The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2015 NFL season with a point to prove. They were playing without their top running back from 2014, who left via free agency, and had some new additions to the defense as well. However, the Cowboys finished the game in a good news, bad news scenario as they lost Dez Bryant to a broken foot for four to six weeks but still managed a last minute come from behind victory over the New York Giants, winning 27-26. Here is a look at the team grades from the Cowboys win over the Giants on Opening Day.
Honestly, if Dallas had lost this game, the grade would have been much lower. However, Tony Romo worked magic and brought the Cowboys back to win with a 72 yard drive in just 1:27, completing five of six passes, including the final touchdown of the game to Jason Witten with just 17 seconds remaining in the game. That was karma, as it was a Romo to Witten miscue earlier in the game that Trumaine McBride intercepted to put the Giants in position to score a touchdown to take a 24-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
Through the course of the game, Romo threw two interceptions and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie recovered a Cowboys fumble to return for a touchdown, meaning that both Giants touchdowns were the cause of the offense. However, Romo's heroics saved the day. Romo finished with 356 passing yards and three touchdowns while running back Lance Dunbar led the receivers with eight catches for 70 yards. Jason Witten caught two touchdowns on eight receptions and Gavin Escobar caught two passes, one for a touchdown. Dez Bryant had five catches for 48 yards before breaking his foot. Bryant will miss four to six weeks, and Dallas will struggle without him.
The biggest question was who would replace the production of DeMarco Murray, the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year. The answer this week was no one. Joseph Randle ran the ball 16 times for 65 yards, averaging just over four yards a carry, and Darren McFadden ran the ball six times for 16 yards, just under three yards a carry. This will wear the young defense down if someone doesn't step up soon.
The defense is why the Dallas Cowboys won this game. Just line in 2014, the Cowboys defense played a game of bend, but don't break. They gave up four field goals, meaning that they allowed the Giants to move down the field, but they wouldn't let them in the end zone. The two Giants touchdowns came on a defensive fumble return for a score and an interception by Romo allowed the Giants to start from deep in the Cowboys' territory and Rashad Jennings scored from one yard out. It was the Giants' final scoring drive of the game that the Cowboys bent a lot but stopped them and forced a field goal, which gave the Giants a six point lead, and gave Romo the chance to work his magic.
Statistically, Dallas only allowed Eli Manning to throw for 190 yards. He wasn't able to throw a touchdown but also avoided interceptions in this game. Rashad Jennings led the running backs with 52 yards and his short touchdown, but the Giants only managed 99 yards on the ground. With Dez Bryant out for the next four to six weeks, this kind of defensive play is the only thing that will keep Dallas alive. Sean Lee returned for his first game in two years to lead the Cowboys in tackles with nine and Tyrone Crawford picked up the first Dallas sack of the season.
Special Teams: A
Dan Bailey continues to be automatic, hitting both of his field goal attempts and all three extra point tries. Chris Jones is off to a nice start in the punting game this season, averaging 53 yards a punt on two tries. The big replacement was Dwayne Harris, who was the kick returner, punt returner, and special teams gunner last year in Dallas. Now playing for the Giants, he was limited to three yards on two punt returns.
On the other hand, Cole Beasley is the new punt returner for Dallas and had negative three yards on one return. For the kick returners, Dallas never allowed a return on kick offs but returned five themselves, for a nice average of 19.2 yards per return. Lance Dunbar returned three kicks and Tyler Patmon returned two, with Dunbar as the better option.
Jason Garrett coached a nice game. His biggest contribution was allowing Tony Romo the freedom to change plays at the line, and Romo was fantastic in reading the defense. However, the turnovers and the sloppy penalties at the end hurt Dallas, and that is a coaching problem. It should also be noted that Garrett used both challenge flags in the first quarter and that would have come back to hurt Dallas if they needed one at the end of the game.
With the big win, Dallas now has a tough week ahead of them. They have to figure out how to head into the next month without their best player, Dez Bryant. It also hurts that the second game of the season is against the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed DeMarco Murray in the offseason. With Murray wanting to prove that he was worth the Cowboys money and Dallas hoping that his replacements can step up, this is a game that the Cowboys might lose. It is time to find Bryant's replacement and then start game planning for stopping Murray on the road in Philadelphia.
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. Examiner.com.
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