On a day in which quarterback Tony Romo recorded the first 500-yard game of his career, the Dallas Cowboys also became the first team since 1983 to score 48 points and lose, falling 51-48 to the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys’ passing game was absolutely on fire all day; Romo averaged 14.1 YPA, and three receivers crossed the 100-yard mark.
But in the end, Peyton Manning’s Broncos were too much. Like Romo, Manning also threw a pick in the contest. It was his first of the season, and he recorded 20 touchdowns prior to it—an NFL record for scores without an interception.
The biggest series of the game was the last one on which Denver faced a 3rd-and-1 at the Cowboys’ 2-yard line.
With just under two minutes to play, Dallas could have let Denver score a touchdown so they could get the ball back. It was a tough call, because the Cowboys also could have stopped Denver on third down and forced a field goal. The Broncos ran for a first down, but not a touchdown, allowing them to run out the clock and kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Despite the loss, it was clearly the Cowboys’ top game offensively. It also coincides with the first game they opened up the offense, letting Romo hang on to the ball and look downfield. That’s not a coincidence.
Let’s take a look at how each position performed in this contest. Grades will be given based on a combination of stats and film study, including advanced stats like these.
*Stats courtesy of advancednflstats.com, unless noted otherwise.
As mentioned, Romo set a career high with 506 passing yards and five touchdowns. He also through a crucial fourth-quarter interception that led to Denver’s game-winning score, but it’s difficult to get on Romo about it since the Cowboys wouldn’t have been in that position without him.
In terms of pure stats, Romo outplayed Manning in every way. He had nearly 100 more yards on six fewer attempts, averaging 14.1 YPA, compared to 9.9 YPA for Manning. They scored the same number of touchdowns with Manning tossing four and running one in.
If your inclination is to say this is “the same old Romo,” in regards to his fourth-quarter interception, you’re just wrong. Romo actually has the highest fourth-quarter passer rating ever. It’s unfortunate his lone pick came so late in the game—and it was clearly a poor decision—but this was still one of the best games of Romo’s career.
The Cowboys didn’t run the ball much, with 14 carries for Murray and none for any other Dallas running backs. You could argue those 14 rushes were actually too much because of how efficiently Romo was throwing the ball.
Murray averaged 3.6 YPC, and his 12 carries actually decreased the Cowboys’ chances of winning by seven percent. In such a close contest, that's a pretty large number.
Murray also caught one pass for five yards—a drop in his production as a receiver that could become a trend if the Cowboys astutely continue their downfield attack.
The Cowboys will have a full-blown “wide receiver controversy” on their hands once Miles Austin returns. Rookie Terrance Williams caught four passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, including an 82-yarder that really kept Dallas in the game. With only five targets, Williams’ average of 30.2 yards per target is unreal.
Bryant was, once again, dominant, particularly in the red zone with two touchdowns from two yards out. Half of his 12 targets increased the Cowboys’ win probability. Bryant lost a fumble early in the game that came back to haunt Dallas.
Cole Beasley was productive as well, adding four catches for 47 yards and a rare red-zone touchdown. He had only four targets in the game, so we was clearly efficient.
Escobar and Hanna combined for 28 yards on two receptions, but the day really belonged to Witten on the inside. He took his seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown—good for 12.1 yards per target. Seven of Witten’s 10 targets resulted in an increase in win probability.
Through five games, Witten has 28 receptions for 313 yards and three scores, putting him on pace for 90 catches, 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns.
LT Tyron Smith
LG Ronald Leary
C Travis Frederick
C Phil Costa
RG Brian Waters
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT Doug Free
RT Jermey Parnell
The numbers—four sacks on Romo—suggest the offensive line wasn’t great in pass protection, but that’s not the case. Romo hung in the pocket in an effort to make big plays, which he was able to garner, but it forced the line to block for a lot longer than normal. The quarterback is just as responsible for his protection as the offensive line.
Left tackle Tyron Smith struggled early in the game, although he seemed to respond later in the contest. In addition to the sacks, Romo was hit four times, and there was pressure in his face when he threw the crucial late interception. There also wasn’t a whole lot of room for Murray in the running game.
With Manning getting rid of the ball so quickly, there wasn’t much time for the Cowboys’ pass-rushers to get to him; no one on the defense recorded a sack. The Broncos running backs ran the ball more than expected—27 times—but the Cowboys defensive tackles combined for only four total tackles.
Again, there just wasn’t much time for the Cowboys pass-rushers to reach Manning. Ware still managed to collect six tackles, five of which increased Dallas’ win probability. It was a much quieter day for Selvie and Wilber, both of whom had only one tackle.
Ware went into the Cowboys locker room in the third quarter with an apparent injury, but it turned out to just be cramps, per Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.
A week after snapping out of his mini-slump, Sean Lee racked up a bunch of tackles again with 16. He was great against the run, but also a big part of the problem against Julius Thomas. The Broncos tight end torched Dallas for nine receptions, 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Manning made an obvious effort to get Thomas singled up against the Cowboys’ linebackers and secondary, and it worked; 11 of Thomas’s 14 targets increased Denver’s win probability, and he added a team-high 11.4 expected points.
Carter and Sims combined for eight tackles—four apiece. Sims started for the injured Justin Durant, who was out with a strained groin, per a report by Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News.
Who would have thought that Morris Claiborne would be the first person to intercept Manning in 2013? Manning threw a poor pass, and wide receiver Eric Decker seemed unable to locate the football, but it was likely still a big boost to Claiborne’s confidence. The cornerback also recovered a fumble, ultimately increasing the Cowboys' chances of winning by 17 percentage points.
Overall, the Cowboys did a decent job on the outside, holding Decker and Demaryius Thomas to 144 total yards. Scandrick contained Wes Welker, too, holding him to 49 yards. It was really tight end Julius Thomas and the Broncos backs who hurt Dallas, combining for 18 receptions, 221 yards and two touchdowns.
It was yet another big statistical game for Church, who was able to rack up 11 tackles. The numbers were deceptive, though, because all but three of those tackles were on plays that increased the Broncos’ chances of scoring. Church also forced a fumble.
Wilcox added eight more tackles—one of which was deemed “successful” for Dallas in terms of stopping the Broncos—but that’s just the nature of playing free safety.
K Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones
LS L.P Ladouceur
Bailey connected on both of his field goals and looked pretty good on kickoffs. Believe it or not, the Cowboys punted the ball just once (and Denver not at all).