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Cowboys-Steelers Game Notes

December 18, 2012

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When the Cowboys had a 3 and out after getting the ball back in a tied game and with under 3 minutes to play I was sure they had lost. When the Cowboys couldn’t convert 3rd and 4 and had to punt the ball to the Steelers with less than a minute left to play in regulation I was sure they had lost. When the Cowboys lost the coin toss in overtime and the Steelers were given the ball first I was sure they had lost. Such is my confidence in Ben Roethlisberger who is one of the clutch players of his generation and has numerous accolades to prove it with 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 Super Bowl rings. Yet it’s time Tony Romo was put in the same category as for back to back weeks he’s put his team on his back and engineered late game comebacks that could only be described one way: clutch. With his team at 5-6 and needing to win out to likely make the playoffs Romo stepped up his play throwing 6 TDs to only 1 INT while completing 68% of his passes and winning 3 straight games despite his team trailing going into the 4th quarter in each of those games. Romo has only won 1 playoff game but this team has no reason to be in playoff contention and the fact that they are somehow tied for the Division lead with 2 games left in the season should prove to critics how underrated he is. It won’t as this city has a Super Bowl or bust mentality but the reality is that without Romo the Cowboys probably go 4-12 this season and if he can coerce two more wins out of this team he’ll somehow have them in the playoffs. Romo did have some help in this game though as the defense had a dominant 1 1/2 quarters (forced 3 straight punts to begin the game) and ended on a high note with the Steelers not scoring on their final 4 possessions. The final possession of course ended in the dramatic diving interception by Brandon Carr and set up the 21 yard field goal to win it but a few possessions before that Sean Lissemore and Anthony Spencer ended a drive with huge sacks and throughout the game the Cowboys overcame their numerous injuries to be stout against the run and opportunistic against the pass. It was interesting that this win came against the Steelers as this was very much a Pittsburgh style win. Every year the Steelers have key injuries yet somehow battle through them due to a toughness and culture in their organization that the Cowboys have lacked since Jimmy Johnson left in the early 90’s. I saw that toughness today and noticed it last week as well which makes me think that not only can the Cowboys win their final 2 games and make the playoffs but they could be a force in those playoffs. Who scares you as a Cowboys fan right now? The 49ers looked great against the Patriots this week but in 2 games against the St. Louis Rams they are 0-1-1 and failed to score more than 13 points in either game. Dallas played the Falcons tough just a few weeks ago and a lucky bounce in that game could easily have led to a Cowboys victory instead of the narrow defeat that did occur. The Seahawks and Bears both beat the Cowboys as well this season yet the Bears are struggling right now, losers of 5 of their last 6, and history says the Seahawks with a rookie quarterback won’t go too far in this postseason. The Cowboys will be on the road and underdogs in any playoff matchup they might get but I’m impressed by what I’ve seen recently from them and think they could be a dangerous team come January. For now though they are 8-6 and need to prepare for the 6-8 Saints who enter Cowboys Stadium on a high note after their 41-0 win against the Bucs. The road doesn’t get any easier after that as they face the Redskins on the road for possibly a play in game yet with Romo on the hot streak that he’s on I could see a very different outcome than last year’s play in game against the Giants.

Other game notes:
Danny McCray: I’ve harped on him before so I’ll keep it short but he’s clearly the weak link of this defense and it’s surprising that they haven’t either replaced him with someone else or schemed him into a smaller role. This week he was beat numerous times by Heith Miller and blown by for a 60 yard reception by Mike Wallace continuing his very poor play. Ben Roethlisberger even commented about not being happy that they didn’t target Miller more often in the 2nd half as it worked well in the 1st half yet for some reason they went away from it. Next week the tight end is Jimmy Graham so if the Cowboys are to have any chance stopping that offense it will be important they avoid having McCray matchup with him. Everyone talks about the offensive line being the team’s biggest offseason priority but to me the safety spot across from Gerald Sensabaugh is the #1 priority as McCray not only shouldn’t be starting but he shouldn’t be on this roster.

Antonio Brown: As great as Tony Romo played and as huge of a play as Brandon Carr’s interception was in overtime, none of it would have mattered if Antonio Brown had a little more sense to him. He fumbled twice on punt returns, one ended up as a turnover, didn’t catch a punt allowing a huge roll on another punt, and went out of bounds on 3rd and 26 which saved Dallas a timeout. These were all mental mistakes that the Steelers can’t be happy are coming from their third year wide receiver who they just gave a 5 year $42.5 million extension.

Dwayne Harris: While the Steelers WR and punt returner clearly struggled this Sunday Dallas’ had a breakout game. His punt return of 40 yards late in the game gave the Cowboys an outstanding chance to win it with a long field goal at the end of regulation and if they had converted 1 or 2 first downs it would have been Harris being the hero of the game not Brandon Carr. Either way Harris’ punt return skills have been noticeable most of this season so it wasn’t surprising that he made another play in that role against the Steelers yet what was surprising was his impact as a wide receiver. Two different times Harris juked defenders and broke tackles to gain much needed yards on short passes that intrigue me about his future role in this offense. Since being drafted two years ago in the 6th round I’ve argued that he’s nothing more than a punt returner as he isn’t fast, runs poor routes, and has inconsistent hands but that clearly has changed and he looks like a new player these past few weeks. With Dez Bryant’s snaps being limited going forward due to his broken finger I’d like to see Harris get more reps as he’s earned it after his performance Sunday.

Miles Austin: Miles had 6 catches the past 3 weeks COMBINED so with Dez being less than 100% it was nice to see him attack the Steelers secondary with 5 receptions in the 1st quarter. He’s on pace for around 70 receptions for 1,000 yards and 6 TDs which all are good numbers but I still view him as a disappointment this season. I’m not sure if I have unfair expectations for him or if his stats have been a bit hollow as they have often been accumulated in the 2nd half of failed comeback bids but in my eyes Austin hasn’t fulfulled his potential the past few seasons. Hopefully his strong game this Sunday will transfer over as the Cowboys desperately need him to play well in these final games.

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