It never seems to be easy for the Dallas Cowboys and it was another improbable finish on Sunday. The Bengals led 19-10 entering the final quarter but the visiting Cowboys rallied for a 20-19 last-second victory, keeping their playoff hopes alive.
Here are my thoughts on the Cowboys’ seventh win of the season.
1.) How valuable is Dan Bailey? The quiet Cowboys kicker is easily forgotten but he’s as clutch as anyone on the roster. Bailey buried the game-winner from 40 yards away Sunday and probably no one on the team was surprised. Outside of a missed 51-yarder in Baltimore, the second-year standout has been at his best in pressure situations this season. Bailey is 23-of-25 (92 percent) on field goals and 27-for-27 on extra points. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was extremely conservative after the Cowboys got within 40 yards even though critics were probably screaming for a couple more plays to make the attempt more manageable. Bailey walked on, put his head down and made his coach look good when it mattered most.
2.) There’s obviously no way of determining the impact that Jerry Brown’s death had Sunday on the Cowboys. But one thing is certain, several Cowboys were emotional throughout. The Fox television cameras caught owner and GM Jerry Jones with watery eyes when he talked about Brown a couple hours before kickoff. The emotion from the team during the game was mostly frustration. Rob Ryan dropped a large number of expletives, Jason Witten scolded Jermey Parnell, Tony Romo yelled at Dwayne Harris and Dez Bryant shouted at several Bengals defenders. Did those reactions have anything to do with the awful news they received before leaving for Cincinnati, or were they frustrated by some poor play in a must-win game? There’s no definitive answer but the emotion was obvious, especially as Jason Hatcher walked onto the field after Bailey’s kick, holding up Brown’s No. 53 jersey before sharing a hug with Garrett.
3.) The defense made a critical stop when they needed it most in the final minutes but that doesn’t excuse another game filled with too many big plays. The Bengals managed eight plays of 16 or more yards on Sunday. If it weren’t for some uncharacteristically dropped balls by Cincy’s standout receiver A.J. Green this one might have been over before the final quarter started. Ryan and Jones say they aren’t using injuries as excuses, so I won’t either. The Bengals also did whatever they wanted on the ground, as running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis needed only 12 carries to amass 89 of his teams 146 rushing yards. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they caught former TCU quarterback Andy Dalton on a bad day. Ryan always says the defense will play better and they’ll need to if they plan on reaching the postseason. … Kudos to Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys outside linebacker was a monster, finishing with two sacks and a team-high 11 tackles. Spencer improved his career-high to 8.5 sacks this season.
4.) It’s a miracle that Tony Romo played the entire game. The Cowboys quarterback probably expected to be running for his life against one of the league’s best defensive lines and that’s exactly what happened in Cincinnati. Romo was sacked three times but that’s only because of his elusiveness. The Bengals defense recorded another nine hits on Romo, and one shot that left him bent backward and appearing to be made of Silly Putty. Romo would never publicly criticize his line but I’d love to hear the conversations he has behind closed doors. Something has to change and the Cowboys know it. That was evident by their decision to rotate Doug Free and Parnell at right tackle.
5.) Garrett constantly preaches about being good in all three phases of the game. Thanks to Bailey’s clutch kick the special teams unit wasn’t a total disappointment. But punter Brian Moorman easily had his worst game of the year. Moorman was one of the Bengals’ most valuable player, giving them favorable field position with punts of 23, 27, 27 and 39 yards on Sunday. When a punter is doing well, they are usually never mentioned. Moorman’s name was called during the Fox broadcast a lot on Sunday.