The final score: New England 48, Dallas 27.
The Patriots are the better team right now, there’s no question about that—perhaps the best team in the league (although people seem to be forgetting about the DEFENDING SUPER BOWL CHAMPION COLTS).
But Super Bowls are NOT won in October so it’s important not to overreact to a regular season loss. This was unquestionably the toughest game on the Cowboys’ schedule this year.
It was supposed to be a measuring stick for them and they came up short—one first down in the first quarter, 12 penalties for 98 yards, mostly on offense, and a phantom pass interference call that gave the Patriots a first and goal didn’t help them much.
Tom Brady showed why he's the MVP of the league right now, tossing a career-high five TDs on 31 of 46 and 388 yards. He methodically carved up the Cowboys’ defense the whole game, particularly on third downs, where he converted 11 of 17 (65 percent), with three of them ending in TDs.
Meanwhile, Dallas was only four for 11 on third downs (36 percent). The Dallas defense was not able to get New England off the field on third downs…PERIOD.
Dallas focused much of their attention on Randy Moss, and allowed him to have only six catches for 59 yards and one TD, but in the process, they allowed Wes Welker to have a career day with 11 catches for 124 yards and two TDs.
Donte Stallworth also had a season-high 136 yards on seven catches, including a 69-yard TD that put the game away early in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were only up 31-24.
The Cowboys’ suspect secondary, playing without corner Anthony Henry for the second straight game, was fully exposed, as Brady seemingly did what he wanted to all day.
The defense was able to put some pressure on Brady early, sacking him three times—as many times as he had been sacked all season. Greg Ellis’ sack of Brady in the second quarter even caused a fumble that was recovered by Jason Hatcher and run back 29 yards for a TD that narrowed the Patriots’ lead to only 14-10.
Dallas got off to a slow start offensively and was forced to play catch-up for the majority of the game.
Tony Romo played much better than he did against Buffalo, finishing with 199 yards on 18 of 29 passing with two TDs and a late pick when the Patriots were up 14 late in the fourth. Most of Romo’s weapons were neutralized with T.O. having six catches for 66 yards and a TD, and Jason Witten being blanketed by the Patriots for much of the day, limiting him to just three catches for 47 yards.
Neither running game played a huge part in this matchup.
New England managed just 75 yards on the ground while Dallas’ running duo of Julius Jones and Marion Barber combined for 97 yards. New England made the most of their offensive possessions chewing up 38:15 of the clock, while Dallas only had 21:45 worth of offensive plays.
The Dallas defense simply could not cover the New England wide receivers as they went three wide most of the game and spread the Cowboys’ defense out.
Despite all of their shortcomings, the Cowboys LED 24-21 in the third quarter with 10:20 remaining when Tony Romo hit Patrick Crayton for an eight-yard TD. From that point on, they were only able to muster another FG.
New England answered with a 10-play, 77-yard drive ending in a one-yard Brady TD pass to TE Kyle Brady, which was set up by a RIDICULOUS pass interference call on safety Pat Watkins for bumping Randy Moss at the goal line.
Watkins was playing the ball and the contact was CLEARLY incidental. The call was so bad that it was initially on corner Terence Newman who was nowhere NEAR the play.
In the end, more than the defensive shortcomings, more than Brady’s career day, more than the offense’s slow start, it was penalties that KILLED the Cowboys.
In essence, they beat themselves.
Several times in the third and fourth quarters, their drives had momentum that was slowed down and outright ruined by stupid penalties. 12 for 98 will get you beat against most teams, let alone one of the best in the game.
Those 12 included three holding penalties, three off-sides, two false starts, one legitimate pass interference call, and the aforementioned HORSESHIT pass interference call on Pat Watkins.
Cowboys’ coach Wade Phillips will most likely feel his first heat of the season, particularly for not going for it on fourth and goal from the NE five, trailing by 14 with 10:03 left.
The Cowboys needed to take chances. They were David to the Patriots’ Goliath, but instead of taking a shot, they simply played it safe.
You can’t beat Goliath with field goals—you HAVE to score TDs.
The Patriots chewed up six minutes of clock that ended with a FG.
Romo’s interception after the Cowboys got the ball back led to Belifuck running up the score with Kyle Eckel’s one-yard touchdown.
The game was over—he could have knelt the ball down with 19 seconds left and it wouldn’t have mattered. But class is something that Belichick sorely lacks, another one of the many reasons why he's the most hated man in the NFL and why many long for the day when he gets his comeuppance.
That aside, this Patriots team is one of the best in the league.
They don’t make many mistakes and they don’t beat themselves. They have a QB playing at his career peek, a strong defense, and a full arsenal of offensive weapons. The November 4 match-up against the Colts should determine if they are in fact THE BEST.
Life goes back to normal for the Cowboys now.
No more “games of the year,” with the possible exception of Green Bay at home on November 29, which could determine home field advantage for the NFC playoffs.
The Cowboys are still the best team in the NFC and this game should not dampen their spirits.
But Cowboy haters beware: this game can not be used as an excuse to say, “I told you they weren’t that good.”
They’re not as good as the Patriots—that’s clear. Perhaps NO ONE is as good as the Patriots. There’s no shame in that.
This was the toughest game of the season, and despite the final score, the Cowboys were closer than one would think.
New England was favored to win, had the better team, and played the better game. They deserved the win and they got it. That’s it.
At 5-1, the Cowboys are still tied with Green Bay for the best record in the NFC. They still lead the NFC East by a game and maybe more, depending if Atlanta can pull off an upset over the Giants Monday night.
A win against Minnesota next week and a 6-1 record going into the bye can put this game in the past so the team can focus on the second half of the season.
If the Cowboys meet the Patriots again, it will be for the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in Glendale, Arizona.
Having seen this team up close and knowing how they beat themselves, the Cowboys will give them a much better game if they can make it that far.