Cowboys 21, Colts 14 ... At First Glance

So the Colts finally lost one ... big deal. If you're concerned about the loss, you shouldn't be. But there is one issue that's cropped up just over the last two games that should be a concern. And it's one that drives Tony Dungy nuts.

With narrow victories through the first nine games and a likely resting of starters later in the season, if you really thought the Colts were going undefeated this year, you probably also believe that there's a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But seriously, if the Indy had to take one on the chin, this was a great time for it to happen.

It's still early enough in the second half of the season that the sting of a loss will mean something to them. And it happened against a team that has absolutely no bearing on tie-breakers when the regular season comes to an end. That's the best possible scenario for a loss. Can you imagine if this had happened against Denver or New England? And while some may claim the sky is now falling, don't forget that the Colts have still won 30 of their last 34 regular season games. Most teams and their fans can't even imagine what that's like.

Sure, it's tough to swallow losing a game to a Dallas team that has Terrell Owens on it, but at least he wasn't a factor in their win with just 4 catches for 70 yards. And on the two drives where the Cowboys scored points, he didn't have a single catch. And at least Mike Vanderjagt didn't kick a winning field goal. In fact, he missed a pair of attempts in the first half and is now just 40 percent from 40 yards out or more. Best kicker in football ... right.

So here's my take on the game ... at first glance.

-- You have to tip your hat to the Colts defense who played hard and didn't yield a point until the fourth quarter. If you're looking to attach some blame for this loss, start with whoever was giving Tony Dungy advice on whether or not to challenge calls in this game. The Colts were 0-3 in challenging calls if you consider that they challenged two that shouldn't have drawn the red flag, and then the incredible failure to drop the red flag on a touchdown play. If you're going to drop the red flag on anything close, a touchdown play is certainly a GREAT time to take a chance, not those other two.

-- Bottom line, the offense didn't hold up their end of the equation against a solid Dallas defense and a patient Dallas offense that turned the ball over just twice. You might want to dwell on the fact that the Colts didn't call for that review of the interception return, but if you want to walk away from this game concerned and upset about anything, it should be the uncharacteristic turnovers this team has made over the past two weeks.  After three turnovers against the Bills, the Colts turned the ball over four times against Dallas. That's seven turnovers in two weeks after giving the ball away just five times in the first eight weeks. They need to clean that up if they want to be a Super Bowl team this season. And their head coach will undoubtedly remind them of that this week.

-- In regards to Sunday's turnovers, there was plenty of blame to go around. Manning's one fumble early in the game was due to poor pass protection. Marvin Harrison coughed up an early momentum-shifter after the Colts defense had just stolen the ball from the Cowboys. On the bobbled pass by Harrison that ended up being run back for a touchdown (due to a lack of a challenge) take your pick of whether or not it was Harrison or Manning's fault. The other interception where Dallas Clark fell down was simply a tough break. The Cowboys played the route hard and took a chance on some contact and it paid off. That was too close for anyone to call in real-time as to whether or not the contact was before or after the ball left Manning's hand.

-- Towards the end of the game, I was stunned that Manning decided to hope for a flag on a 4th-and-2 play. This is a guy who has made some incredible things happen throughout the year. That's not a criticism because there was an awful lot going on out there that would simply boggle my mind if I had been in his shoes. What I'm saying is that it didn't match up with the take-charge attitude he's displayed in previous games where he determined his own fate -- like in games such as the one against the Jets. Throw the ball up there and count on a flag? Nope, sorry, it didn't make sense. Scramble some more and hope that something, somehow develops and make something happen. He didn't have a defender in his face and grabbing his jersey at the time.

-- I knew the Colts offense was in trouble early in the second half. Manning was shaking his head and giving that glum look that I remember from back in the days of his playoff losses to the Patriots.  He's been better about that this season as part of the team's no-panic approach. The sullen expressions are part of the previous seasons and I hope he shakes that before he gets back out there next Sunday and that it never returns.

-- The much-maligned defense turned in another good rush-defense performance, holding a pretty darn good pair of backs to a total of 114 yards and not allowing either one to average better than 3.9 yards per carry. And if they don't give up one big run to Marion Barber, they finish the day allowing the tandem to notch just 84 yards. Julius Jones is averaging 4.0 yards while Barber is averaging 5.0 yards, so you can't complain about the run defense today.

-- Manning and his receivers just simply weren't as sharp as usual. If the receivers weren't dropping passes that were hitting their hands, Manning was just a bit off with his throws at times, but in his defense his protection wasn't always the best either. Manning finished with a 51.3 percent completion rate, his second-worst result of the season and a season-low 67.7 quarterback rating. Dallas' Tony Romo finished with an 89.5 rating, his worst of his three starts, but ironically completed a season-best 82.6 percent of his passes (19 of 23 for 226 yards).

-- One of the big mysteries that the Colts will have to look at is how Dallas WR Terry Glenn went from being invisible in the first half with no catches to finishing as the top receiver with 6 catches for 78 yards, including some key catches on both of their touchdown drives. They obviously spotted something at halftime.

-- It was feast or famine for the Colts' running game. Either the backs were ripping off some nice yardarge or they were getting stuffed. I'll bet some of you might have thought that Joseph Addai had a much stronger game once again that Dominic Rhodes. Not really. Addai finished at 3.8 yards per carry and Rhodes had 3.3 yards per carry. Take away both running backs' best run and they both drop below 3 yards per carry.

-- So get this. Marvin Harrison has 94 yards receiving and Reggie Wayne gets 111. But the Colts only score 14 offensive points. Talk about the power of turnovers. I'm sure Tony Dungy will be all week. You also have to wonder if putting Wayne in the slot was all that great of an idea. I'm going to be anxious to look at the tape and see how many plays he worked from there and what the offense's passing attack accomplished on those snaps. I'll have an article up on it for you early this week.

-- In the "can someone explain this one to me" category, I'd also appreciate some help in understanding why the Colts on a third-and-one at their own 40-yard line try to complete a deep pass to Dallas Clark with the game tied early in the fourth quarter. That's the kind of call you make when everything seems to be going right for your team, not one you call when you're not quite clicking.

-- Some people will look at the records of these two teams and find it incredible that the Colts lost to the Cowboys, but if you look at what the Cowboys have done since Tony Romo's been starting, they matched up pretty well with the Colts in important areas like scoring, third-down and redzone success percentages. So this shouldn't be a huge surprise that they gave them a good game. They're a better ball club than their overall record indicates thanks to the move to Romo, and if you're going to turn the ball over to them four times you're asking for trouble. With the Eagles losing Donovan McNabb for the year, it's likely going to be a two-horse race now in the NFC East between Dallas and New York, so there's no shame in this loss.

-- After all the criticism he took from our fans and from some people in the media, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't point out that strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner made 6 tackles on the day, including 4 solo efforts. That matched Cato June, who is supposed to get more opportunities, so it'll be interesting to see on the tape if Dallas did something different to take June out of the game a bit, or if the Colts did something different. But that result is certainly odd. One thing's for sure though, for those folks who said Gardner can't tackle, he should have at least raised some doubts in your mind today with some of the hits he made.

-- Want to know what one of the most significant stats of the day was? One quarterback hit.  Dwight Freeney had the only sack and was also credited with the team's only other hit on the quarterback.  Robert Mathis finished the day with just two tackles and nothing else on the stats sheet. That's another spot I'll take a look at on the tape to see what the Cowboys did to take him out of the game.

-- The Colts' four special teams tackles were made by Jason David, Marlin Jackson, Dexter Reid and Ryan LaCasse.

--  Inactives for this game were S Bob Sanders, WR Brandon Stokley, DT Montae Reagor, LB Keith O'Neil, S Matt Giordano, TE Jerome Collins, LB Gary Brackett and OG Matt Ulrich.

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