The opportunity to revert to the team that failed many times in the last few seasons presented itself once again for the talent-filled Dallas Cowboys. Leading the Giants 17-10 with just under six minutes left, the Cowboys faced 1st-and-30, having moved from 1st-and-10 inside the 15-yard line to out-of-definite field-goal range at the 34.
At the line of scrimmage, Romo called an audible, using a duck-like hand motion to signal to his WR. Dropping back, for a second he looked like the QB Cowboys fans had dreaded—uncertain, slow to react and confused.
However, in the next second, he lofted a pass near the sideline to Miles Austin. For a brief moment, it appeared as if Giants DB Antrel Rolle could come over and make a key INT, but instead the ball landed in the hands of a leaping Austin, who then raced the rest of the way for a 34-yd TD to give the Cowboys a 24-10 lead with 5:57 left.
For Cowboys fans, the excitement was cautionary. They were in almost the same exact position last season in December, when Tony Romo had just completed a 50-yd TD pass to Dez Bryant with 5:41 left in the game to give the Cowboys a nearly insurmountable 34-22 lead. After Eli Manning led the Giants down the field to a TD to cut the lead to 34-29, the Cowboys got the ball back with 3:14 remaining and a chance to run out the clock and all but clinch the NFC East.
However, on third down the Giants sent the house against Romo, and he overthrew a wide-open Miles Austin, forcing them to punt the ball back to the Giants. Manning again led them to a TD, then Dallas, after driving into FG range, self destructed by making, then missing a game-tying FG.
Dan Bailey connected on a 47-yard FG, but Tom Coughlin called a timeout. Bailey’s second kick was swatted by Jason Pierre-Paul. It was the second straight week that a last-second Bailey field goal had been wiped off the board by a timeout. The previous Sunday, it was Bailey’s own coach, Jason Garrett, who signaled for the TO just before Bailey nailed what would have been a game-winner against Arizona. Dallas went on to lose that game in OT.
As Manning and the Giants took the field, Cowboys fans ventured back to last December. This couldn't happen again, could it? This is a different season, with a more mature, experienced Tony Romo. This Dallas defense surely learned from their collapses late in games last season. Right?
Cowboys fans watched in horror as Manning led the Giants down the field, converting two fourth downs and then connecting with former Cowboys TE Martellus Bennett on a 9-yard TD with 2:36 remaining. Like last December, Romo and the Cowboys offense had a chance to ice the game, but they needed to get a first down, as the Giants had two timeouts and the two-minute warning.
After gaining eight yards on their first two running plays, it looked like Dallas had learned their lesson from last season when DeMarco Murray ran around the left end and stayed in bounds after getting a first down. However, in perfect Dallas self-destruct fashion, Jason Witten was called for holding.
Just like earlier in the game, when the Cowboys were pushed back to a 1st-and-30 after two penalties, this was the perfect time for Dallas to blow up and give the game away. Pushed back, now facing 3rd-and-10, Romo dropped back and threw a perfect strike to Kevin Ogletree. First down. Game over.
While it's not wise to draw everything out of a Week 1 win, words cannot express how important it was for the Cowboys to execute in these circumstances. After seemingly burying themselves with bad penalties, Dallas overcame their mistakes and took back the game against an opponent that always capitalized on previous mistakes in past seasons.
This was a huge accomplishment for Dallas and Romo. Fans that always criticize Romo for failing to come through in big spots have to give him props for this game. Not only did he come through big in those spots, but he was nearly perfect all night, completing 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns on the road against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Another key moment for the Cowboys occurred in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. Leading 17-10, Dallas looked like they had just forced the Giants to a three-and-out when Jason Hatcher was called for roughing the passer, giving Manning another set of downs to possibly tie the game.
Hatcher, instead of feeling sorry for himself and keeping his head down, redeemed himself three plays later when he sacked Manning on 3rd-and-4. That's what winning teams do in the NFL. They don't allow mistakes to bury them, but instead make up for them.
Cowboys fans have every reason to be proud of their team and think that this season will be different from the self-inflicted wounds that ruined their 2011 season. Perhaps before they celebrate an NFC East title, they need to take a closer look at last season.
After blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jets in the 2011 season opener at the same MetLife Stadium, Dallas looked like a lock to start the season 0-2 facing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit at San Francisco. Tony Romo had left the game in the second quarter after fracturing two ribs on a blindside blitz.
Knowing that the Cowboys needed their leader to step up after their demoralizing loss the week before, Romo returned. He led the Cowboys on two fourth-quarter scoring drives to send the game into OT, where he then connected on a 77-yard pass play to Jesse Holley to set up Dan Bailey's 19-yard game-winning FG.
So while Romo and the Cowboys showed guts and heart in an inspiring win Wednesday night against the Giants, they did show the same guts and heart last year. Unfortunately, Dallas was unable to build off that triumph, as two weeks later they blew a 24-point second-half lead to the Lions at home, then followed that with a loss at New England, where they had a chance to run out the clock but failed to get a first down. Tom Brady then made them pay when he hit Aaron Hernandez for the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left.
Dallas now has a chance to build on the success of their season-opening win. The consistency and execution they show in the upcoming weeks, starting with a huge game at Seattle next Sunday, will determine if they truly have learned their lessons from seasons past.
The Seahawks have been picked by many experts to be a surprise team this season. However, they are still facing a team that has gone 23-41 over the last four seasons with a rookie QB at the helm. The old Cowboys would lose this game. How will the new Cowboys fare?