Cowboys vs. Giants: Report Card Grades for Best & Worst of Season Opener
It seemed that it would never end, but the long, dark days of summer have given way to fall, and on Wednesday night the Dallas Cowboys and defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants kicked off the 2012 NFL season at the stadium I'm still going to call The Meadowlands because I can.
It was expected the contest between two heated NFC East rivals would provide plenty of excitement, but the cold, hard truth is it looked a lot more like two teams playing their first meaningful game of the season.
It was the Dallas Cowboys that settled down in the second half, and when the final gun sounded Dallas emerged victorious 24-17.
Since the kids are back in school and football's back at the forefront of American sports, let's hand out some report cards of our own by grading some of the best and worst of the opening game of the 2012 NFL campaign.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
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Much was made of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's magical postseason run and game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLVI, but the 31-year-old also very quietly threw for 5,000 yards last year.
Many of those yards came against the Dallas Cowboys, as Manning threw for almost 750 yards in two meetings against Dallas in 2011 with five touchdowns against only one interception.
After a whisper-quiet first half, Manning got it going in the third quarter, leading the Giants on a desperately needed 89-yard drive to answer Tony Romo's second touchdown pass.
However, Manning was denied the chance to engineer a last-minute comeback, and although his 213 passing yards with a touchdown isn't a bad stat line, the simple fact is the Giants lost.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo wasn't exactly terrible himself a season ago, throwing for nearly 4,200 yards and 31 scores and posting a quarterback rating of over 100.
However, even though Romo topped 600 passing yards in two showdowns with the Giants last year, Dallas lost both times, and combined with the Cowboys' lack of postseason success in recent years, the tenth-year pro is under tremendous pressure in 2012.
It was pressure that caused Romo's first big gaffe of the season opener, as the New York pass rush led to a second-quarter pick that set up the first points of the game.
The 32-year-old also continues to struggle with delays of game from the shotgun, as it happened again on more than one occasion Wednesday night.
With that said, Romo settled down considerably in the second half, tossing a pair of touchdown passes to Kevin Ogletree and a dagger of a strike to Miles Austin on 1st-and-30 with six minutes left that put the Cowboys up two scores.
All told, just over 300 passing yards and over a 75 percent completion percentage isn't too shabby.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
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Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray burst onto the NFL scene by gaining 253 yards rushing in a game against the St. Louis Rams last season, but the second-year pro's season was ended when he broke his ankle against the Giants in their first meeting last December.
Neither back in the game found much running room early, but Murray got untracked in the second half, and by the time all was said and done the former Oklahoma standout had scampered his way to his first 100-yard rushing game of the 2012 season.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants
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If the New York Giants are going to repeat as NFC East champions in 2012, then they will need improvement from a rushing attack that ranked dead last in the NFL a year ago.
The team took steps to address that by replacing bruiser Brandon Jacobs with rookie David Wilson, but the majority of the heavy lifting in the New York backfield will presumably be done by sixth-year pro Ahmad Bradshaw, who struggled through an injury-marred 2011 season.
It certainly appears that the Giants will be leaning on Bradshaw, as the ball-control issues that plagued Wilson in college reared their head again when a first-quarter fumble killed a Giants drive.
Bradshaw had a very hard time finding room to run Wednesday but found the end zone on a 10-yard scoring scamper that New York badly needed in the third quarter.
Much like Murray, Bradshaw got it going in the second half, and his 93 total yards and a score for the game gives the G-Men some hope for their ground game this season.
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
Wide receiver Victor Cruz was one of the breakout stars of the 2011 season, as the third-year pro came from nowhere to post over 1,500 receiving yards and score nine touchdowns.
The first half of Wednesday night's opener seemed an indication that the 25-year-old is set to salsa his way to another big year in 2012, as Cruz reeled in four passes for 46 yards in the first 30 minutes.
The second half was a much different story.
Cruz caught only two more balls the rest of the way and had several costly drops, making this a debut he'd likely just as soon forget.
The Replacement Officials
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We interrupt this discussion of the players in this game for a discussion of the replacement officials who called it.
Much has been made of the labor impasse between the NFL and the officials' union, as well as the numerous calls that replacement officials butchered during the preseason.
I'd list them, but we don't have all night.
It didn't take long for the first missed call that counted, either, as a block in the back on a punt return became a rather, um, curious personal foul.
But wait, there's more!
After Romo's first interception, the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal after a non-call on defensive holding at the goal line.
However, all things being equal, the replacement crew wasn't totally awful.
Great? Oh, no.
But better than I expected.
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Dallas Cowboys
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The Dallas Cowboys have any number of big name pass-catchers on their roster, from wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to tight end Jason Witten.
However, those big names were upstaged on Wednesday night by little-known Kevin Ogletree.
The fourth-year pro, who locked down the Cowboys' third receiver job in the preseason, exploded against the Giants Wednesday night, hauling in the first two touchdown catches of his NFL career, going over 100 yards receiving and sending fantasy football enthusiasts across America scrambling for their waiver wires.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
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After lacerating his spleen in the team's exhibition opener, very few people thought that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten would be anywhere near the playing field Wednesday night.
However, after receiving medical clearance earlier Wednesday, there was the 10th-year pro, in uniform and on the field.
Witten had a quiet night, catching only two passes for 10 yards, but I'm willing to give him a passing grade just for having the stones to suit up.
New York Giants Defense
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The New York Giants defense certainly wasn't much to look at on paper last year, ranking a moribund 27th in the NFL in total defense.
Not that it stopped them from winning the Super Bowl.
The heart and soul of the New York Giants defense is undoubtedly the defensive line, which features a trio of accomplished pass-rushers in ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck.
The New York defense came up big early, holding on a fourth-and-inches inside their territory when free safety Antrel Rolle shot the gap and slowed up fullback Lawrence Vickers.
The team also got a big contribution from reserve linebacker Keith Rivers, who added seven total tackles.
Rivers split time with the injured Michael Boley, who pitched in a huge second-quarter interception of his own.
However, the vaunted Giants pass rush didn't get the pressure they're famous for, and given time to throw Romo made them pay more often than not.
All in all, a very uneven effort, and it cost them the game.
DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas Cowboys
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For much of his NFL career Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has been the bane of quarterbacks across the NFL, racking up 99.5 sacks over his first seven NFL seasons.
It doesn't appear that the eighth will be any different.
Wednesday was a big night for Ware, who racked up his 100th NFL sack by taking down Eli Manning early in the second quarter, adding a second for good measure just before halftime.
Ware also chipped in five tackles, and that's what you call a big game.