The Cowboys opened last season by blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead to the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium.
Wednesday night’s game was at the same venue and had a few similar chapters, only the ending was different. The Cowboys pulled ahead by two touchdowns and closed the door late while Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants were attempting to rally.
Here are my five thoughts on the Cowboys’ 24-17 victory in the season opener.
1.) Where did Kevin Ogletree come from? The 25-year-old entered the season with one start, 25 career receptions and no touchdowns on his resume. However, Wednesday night he looked like the Cowboys’ No. 1 wide receiver. Ogletree caught eight balls for 114 yards and two scores. He also made a 13-yard catch on third-and-10 that moved the chains and secured the victory with under two minutes remaining. Laurent Robinson, who finished with 11 touchdown catches last season, departed via free agency, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last month that Robinson’s replacement was already on the roster. It looks like he was correct.
“We’ve put in that hard work, day in and day out, off-season and training camp. It’s good to build that continuity with your quarterback and the offense,” said Ogletree, who was targeted 11 times. “We felt good out there for the first game and we’re going to try to keep rolling.”
2.) If DeMarco Murray remains healthy all year the Cowboys will make the playoffs. It looked like that would be the case last season until Murray suffered a season-ending fractured ankle against the Giants in December. He battled injuries throughout his college career at Oklahoma, so an injury-free campaign is certainly no guarantee. But remember this, when Murray carries 20 or more times – like he did Wednesday night (20 carries for 131 yards) – the Cowboys are 6-0. His best run Wednesday night was a magic act in the second half where he appeared to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage but bounced to the outside for a 48-yard gain. Just in case you were worried, the ankle appears to be just fine.
3.) Tony Romo was outstanding. Aside from one poor throw, which resulted in a first-half interception, Romo was flawless. He managed the game, extended plays and was accurate all night, completing 22-of-29 passes. Romo threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns, but his best work came when he was disguising the problems of a sub-par offensive line. If Romo can get just a little protection, he could turn in his best NFL season to date.
“I think you need to have that killer instinct, especially against a guy like Eli and the team they have,” Romo said. “They’re going to come back. You just really have to have that killer instinct and say, ‘We got to do it now. It’s time.’ We just kept having that approach each play.”
4.) Hats off to Rob Ryan and the defense. The group looked greatly improved. Now that Ryan has some playmakers in the secondary there’s time for DeMarcus Ware and the pass rush to make plays up front. Ware (two sacks), Sean Lee (12 tackles and a forced fumble), Jason Hatcher, Bruce Carter, Anthony Spencer and Gerald Sensabaugh all stood out at different times. And getting Jay Ratliff back will only improve things. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were beaten on a few plays but that’s to be expected against the defending Super Bowl champs. Expect those two only to get better the longer they play with their new teammates. It was obvious that their play on the back end helped the Cowboys sack Manning three times.
“They made Eli hold the ball a little bit more,” Ware said of Carr and Claiborne. “He couldn’t go off his first and second read. That gave the pass rush a lot more time to get there and create a little bit of havoc.”
5.) The offensive line looked bad. Yes, the group hasn’t played together very much. Yes, starting center Phil Costa exited with an injury. Yes, they were facing arguably the best pass rush the NFL has to offer. But five false starts are inexcusable in one game. Bill Callahan is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league and he certainly has his work cut out for him. If Romo, who was only sacked twice, wasn’t mobile and effective on quick throws, the Cowboys wouldn’t have only lost, they would have been blown out.
However, Jerry Jones may not agree with me. “I do feel better now than I felt before the game and at this time last year about the interior of our offensive line,” Jones said.