Cowboys Chronology: Comeback Over Detroit
When the Cowboys won the toss, captain Jason Witten couldn't tell referee Pete Morelli fast enough that Dallas wanted the football. Why not? They were 8-2 in the regular season when they received the opening kickoff.
Things didn't go as the Cowboys planned, going three-and-out with the opening possession.
Indeed, as we explain in great detail in our Premium coverage of Dallas 24, Detroit 20, very little went as the Cowboys had planned in what turned out to be a dramatic playoff victory at AT&T Stadium. (Come inside Premium for even more great coverage of your 13-4 Cowboys!)
To the Cowboys Chronology ... that would eventually lead to the jump bump ...
Detroit also ran four plays on its first drive, but the fourth one was a 51-yard crossing route to receiver Golden Tate that left safety Barry Church in the dust. Not even four minutes of game time had gone off the clock, and Dallas faced a 7-0 deficit.
The Cowboys only gained a solitary first down on their next drive with Tony Romo hitting receiver Cole Beasley for 17 on a third-and-10. But more incomplete passes and the league's leading rusher DeMarco Murray being stifled led to another Chris Jones punt that backed the Lions up to their own inch line.
Bad things happen in the shadow of your own goalpost. For Detroit, they were able to make it a respectable fourth-and-5 from their own six-yard line. Punter Sam Martin would have some breathing space to try to boom one to midfield, maybe beyond.
Special-teamer Dekoda Watson endeavored to block Martin's punt that traveled just 38 yards. The Cowboys were going to get it at the Detroit 44, but Watson's ill-advised "hustle'' caused him to topple Martin and draw a five-yard running into the kicker penalty. First down, Detroit.
Are you kidding me?
The Lions were still deep in their own territory -- the 12-yard line, to be specific. Again, Dallas forced third-and-medium. Detroit all year was 4/12 on third-and-eight, the 14th-worst conversion rate in the NFL's regular season. It looked like that would hold true until rookie cornerback Tyler Patmon couldn't hold on to Stafford on a QB keeper. The Highland Park product picked up the first down to move the chains.
Are you kidding me again?
Detroit never saw another third down the drive, which ended with running back Reggie Bush knifing his way left-side for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 14-0 lead.
A 14-0 deficit at home? This was not giving 91,000 Cowboys faithful anything to cheer about.
The Lions defensive line continued to pressured Romo, forcing two sacks and ultimately a third-straight Cowboys punt.
By the two-minute warning, Romo had already taken four sacks. His vaunted offensive line, though missing starting right tackle Doug Free, still had three Pro Bowlers but was letting Detroit rushers (often within exotic blitzes) tee off on the ex-scratch-golfing passer.
But then a flash: Terrance Williams made Cowboys history with a 76-yard touchdown catch to cut the Lions lead to 14-7. For the first time in three postseason games over the course of history, the Cowboys scored a touchdown against the Lions.
Detroit managed to add a 39-yard Matt Prater field goal that was just good after a bobbled snap exchange. Detroit led 17-7 heading into locker rooms.
On the very first play of the second half, defensive end Jeremy Mincey stuck his massive mitt into Stafford's throwing lane to deflect the ball high into the air. Linebacker Kyle Wilber caught the interception at the Detroit 24 and took it to the Lions 19 for the Cowboys' best starting field position of the day.
Romo getting sacked on the drive was, at this moment, an unfortunate given. Dan Bailey was eventually set up for a 41-yard field-goal attempt. ... for him, a "given,'' too.
And he missed to the right.
It seemed like it was going to be one of those late-season Cowboys afternoons that feed the anti-Dallas memes ... until the Lions settled for a 37-yard Matt Prater field goal to increase Detroit's margin to 20-7.
Dallas had to respond. They couldn't have any more tepid drives if they expected to go to Green Bay next week. Suddenly, everyone who'd been neglected to this point in the game was incorporated. Murray had three carries for 23 yards. Dez Bryant caught a crossing route on third-and-10 and broke it for a 43-yard gainer to the Detroit seven-yard line. It looked like the Cowboys were back in business until Morelli's crew called Witten for holding on Murray's touchdown run.
Try first-and-goal from the 17. Romo found Beasley in the middle, but he was only able to get it to the two-yard line. The Cowboys tried the ol' shovel pass to Witten, but that only moved the rock to the goal line. Murray failed to get in on a significant third-and-1. But he crossed the plane on the critical fourth-and-1 to make it a one-score game at 20-14 Lions.
Rolando McClain was out for the whole second half with a mysterious illness. (We saw concussion testing; the Cowboys contended for a moment it was dehydration.) When McClain isn't on the field, the defense -- coming into Sunday, anyway -- had a different, softer feel. The McClain-less Cowboys stiffened, though, to force a three-and-out and give the offense the ball.
At the Detroit 45-yard line, Romo hit Beasley for a 12-yard gain. The undersized receiver took a hellacious shot to the head from linebacker Tahir Whitehead, which drew an additional 15 yards thanks to the penalty. At the Lions 18, it seemed assured that the Cowboys would establish a one-point lead. Instead, two Romo sacks (as he tried some "gunslinger'' stuff) led to a 51-yard Bailey field goal to cut the Detroit lead to now 20-17.
Jeremy Ross decided to return Bailey's deep kickoff, and Dallas teamer C.J. Spillman corralled Ross to give the Lions starting field position at their own five. Of course, the Lions managed to get out of it and set up a third-and-1 at the Dallas 46. A controversial incomplete pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew added to the drama. Was it interference on Anthony Hitchens?
Ref Pete Morelli, explaining why the initial PI call was reversed: "It was face-guarding, not interference. Face-guarding's not a foul. Its a penalty in college but not in pro.''
The refs made their decision. And that meant head coach Jim Caldwell had a decision to make, too, on fourth-and-short: did he go for it or punt it away? After trying to draw Dallas offsides, Martin returned to shank the punt, only traveling 10 yards. Dallas had first-and-10 at its own 41.
Murray got the drive started off with a nice 13-yard run, but could only get two yards on the next first-down run. An incomplete pass to Witten set up third-and-8, and a two-yard dump-off to Murray made it a nut-cutting fourth-and-6.
Romo kept the Cowboys on the field, but Garrett called a timeout to talk it over. The Cowboys braintrust resolved to go for it rather than try to pin the Lions deep with 6:00 left in the game.
The 34-year-old quarterback dropped back and found his reliable option, Witten, running a deceptively clever route for a 21-yard gain to move the chains.
"It was a gutsy call by Coach Garrett,'' Witten said. "A big play. You live for those moments.'
Lions penalties help setup a first-and-goal from the Detroit 8. The first play was a fade to Williams that he dropped incomplete.
Second-and-goal resulted in Murray plowing ahead for five yards, which was promptly erased by Williams' false start to make it third-and-goal from the 8.
Romo took his drop and scanned the field and evaded the Lions pass rush as it came. Finally, he found Williams breaking open again, this time in the middle of the end zone. Romo spiraled the ball to the middle of the back of the end zone, and Williams' touchdown helped give Dallas a 24-20 lead, their first of the game.
Stafford had a game-winning drive in each of his past two contests with the Cowboys; being down in the fourth quarter to Dallas was no unfamiliar task for him.
On second-and-4 from the Lions 26, it seemed the comeback would fail. Defensive end Anthony Spencer finally reached Stafford to force a fumble. Rookie end DeMarcus Lawrence scooped up the ball. But instead of falling and winning the game, Lawrence looked to score. Surrounded by Lions offensive linemen, tackle Garrett Reynolds stripped Lawrence. The game's most critical possession roll around on the AT&T Stadium turf until tackle Reilly Reiff fell on the ball to give Stafford another chance.
The hometown boy got his team to a third-and-7 from the Dallas 46. The lead and the team's first playoff win since 1991 was 46 yards away. Stafford couldn't find anything downfield, so he checked down to Theo Riddick for four yards to set up a manageable fourth-and-3.
Here's your ballgame!
Rookie Lawrence redeemed himself. Not only did he strafe through the crowd to knock the ball out of Stafford's hands, but he quickly fell on the football to give the offense possession and some special Landry Shift Victory Formation time.
With the Dallas Cowboys ' 24-20 victory over the Lions, the adventure continues for America's Team as they travel to face the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, a venue they haven't played in since the Ice Bowl (1967 NFL Championship Game).
“What kept going through my mind was when you get the chance to go play at the Masters, you don’t lay up,” Garrett said. “You go after it.''
Garrett was talking about that fourth-and-six call. But he might as well have been talking about this team -- destined in the eyes of most to be sub-.500 -- heading to Green Bay, too.
* Tony Romo joins Troy Aikman, Danny White, and Roger Staubach as the only Cowboys quarterbacks to have a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive in the postseason.
* The Cowboys had a 10-point deficit at halftime. Never in playoff history had they ever overcome a 10-points-or-more deficit at halftime to win. They were 0-8 previously. Make that 1-8 now.
* Thanks to Bailey's 41-yard miss, the Cowboys now have a three-game playoff streak of their kicker missing a field goal -- all indoors.
* DeMarcus Lawrence is the first Cowboys rookie defensive lineman since Russell Maryland in 1991 to record a sack in the playoffs.
* Kyle Wilber is the first Cowboys linebacker since Ken Norton in the 1992 NFC Championship Game to record an interception in a playoff game.
* The Cowboys are now 9-1 in December and January when DeMarco Murray scores a rushing touchdown compared to 1-7 when he does not. The record when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hugs him some Joneses is also stellar.
* Sunday will mark the first time since the 1991 playoffs the Cowboys will have defeated an opponent from one division and then taken on another opponent from the same division the next week.
“There is no sense of relief. This is our job. This is what we want. Our aspirations weren’t just winning the division, as great as that was, and it’s not just winning a playoff game, as great as that was. It was good and we are going to enjoy it today, but there are bigger things. You don’t want to be watching the games on TV. If you are the kind of player you think you can be, you think you should be playing in those games. I think we have guys that want to be in that position and ultimately do the things it takes to get there.” - Tony Romo.
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