Romo, Cowboys good enough to get win

BY foxsports • September 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas — If the Dallas Cowboys were going to stumble all over themselves and try to give a game away, at least they picked the right opponent. These 2012 Cowboys aren't much to look at, which is why players and coaches shouldn't bother apologizing for an ugly 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
There's simply no evidence this team is in position to worry about style points based on the first three games of the season. And in what appears to be a soft NFC East, a 2-1 start is good enough for a first-place tie.
Now for the bad news: The Bucs don't show up on the schedule again. And Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, who reportedly lost 20 pounds over the offseason, hasn't gained any accuracy. Already playing without starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), the Cowboys lost Barry Church midway through the third quarter to a ruptured Achilles' tendon that will end his season.
Those types of injuries would've been crippling to last year's defense, but the Cowboys were able to close out the game against the Bucs with bonus-baby cornerback Brandon Carr playing and excelling at safety. He was supposed to line up against the Bucs' No. 1 wide receiver Vincent Jackson on Sunday, but the Cowboys instead gave him a crash-course at safety during practices last week. It was his first time to play the position since he was a junior in high school at Flint, Mich., but he appeared to be comfortable at the back end of the Cowboys' defense.
Of course, it helps when the opposing quarterback is dreadful. Freeman, who only two years ago seemed like a foundation piece for the upstart Bucs, was 10-of-28 for 110 yards (70 came on the final drive) and one interception. He completed 1-of-8 passes for 11 yards in the third quarter when the Cowboys were desperately trying to hand the Bucs a win. Clinging to a 10-7 lead early in the third quarter, Romo fumbled at the Bucs' 19-yard line. During what felt like a monumental stretch, the Bucs drove to the Cowboys' 42-yard line.
The drive stalled when Cowboys rookie defensive end Tyrone Crawford pressured Freeman into an incompletion. Another Romo fumble gave the Bucs the ball at the Cowboys' 31-yard line late in the third quarter. But Freeman was called for intentional grounding on the next play, and the drive stalled.
"Last week reminded me of last year's defense," Sean Lee told me after the game. "Today was a day we can continue to build on."
For the second time in three games, the Cowboys had 13 penalties. And five of those came on false starts. Offensive tackle Doug Free had three of those penalties with a holding penalty as well, and tight end Jason Witten added two more. Witten had two more drops to run his season total to seven, which is mystifying for one of the most sure-handed players in the game. On the final play of the third quarter, Witten had a sure touchdown pass glance off his fingertips, into his body and then onto the ground. Romo had his tight end's back after the game.
"Jason doesn't need anyone to defend him," said Romo. "Jason played at the highest of levels and he is still playing that way. He's been good for so long now, that play doesn't define anything for him."
In past years, Cowboys players have been extremely sensitive about being criticized for how poorly they played in wins. But this feels like a different locker room in that players could be thankful for the win while acknowledging all the mistakes. Lee was the first to admit the Cowboys caught a huge break on Romo's second fumble of the third quarter because the play was whistled dead before Bucs cornerback Eric Wright could scoop up the ball and race into the end zone.
"I think we've gotten better at treating a win or a loss the same," Lee said. "You're in a better mood the week after a win, but you still have to be honest with yourselves."
The Cowboys won't win many games playing like they did Sunday, but they're not going to give this one back. It was also another chance for Bucs coach Greg Schiano to work on his controversial "victory formation" defense that infuriated Giants coach Tom Coughlin last week.
In a silly move, Schiano called his final timeout with 7 seconds left in the game to force Romo to kneel again. The Cowboys offensive line fired off the ball on the final play and Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy remained on the ground.
"He's going to get someone hurt," Cowboys left guard Nate Livings told me. "He's putting his own players at risk of injury, too. It's just wrong."
But the fact the Cowboys ended the day in a "victory formation" seemed like a minor miracle based on how they played. The good news is this team seems to understand its good fortune.