Sunday wrap: Cowboys' latest reason to believe this season is different
By the time he was wrapping up a long session with reporters, Brandon Carr had grown tired of the questions about the ridiculous catch Odell Beckham made in front of him.
Asked how many questions he'd fielded about the three-fingered grab, the Dallas Cowboys' cornerback responded with a hint of impatience, "About 10." There were two more on the way — one of which was about whether he watched the replay on the big screen — and Carr brushed them off as politely as he could.
These things are easier to do after a win. And that's just the point — the Cowboys won. Again.
They survived that Beckham catch, a play that gave the New York Giants "a spark," according to their coach Tom Coughlin. They overcame a late touchdown by the Giants by scoring one of their own with just over a minute to play. And they forced a four-and-out on the ensuing drive to come away with the 31-28 victory at MetLife Stadium and improve to 8-3 on the season.
The Cowboys have had plenty of these wins in recent years. This was the 23rd fourth-quarter comeback Tony Romo has led. Except they're starting to string them together this year, and they're starting to believe this group just might be more clutch than the Cowboys teams that have choked away opportunities over the past few seasons.
"It's just, I don't want to say you speak it into existence, fruition, but it's just guys reassuring one another that, 'I've got your back,'" Carr told FOX Sports as he paused and measured his words, as if the very mention of conjuring up such belief could cause it to go poof once again.
"When our backs are against the wall, you can look to your left and right and you're going to have (with you) the guys you've been grinding with since OTAs, March, April, whatever the case may be.
"When you see that — the confidence in each guy's eyes — and you can look and see that nothing rattles them, that gives you more confidence to go out there and play harder."
Carr wasn't the only player to speak of this newfound sense of poise the Cowboys believe they've found.
Jason Witten, in his 12th season with this team, said they had conversations in the spring about making the plays when it mattered — unlike three years ago here when they lost by 17 in a Week 17 game against the Giants for the NFC East, or when Romo threw an interception with three minutes to play in the following season’s finale in a similar spot against the Washington Redskins, or when they capped last season by losing to their other division rivals in the Philadelphia Eagles for a third straight 8-8 season that could have easily included a division championship.
This year's team has made the plays at the right time to come back from 21 points down against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3, to beat the Houston Texans in overtime in Week 5, to knock off the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field the following weekend, and to stave off the feistier-than-their-record-indicates Giants on Sunday night.
Down 11 points at half, having given up 237 total yards and converted only two of six third downs while allowing the Giants to convert seven of their first eight, the Cowboys hung tough, with the best example of their poise being Romo's taking advantage of excellent protection to direct traffic on two plays on the final drive.
On the game-winning 13-yard touchdown, with the Giants' zone coverage taking away the quick post the Cowboys had called, Romo waited and waited and waited for Dez Bryant to find an opening in front of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for the touchdown in the left corner of the end zone.
"I think we've always been tough. Being poised is what we're doing a better job of," Witten said. "Not really panicking when we're down at the half, staying together and then going and doing something about it. We've made late pushes and (played well) when there's a few minutes left to go in the fourth but not consistently starting the second half and saying, 'All right, that one's behind us,' and having the mental toughness and fight but the poise to go do it.
"I think we've done that a lot more consistently than we've done in the past."
Witten noted the Cowboys have "been in a lot of these games over the years and somehow, someway we have been on the other side in most of them." Again, that's probably perception over reality for this team based on how they've choked in the past, from Romo's bobbled hold in the 2006 postseason, to the frustrating divisional-round loss to the eventual champion Giants the following season and beyond.
But like Carr said, perception can become reality. And it works both ways. String a few of these wins together, and suddenly the belief can be the plays will go your way at the right time instead of the other way around.
"You're comfortable in uncomfortable situations, if that makes sense," Romo, who was 6-for-6 for 66 yards on the game-winning drive, said when asked why this year's club doesn't seem to panic. "That comes through having been through it, experienced it, and then having to go out and figure out a way to win.
"Once you do that a few times, you start to kind of get that feeling and the team can believe in that."
Lest this team start smelling itself too soon, it needs only to be reminded the season is 17 weeks long. The Cowboys haven't done so well in finales with everything on the line. They'll get a preview of such a situation on Thursday when they host the Eagles. The winner of that game will be in first place in the NFC East heading into the final four weeks of the season. The loser could be nudged back out of a playoff spot.
"We've got to stay very humbled. We have to," Bryant told FOX Sports in a postgame interview. "We have to understand the Eagles are 8-3 for a reason. We have to go out, practice and prepare well. We have to play our best ball on Thursday and get that W."
Having survived injuries and some tough starts to games, they feel better prepared for a game like that. And with each passed test, they'll only feel more prepared.
"A lot of these guys have been here for a few years and we've been on that roller coaster for the last few. This year is going a little bit better," Carr said. "It's a mindset that we're going to play 60 (minutes), no matter what happens. We're going to give it our all, look up at the end of the game and see who's up.
"Today was a great example of that."
1. It used to be a sign of disrespect when one wide receiver did another's dance. It happened plenty a few years ago when Victor Cruz and his salsa were all the rage. In fact, Bryant was one of the guys who did his own version after a touchdown, and it didn't go over so well with Cruz and the Giants. On Sunday night, Bryant and Beckham each mocked the other's post-TD celebration. Beckham crossed his arm's to throw up Bryant's "X" and Bryant responded by doing the bouncing, car-driving move Beckham has done before swatting it away and throwing up the "X" and the Roc Nation symbol. "Just a little friendly competition," Bryant told FOX Sports. "I've known Odell for a while now. Like I said, he's an outstanding player and he's going to be great in the long run." The two players exchanged jerseys after the first meeting between the teams, so there has been plenty of respect between them for a while. Beckham's catch only added some more. "Odell, that was out . . . standing," Bryant said, slowing down to emphasize the word. "You give credit when it's due. That man there is balling. You've got to give it to him. He's an outstanding player. He's young. He's got that bounce. He's excited. He's very passionate about the game. Hey, New York got a great pick."
2. So much has been said about Jim Harbaugh's relationship with the players and his act wearing thin with the front office as reasons why he might not be the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers for much longer. Don't discount the offense's lack of production as a leading factor, though. While Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have been hailed for their offensive approach and play design in recent years, sources say management hasn't been as thrilled with the offense at times, even in victories this year. Sunday's offensive performance against the Washington Redskins was good enough to win, though 17 points against that defense after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up 27 and the Minnesota Vikings posted 29 in the Redskins' previous two games leaves plenty to be desired. Keep an ear out for concerns from above about the stagnant offense if and when the Niners make a change at head coach this offseason.
3. My wife often gives me flak for certain things, even if she has done them herself. I'll point out her hypocrisy and she'll reply, "But I'm pretty. Double standard, Garafolo." And so it was with the New England Patriots on Sunday. Jonas Gray didn't touch the ball once after running for four touchdowns last week but then missing practice and meetings on Friday because he overslept and was sent home. Some were quick to point out Darrelle Revis played after doing the same thing earlier this season. Well, double standard. Bill Belichick was on Bill Parcells' staff when the former Giants coach would allow Lawrence Taylor to get away with things other players couldn't do. Parcells would tell those griping players they'd get away with it, too, if they could play like Taylor on Sundays. In the Patriots' case, Belichick surely saw the chance to teach the young guy a lesson and get LeGarrette Blount off to a good start in his second stint with the team at the same time. He accomplished both (Blount had 78 yards and two scores on 12 carries) and the Patriots won the game easily, 34-9 over the Lions.
4. T.Y. Hilton's teary postgame interview with CBS after catching a touchdown for his newborn daughter is just what the NFL needs. We've spent too much time focusing on the negative, you say? Highlight the good stories in the NFL? Well, there's one of them right there. The emotion Hilton couldn't contain showed a father who was experiencing love toward a baby he'd just met. Good for him. Hilton and his family should enjoy the moment and we should thank him and his rocking-baby touchdown celebration for letting us in on it. By the way, the baby's name is Eugenia Emma. She's named after her father. Remember, Hilton's given first name is Eugene.
5. Ray Rice's situation should be wrapped up this week. Sources told FOX Sports late last week the briefs in the case were filed by both sides last Monday. Originally, those briefs were supposed to be in the week prior. That's why the decision from Judge Barbara Jones didn't land last week, as initially hoped. Even if Rice is reinstated by Judge Jones, it would seem he's a long shot to play again this year. Meanwhile, the NFL and NFL Players Association will meet this week to once again discuss changes to the personal-conduct policy, as ProFootballTalk.com reported on Sunday night. A source said Roger Goodell reached out to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith last week to break the ice after a long standoff between the sides. That standoff began when the league refused to take Adrian Peterson off the commissioner's exempt list once his legal situation was resolved. Expect relations to remain icy between the sides, with the union mulling a lawsuit in federal court on Peterson's behalf if his suspension isn't reduced on appeal.
TEN EVEN QUICKER THOUGHTS
1. Shaun Hill: The Rams' quarterback said he was to blame for the late interception, not the play calling. Down 27-24 with about a minute left and the ball at the San Diego 4-yard line, St. Louis played for the win and not the field goal to tie. Given the Rams’ record, you can't blame them. Great play by the San Diego Chargers' Marcus Gilchrist to see the crossing pattern and jump it.
2. Adam Gase: The Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator dialed up a beauty on a key two-point conversion. Emmanuel Sanders motioned into the backfield and then released into the flat. The Miami Dolphins didn't have a shot to cover that as long as it was executed perfectly, and it was.
3. Mark Sanchez: Good. Not great. He'll have to be the latter to beat the Cowboys on Thursday.
4. Seahawks' defense: Boy, did they ever need that game. They were looking rather beatable before holding the Arizona Cardinals to three points on Sunday, even if it was a Carson Palmer-less, Larry Fitzgerald-less offense they held in check.
5. Matt Stafford: He's only the third quarterback since 1995 to complete 18 passes or less on 46 attempts or more. Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning were the others.
6. Green Bay Packers' offense: That was an extremely off day for them on Sunday and they still scored 24 points. Scary.
7. Rodgers to Rodgers: And by that, I mean Aaron to Richard on a throwback pass that was one of the oddest touchdowns you'll ever see. It just hung up there and Richard could have practically called for the fair catch. Great vision by Aaron there.
8. RG3: Give him credit; he hung in there after taking some big-time shots. That was a prove-it game and he tried to do so by hanging tough behind a struggling, beat-up line. He should survive as starter for one more week, even if Jay Gruden is getting impatient.
9. LeSean McCoy: If you're wondering where that kind of performance has been, you haven't been watching the Eagles' blocking. It was much, much better on Sunday than it's been all season. McCoy has been the same guy; he just hasn't had many holes to hit.
10. Indianapolis Colts: They face the Redskins, Browns, Texans, Cowboys and Titans the rest of the way — hosting Washington and Houston. Sitting 7-4 and two games ahead of the second-place Texans, the Colts should wrap up the AFC South easily. For two straight years they haven't been tested in the regular season. They can only hope to be a tougher out deeper into the postseason this year.