Cowboys 37, Falcons 21
The young backup who comes from nowhere to make big play after big play for the Dallas Cowboys is the storyline made famous by Tony Romo. Now, he's leading Miles Austin down that same path. Austin proved his incredible performance in his first career start was no fluke by catching six more passes for 171 yards and two long touchdowns, sending Dallas to a 37-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday that the Cowboys hope shows they're no fluke, either. Dallas (4-2) had been alternating wins and losses, needing overtime to beat Kansas City last time out. Now the Cowboys have consecutive wins and this was their first against a winning team. It also was their best overall performance, with Romo having fun without making any careless mistakes, the defense making Matt Ryan miserable and the special teams breaking the game open with a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown by Patrick Crayton. Coincidence or not, Dallas is 2-0 since Austin became a starter. Could this turn into the same kind of boost the Cowboys got when Romo burst onto the scene in 2006? Austin is an undrafted guy in his fourth season who'd done little more than special teams the first three years, all of which follows Romo's script. With Terrell Owens gone, the fast kid from Monmouth College showed he could be the new deep threat with a team-record 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs, and backed it up Sunday with touchdowns of 59 and 22 yards. "He's definitely a big part of this offense," Romo said. "I'm glad to see all his hard work and effort is paying off." Atlanta came in 4-1, matching the best start in franchise history, but former Falcons star Keith Brooking, DeMarcus Ware and the rest of the Dallas defense pestered Ryan into four sacks, two interceptions and two fumbles. He only lost one, and on the very next play Romo hit the long TD pass to Austin, which put the Cowboys ahead for good. Ryan had gone 142 passes without a sack and had gone down only twice all season before Dallas got him on consecutive plays in the first quarter. "It's frustrating because we feel we can play better," said Ryan, who finished 19 of 35 for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Two of the sacks and the lost fumble were caused by Ware, the NFL's reigning sack king, who was stuck at zero sacks through four games. Brooking didn't have any huge plays, but his energy and excitement were as evident as ever a few days before his 34th birthday. "The last thing I was told by one of the coaches is this is a young man's game. I guess an old man can still play in this league," said Brooking, who grew up in Atlanta, went to college at Georgia Tech and played 11 seasons for the Falcons until being forced to leave when he wasn't re-signed in the offseason. The Falcons trail undefeated New Orleans in the NFC South and will have to bounce back quickly because the teams will meet in the Superdome next Monday night. Romo didn't have a single yard passing in the first quarter, just 17 running on a third-and-18 scramble. He was hit hard in the back at the end of that play, then got an ice pack on his neck while sitting on the bench. Backup Jon Kitna got ready to go in, but Romo wouldn't miss a snap. Romo finished 21 of 29 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. His biggest play came right at the end of the first half. It was second-and-goal from the 5 and Dallas was out of timeouts when Romo eluded three defenders, popped up and threw a touchdown pass to Crayton that stretched the lead to 17-7 at halftime. Had he taken the sack, time would've run out without Dallas getting any points. Romo used to run around and make plays like that all the time. He hasn't done it much this season, with coaches preaching being smarter with the football. But this was the right time to switch into swashbuckling mode and it paid off. "I think that you've got a wiser and you've got a more experienced Tony Romo than of old, and I think you see he's still got some of that instinctive thing that he can make plays and make winning plays," team owner Jerry Jones said. Crayton's two touchdowns came in his first game since losing his jobs as a starting receiver and as the punt returner, replaced by Austin and newly signed Allen Rossum. Crayton got the return job back when Rossum hurt a hamstring on his first return. "(Crayton) is the kind of guy you want on your football team," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. "He's going to make plays when he has opportunities." Notes: Atlanta scored a TD on its opening drive for the first time this season. The Falcons led the league in first-quarter scoring last season. ... It was a record-low crowd at Cowboys Stadium for the first daytime game, drawing "only" 81,521. ... Austin's 171 yards are the most by a Cowboys receiver following a 200-yard outing.