to make the score at least look respectable when in fact the game was not.

Did a few of us think when Jay Cutler was throwing into the endzone with two minutes to play that the Bears might score and recover the onside kick and throw a bomb into the endzone and pull out a miracle of miracles? Yes, a few of us did. We’re hopeful, holiday people, so forgive us.

Cutler was intercepted.

The Bears did not surrender when the chips were down and all appeared lost and that’s a bit heartening. But there’s not much else to build on as we approach the season’s final three games starting with, mercilessly we must add, a third straight national game, on Monday, December 15 when they host the New Orleans Saints.

The Bears are 5-8 and their fans want blood. They want answers. They want Butkus, Sayers, Payton and McMahon.

The Christmas season is a time for remembering, certainly. It’s also a time for looking ahead. And hoping. And huddling against the winter cold and wondering if it’s all worth it. –TK

Leatherheads Midseason Awards

We are halfway through the 2014 NFL season and there have been surprises, disappointments, slumps, sacks, breakaways and meltdowns.

And so far we’re only talking about Jon Gruden.

We kid because we care. According to the Bible of Gruden every player in the NFL is the greatest player/person/life form ever, at least at some particular moment and we applaud such positivity because if football is about nothing else shouldn’t it be about love, appreciation and the Raiderettes?

Mr. Gruden was unable to join us for our midseason awards banquet but we Leatherheads still managed.

Midseason MVP: Peyton Manning

Manning is the runaway unanimous choice among all Leatherheads who took part in this report card. Joe Williams issues apologies to Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck noting that Manning is still the best player in the game and that’s difficult to protest. Manning is tied for first with Luck with an NFL-best 22 touchdown passes but has been intercepted just three times, whereas Luck has gotten picked nine times. Peyton’s QB rating of 119.0 leaves Luck, Rodgers, Philip Rivers and everyone else in the dust.

Manning is also leading what is probably the best team in the NFL. The Denver Broncos are 6-1 with their lone defeat coming in overtime to the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. If Peyton Manning stays healthy he seems likely to win his (gulp) sixth NFL MVP. No one else has ever won more than three.

We have to take a brief timeout here, however, to point out that Manning is now playing in an era when quarterbacks are like pinball players. They are allowed to just sit there and bang those flippers, racking up the stats and the points. Yes, #18 still does it as well if not better than anyone but we can only wonder what great QBs of yesteryear would have accomplished in today’s increasingly hands-off-the-star NFL.

And another thing, Peyton will not be considered the greatest quarterback ever until he wins another Super Bowl. That’s not fair, maybe. But it’s true. But for now, he must be satisfied with the official Mike Lynch Statue for winning the Leatherheads half-season MVP. I hope someone ordered that statue.

Midseason Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray

Some Leatherheads chose Manning for this and that’s perfectly logical. If a guy plays offense and is the league MVP then shouldn’t he automatically be the Offensive Player of the Year as well? After some discussion and a few cocktails our official answer is “no.” Manning is the most valuable because he’s awesome and has the unfair advantage over Murray of playing the most important position. But DeMarco Murray deserves the Offensive accolade for several reasons.

Murray, the fourth year Dallas Cowboys running back, leads the NFL in carries with 206. That’s 60 more than his next closest competitor, Arian Foster. Murray also tops the NFL in rushing yards with 1,054, easily outdistancing Foster by nearly 300 yards.   And Murray is not just a bull who bashes his way to real estate. He’s averaging 5.1 yards a carry. That’s fantastic.

Murray is also tied with Foster for the NFL lead with seven rushing scores and has caught 26 passes for a nearly nine-yard average. All this and his Cowboys are making Jerry Jones look young again without surgical help as Dallas is 6-2 and in great position to make its first playoff appearance since 2009.

Our concern is that DeMarco may not be alive and well come playoff time. He’s on pace to carry the ball more than 400 times and, come January, could be moving slower than lava but with implications just as critical.

Midseason Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

Another unanimous choice. Mr. Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end, is so good some might say he deserves consideration for league MVP. Perhaps. Just as with DeMarco Murray, Watt pays the price for not being a quarterback which is a shame (whoops! We almost wrote “sham”) because he’s probably the best overall player in the league.

Watt has seven sacks which puts him significantly behind league-leader Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs who has ten. But sacks are like Mariah Carey songs. They’re fun and make the person who sings them a lot of money but they’re not really music, and not really the best barometer of a great defensive player. If a guy gets one sack a game he’s anointed a star. But what does he do the rest of the game? Watt does a lot.

J.J. has eight pass deflections, tied with Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata for most among defensive lineman.  Every other guy in the top ten is a defensive back.

Watt has 22 solo tackles, tied for fourth among NFL defensive linemen. He has one forced fumble and one interception; which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo. Watt also recovered a fumble and rambled 45 yards for a score against the Colts. Justin James Watt has also caught one pass this year, yes on offense, for a TD. This dude has three touchdowns. And he plays defense. And he does all this on a team that’s 4-4 and alive and ponderous in the playoff race. (And, as Joe Williams observes, J.J. is also a “decent dancer.”)

Midseason Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins

We’re impressed with several first years including Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown and Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. But in the end, it’s Sammy.

Watkins, the first year wideout for the Buffalos Bills, is described by our Joe Williams as “pure talent” and the numbers back that up. Watkins has 590 yards receiving, which is tops among rookies, and he is also tied for the lead in the NFL’s freshman class with five TD catches including a last-second game winner against the Vikings on October 19.

Watkins is electric and should be a stud for years to come. The problem is he plays in Buffalo and the Bills are so awful and so off the radar that no matter how good Watkins is he’ll never…oh dear. Wait a second. The Bills are 5-3, aren’t they? If Watkins and QB Kyle Orton (He’s alive! He’s good!) lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance since 1999 (who do they think they are, the Kansas City Royals?) then Sammy won’t just be Rookie of the Year, he’ll also never have to shovel his driveway again.

Biggest Midseason Surprise: Dallas Cowboys

It would have been a smooth and cool transition to go from raving about Sammy Watkins to christening his Bills as the league’s biggest surprise so far and that’s the vote from Leatherhead Joe Williams. But Leatherhead David Boyce says that honor is actually an ignominious one that belongs to the 4-3 Super Bowl champion Seahawks who are good but not looking at all like the juggernaut many thought they’d be.

Then there’s the offering of Leatherhead Daniel Durany who votes for the Cowboys and that selection is our winner. The Bills are a great story, so are the Cardinals but, as Joe Williams points, not really a surprising one as they were great in the second half of last year. We choose Dallas because the Cowboys are not only unexpectedly winning games but playing really well, if that makes sense. All the drama in Dallas is finally taking a backseat to really good, sound, fundamental football and the ‘Boys are playing it despite some big injuries.

Will Dallas continue to surprise in the second half? We have already voiced our concerns about DeMarco Murray’s durability and that drama that we don’t miss did return a bit in Monday’s loss to the Washington Redskins with questions about quarterback Tony Romo’s health both short and long term. And as long as Jerry Jones is there will Jason Garrett, or any coach, really get to do their own thing?

We knoweth not. But for the first eight games the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys are not just a pleasant surprise but the league’s biggest one.

Biggest Midseason Disappointment: Chicago Bears

This category is another contentious one. Joe Williams chooses the Seahawks. David Boyce votes for his beloved but 0-7 Oakland Raiders (will Jim Harbaugh cross the Bay and coach the Silver and Black next year? Or maybe travel with them to L.A.?) But Daniel Durany and the rest of us vote for, sigh, cigarette puff, sigh, head scratch, sigh, the Chicago Bears.

Oh it hurts. Maybe the Bears shouldn’t be considered a disappointment when remembering they were 8-8 last year. But most preseason prognosticators chose the Monsters of the Maddening to be a playoff team and some felt they could even have dreams of football in February. Instead, the Bears’ vaunted offense has been stuck in neutral, injuries are mounting for an already aged and bedraggled defense and the Bears are a very murky 3-5 with zero wins at home.

What in the Ditka has gone wrong in Chicago? Too much. The second half could see a turnaround but it’s going to be tougher than the Soldier Field turf to do so.

So, what are you thoughts about our midseason honors? Will they hold up? And what of the prediction of a certain Leatherhead back in August that we’d see a Cardinals-Chargers Super Bowl? It’s still crazy but maybe not as crazy as it sounded back then.

We’ll stand by that pick for now but won’t cry if we’re proven wrong. We hope the second half continues to see excellent football on the field and fewer distracting stories off the field. This has been a very challenging season for the league to put it mildly. Hopefully the NFL will continue pushing to make its service to the community as impactful as its product on Sundays.

Turkeys Can’t Tackle

Thanksgiving Day saw the Oakland Raiders travel to the great state of Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys.  The Raiders were coming off a horrible 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans and the Cowboys were coming off a 24-21 win over the New York Giants.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski booted the ball nine yards deep into the end zone and Dallas return man Terrance Williams ran it out.  When he reached the 23-yard line, he was hit and the ball came loose.  Rookie wide receiver Greg Jenkins alertly picked it up and returned it for a Raider touchdown.  The play was reviewed and the call was upheld.  Janikowski made the point after and just like that, the Raiders had a 7-0 lead with 14:48 to go in the first quarter.

That play was followed by two punts from the Raiders and three from the Cowboys.  Both defenses were playing very well.  With a little under a minute to go in the first quarter, Dallas punter Chris Jones sent a punt high in the air that was fair caught at the Oakland six-yard line by Jenkins.  I was hoping he would let it go through the end zone, but that wasn’t the case.  So, on first down from the six, quarterback Matt McGloin fumbled the snap.  It bounced to the right and rolled to the left.  Running back Rashad Jennings tried to pick it up and run with it, but the ball bounced off his hands and was recovered by defensive end Kyle Wilber at the Oakland two-yard line.  That great field position was taken advantage of on the first play as running back DeMarco Murray ran off left tackle for a two-yard touchdown.  Kicker Dan Bailey made the point after and the score was now knotted at seven with 43 seconds to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders got the ball back at their 21 and on third and seven, McGloin completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Rod Streater for a first down at the 44.  A short run by running back Darren McFadden and a completion to tight end Mychal Rivera moved the Raiders down to the Dallas 29.  Two more plays gained one yard and on third and nine from the 28, McGloin hooked up with rookie wide receiver Andre Holmes for a gain of 20.  A false start moved them back five yards, and on first down from the 13, Jennings was thrown for a loss of three.  On second and goal from the 16, McGloin completed another pass to Holmes for a touchdown.  But the ruling was reversed because he did not break the plane.  That put them on the one-yard line and Jennings took it in from there for a touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 14-7 with 10:13 to go in the second quarter.

The Raider defense continued to play well and quarterback Tony Romo threw three straight incomplete passes.  Jones punted and Jenkins fielded the punt at the Oakland 36.  He returned it 14 yards to set the Raiders up with good field position at the 50.  On first down, Jennings took a direct snap out of the wildcat formation and was stopped for no gain.  McGloin found Jennings up the left side for a gain of 16, but that play was brought back due to offsetting penalties.  A short run by McFadden and a completion to Rivera gave the Raiders a first down at the 40.  Three straight runs by Jennings moved them down to the 22.  From the 22, McGloin hooked up with Holmes again for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 11.  Two short runs by Jennings and a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Jacoby Ford gave them a first and goal at the one-yard line.  Jennings got the call on first down and took it into the end zone.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 21-7 with 1:56 to go in the first half.

Surely they could stop Romo and the Cowboys again, right?  No problem.  The defense had been playing very well throughout the half and I saw no reason why they couldn’t take a 21-7 lead into the locker room.  Well, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver had other ideas.  The pressure from the defense was nonexistent.  Romo had time to find his receivers and two passes to tight end Jason Witten and one to Murray moved them quickly from their 27 to the Oakland 32-yard line.  From the 32, Romo dumped a short pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant.  He was hit by cornerback Mike Jenkins and the ball came loose.  This was a golden opportunity for the Raiders to bring this drive to an end, but the ball was recovered by the Cowboys.  On third and seven from the 29, Romo found Bryant again for a gain of 25.  Two plays later, Murray took it into the end zone for a Cowboy touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys now trailed 21-14 at halftime.  It was truly amazing how they hadn’t been able to go anywhere throughout the first half and then they suddenly went 70 yards in under two minutes.  Gee, I wonder why that happened.  Actually, I know why it happened.  All the blitzing and pressure was gone.  The Raiders went soft and the Cowboys took full advantage of it.

Still, the Raiders were winning.  But I’m pretty sure the Cowboys made adjustments at halftime.  It looked like the Raiders devoured a couple of turkeys at halftime and didn’t make any adjustments.  Maybe Jerry Jones snuck a couple of turkeys into their locker room during the second quarter.  The Raiders got the ball first and aside from a 21-yard pass to Holmes, they went nowhere.  Also, guard Andre Gurode was flagged for his THIRD false start penalty.  Gurode, you USED to be a Cowboy.  You don’t play for them anymore.  I’d appreciate it if you’d wait for the ball to be snapped before you start moving.  Stop doing favors for your former team!

Punter Marquette King punted the ball away and the Cowboys took over at their 13.  On third and 13 from the ten, Romo avoided the pressure and completed a 14-yard pass to Williams.  Running back Lance Dunbar was brought into the game and on second and four from the 30, he broke off a 45-yard run right up the middle.  He was finally dragged down at the Oakland 25 by cornerback Phillip Adams.  A completion to Murray and another run by Dunbar had the Cowboys knocking at the door again.  A touchdown run by Murray was called back due to holding on the Cowboys.  But that didn’t seem to bother them too much and three plays later, Romo found Bryant in the end zone.  Bailey made the point after and the score was knotted at 21 with 5:11 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders went three and out and punted again.  The Cowboys started at their 35 and on third and six from the 39, Romo dumped off a short pass to Witten.  Both linebacker Kevin Burnett and safety Brandian Ross were there to stop Witten short.  However, they could not bring him down.  Witten powered his way to the 42 for a first down.  A couple of runs by Dunbar and a seven-yard pass to Murray had the Cowboys in Oakland territory again.  Another run by Murray and an unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Sio Moore gave the Cowboys a first and goal at the seven-yard line.  From the seven, Murray took the ball up the right side and the gassed Raider defense let him score his third touchdown of the day.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys now led 28-21 with 14:20 to go in the game.

Both teams punted on their next possessions and the Raiders got the ball at their 44.  On first down, McGloin hit Holmes in stride for a nice 35-yard gain.  Then, he looked for fullback Marcel Reece across the middle and the pass was broken up and almost picked off.  On third and nine from the 20, McGloin made a costly mistake.  He threw a high pass for Ford in the corner of the end zone.  Ford is the shortest receiver on the team and although he does possess some good leaping ability, he was no match for cornerback Brandon Carr.  Carr picked the pass off in the end zone and that brought the drive to an end.  Standing in the middle of the end zone uncovered was Rivera.  How McGloin didn’t see him is beyond me.

The Cowboys took over at their 20 and proceeded to roll over the Raiders.  Dunbar and Murray grinded out some tough yards and the Raiders simply couldn’t stop them.  Granted, they had players in position to stop them, but they didn’t wrap them up.  A 14-yard pass to Murray and a short run by Dunbar netted a first down at the Oakland 27.  Several more carries by Murray set up a first and goal at the ten.  Murray ran off left tackle for three, Bryant caught a short pass and on third and goal from the three, Murray ran up the middle looking for his fourth touchdown of the day.  It wasn’t meant to be as he was stopped short by defensive tackle Vance Walker.  But that didn’t matter.  If Bailey made his 19-yard field goal attempt, the game was pretty much over and done with.  The kick was good and the Cowboys now led 31-21 with 1:56 to go in the game.  The Raiders managed to get a 45-yard field goal on their final possession, but the onside kick was recovered by the Cowboys.  Game over.  Final score: Cowboys 31 Raiders 24.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 4-8 and the Cowboys improved to 7-5.

For the Raiders, Matt McGloin completed 18 of 30 for 255 yards, no touchdowns and one very costly interception.  Andre Holmes had a great day and led the team in receptions with seven and yards with 136.  The normally effective running game was held in check by the Cowboys.  All totaled, the Raiders rushed for just 50 yards on 25 carries.  Jennings led the team with 35 yards on 17 carries and two short touchdown runs.  Defensively, Nick Roach led the Raiders in solo tackles with ten and had two sacks and one tackle for a loss.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo completed 23 of 32 for 225 yards and one touchdown.  Dez Bryant led the team in receptions with seven and yards with 61 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Lance Dunbar led the way with 82 yards on 12 carries and DeMarco Murray added 63 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns.  As a team, the Cowboys rushed for a total of 144 yards on 30 carries.  Defensively, safety Barry Church led the Cowboys in solo tackles with six.

Well, once again, the Raiders got off to a good start and blew a 14-point lead.  They just can’t seem to finish games.  It has become highly annoying.  If they had been able to win every close game they’ve been in, they’d be 9-3 instead of 4-8.  Up next is another trip across the country to play the New York Jets.  The Jets have not been putting many points on the board in recent weeks, so they’re due for a big game.  If the Raiders keep playing soft and don’t pressure the quarterback, the Jets just may come away with a win.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys saved what is left of their season last week with a victory over division rivals Philadelphia.  The game wasn’t pretty at times, but whereas in the past the defense came up small when things mattered most they came up huge in this game with two defensive scores late in the game.  Now things weren’t perfect defensively.  The Cowboys weren’t able to put a ton of pressure on Eagles QBs Michael Vick or Nick Foles, not as much as what was expected in facing an offensive line that has been decimated by injury.  There were also quite a few pre-snap penalties.  Those have to stop.  There is no excuse for falling for a hard count over and over again (six offside/encroachment penalties).  Penalties have been a Cowboys bugaboo for a few seasons now and have to stop.  Post-snap penalties are one thing, you can understand those in the middle of the action, but pre-snap is all mental.

 

As for the offense, answering the Eagles touchdown drive  on their opening possession with one of their own was a huge momentum shift.  The running game with Felix Jones looked good once again.  This is a good thing as it doesn’t look like DeMarco Murray will be ready to return this week either.  Murray is close, but with Dallas playing Cleveland on Sunday, then Washington four days later, they may elect to hold Murray until the Skins game, or even let him sit for three more weeks and be 100% healthy for the Rematch with the Eagles.  The offensive line did have problems with pass protection as QB Tony Romo took quite a few hits in the first half, but things tightened up in the second half allowing Romo to hit big plays to WR Dez Bryant.  If there was ever a time for the Dallas offense to start clicking on all cylinders, now is it.  The Giants are struggling heading into their bye with a 6-4 record.  If the Cowboys were to win this week against Cleveland at home (which we all assume they will), they would be 5-5 and only a game behind the Giants with six to play.

 

Here is the remaining schedule for both teams heading into Week 12.  Dallas plays Washington, Philadelphia, @Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and @Washington.  Giants play Green Bay, @Washington, New Orleans, @Atlanta, @Baltimore, and Philadelphia.  Schedule does seem to favor the Cowboys.  Problem is we all know they are not the most consistent of teams.  We’re assuming the Cowboys will beat the hapless Browns this week, but certainly can’t guarantee it.  We never know when the mistake filled Cowboys will pop up or when coach Jason Garrett will make mistakes.  They both seem to happen all to often.  Certainly can’t count on two wins versus Washington either.  That is a rivalry and if the Cowboy playoff hopes come down to Week 17 in Washington, not sure I would want to take that bet.  The back to back December home games versus Pittsburgh and New Orleans could be their biggest pitfall.  Have to win at least one here.  The injury to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger could benefit the Cowboys if it’s long term.  Hard to see the Steelers beating the Cowboys with Byron Leftwich behind center.  The game versus the Bengals probably comes down to which team plays up to their potential.  The Bengals just beat the Giants, but also lost to Cleveland.  Like the Cowboys, never know which team will show up.  Nine wins could win the division.  The Giants already have six wins.  They play Green Bay after the bye.  The way the Giants secondary has played lately, it’s extremely hard to see the Giants winning that game or the New Orleans game two weeks later.  The Washington game in between should be a win, but hardly a guarantee.  Then it’s back to back games on the road versus Atlanta and Baltimore.  Giants would be lucky to split here.  They finish up at home against Philly, once again a rivalry game, but with a likely regime change in Philly, this would seem to be a gimme game for the G-men unless the Eagles will try to give coach Andy Reid a going away present.

 

So you can see why some believe Dallas has the inside track.  Schedule is certainly set up for them to go 6-1 or 5-2.  People like to point out that the record of the teams that they have lost to is 34-13.  Not like they have lost to bad teams.  Problem is they have pretty much been their own worst enemy in those games.  Who is to say that won’t pop up again in games versus Cleveland and Washington?

 

As for Cleveland.  We all know Dallas is a better team.  If they play anywhere near their potential, this should end up being an easy win.  Cleveland will have their moments.  They have a big playmaker in RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon seems only to catch long touchdowns.  Game could be closer than one would expect if Dallas doesn’t take them seriously.  Some might call this a trap game.  Not sure how a 4-5 team could view any game as such.  My prediction is Dallas 27,  Cleveland 17.

 

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