By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions, but it didn't come easy and it wasn't without controversy. The Cowboys beat the Lions, 24-21, and did it thanks to two key plays. The first was a pass interference call that was reversed and the second was the second of two Matthew Stafford fumbles on the Lions' final drive of the game. With the Cowboys moving on to face the Green Bay Packers next week, here is a look at the Cowboys team grades from their wild card win.
In the first half, the Dallas Cowboys offense was non-existent. Their only touchdown was a 76 yard pass and run to Terrance Williams in the second quarter. Outside of that, the Lions' defense were stopping the Cowboys run game and Tony Romo looked shaky during the entire game.
Speaking of Romo, he played one of his worst games of the year when it came to his decision making. He constantly threw the ball too low and missed wide open reads. He was sacked six times, and on many of those he could have thrown the ball away. Romo held onto the ball too long and cost the Cowboys valuable field position, losing 51 yards combined on the six sacks.
However, at the end of the game, Romo did throw for 293 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. While he fumbled the ball once, the Cowboys recovered it. When looking at the passer rating of Romo, it looks like he had a good game. When watching him throw the ball poorly and hold it too long, he wasn't good until the second half, and still made questionable decisions then.
The biggest question mark for the game was the Cowboys refusal to run the ball when they got in scoring range. They made it to the playoffs thanks to running the ball and DeMarco Murray's great year. Then, when they needed to score, they looked more like the Cowboys who missed the playoffs the last four years than this year's team.
Murray ran for 75 yards on 19 carries, but he should have had a good handful more runs when the Cowboys were forcing and throwing the ball late. The fact that they called running plays up the middle against the top running defense in the NFL was also puzzling when Murray plays better off tackle.
Terrance Williams led the receivers with three receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns while Jason Witten was there with key third down catches when Dallas needed him the most, finishing with five balls for 63 yards. Dez Bryant had a very quiet day, with only three receptions for 48 yards.
The biggest controversy in the game came in the fourth quarter when the Lions led by three and threw a deep pass to Brandon Pettigrew. Anthony Hitchens, who was playing the game with an ankle sprain, ran into Pettigrew and called for pass interference. However, the officials picked up the flag with no explanation and many fans on social network sites cried foul. It should have been a penalty.
Anthony Hitchens almost cost the Cowboys the win there, but then DeMarcus Lawrence made a mistake on the Lions' final drive of the game. Matthew Stafford fumbled the ball with two minutes remaining and Lawrence recovered the ball and then tried to run with it. He fumbled it back to the Lions, giving them a new set of downs. Luckily, Lawrence had a chance to redeem himself and hit Stafford with one minute remaining, causing another fumble, which he recovered and fell on. That ended the game and gave the Cowboys the win.
While many will point to the pass interference call and claim that was why Dallas won the game, it was the two forced fumbles, and more specifically the last one by Stafford, that cost the Lions the game and gave Dallas the win. Stafford also threw an interception to open the third quarter to Kyle Wilber. Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence all recorded sacks in the game as well.
At the end of the game, it was the key plays by the Cowboys defense that won the game. However, it has to be mentioned that they also gave up 323 passing yards to Stafford and couldn't contain Golden Tate, who had six receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown, or Calvin Johnson, who had five receptions for 85 yards. They can't do that next week against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
The always reliable Dan Bailey missed an easy field goal in the third quarter that would have put Dallas within one touchdown. The missed field goal followed the Kyle Wilber interceptions and deflated what was a Cowboys surge. Bailey redeemed himself later in the game with a 51 yard strike that helped Dallas end up leading by four at the end, making the Lions job in the fourth quarter even tougher.
On punt coverage, Dallas was fantastic. Chris Jones pinned them behind the 20 on three of his four punts, including one that ended up on the one-yard-line. While the Lions roared 99 yards for a score after that punt, the punt team did what was asked of them all game.
For more Cowboys news and updates, visit Cowboys Central.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. aExaminer.com.
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