Dallas Cowboys: Josh Cribbs
They were forced into it in the fourth quarter, however, after the offense could not get off the goal line after the defense made a stop at the 1.
Forced to punt deep in his end zone, Brian Moorman sent a 49-yard punt down the middle of the field to Cribbs, who returned it 21 yards. John Phillips was penalized for a horse-collar tackle, adding another 15 yards to the Dallas 17, even though replays appeared to show he pulled Cribbs’ dreadlocks.
“Trust me, he was the most talked about guy on our football team this week,” coach Jason Garrett said of Cribbs. “He’s an outstanding football player and really shows up and has been a difference making player for a long, long time. We certainly did not want to do that.”
One play later, the Browns had the go-ahead touchdown on a Brandon Weeden throw to Ben Watson.
Garrett said he considered taking a safety instead of punting, which would have given Dallas a 17-15 advantage after Cleveland burned its three timeouts.
“We talked about it, but you want to force them to score a touchdown,” Garrett said. “That certainly crossed through our minds and we had that conversation, but at the end of the day we decided to keep it in a situation where they had to score a touchdown.”
The Cowboys' patchwork offensive line got whipped way too often by the Browns' front seven. Dallas running backs were dropped for a loss on six of their 19 carries. Felix Jones and Lance Dunbar combined for 53 yards on 19 carries, an average of 2.8 per pop. The right side of the Cowboys' offensive line was especially poor, with tackle Doug Free and fill-in guard Derrick Dockery consistently getting knocked backwards. The Browns' pass rushers were able to pin back their ears because the Cowboys couldn't run the ball with any consistency.
Dez Bryant dominated, catching 12 passes for a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown, but the Cowboys should have had much more success throwing the ball against an injury-ravaged Browns secondary. Tony Romo's protection was terrible, as evidenced by his career-high seven sacks. He did a poor job protecting the ball on one of those, resulting in a lost fumble while the Cowboys were protecting a late lead. Romo threw for 313 yards, but he averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt, primarily because the Cowboys couldn't block well enough to let him attack downfield.
The Browns pounded away with stud rookie running back Trent Richardson and the Cowboys did a decent job holding their ground. He finished with 28 carries for 95 yards, with the Dallas run defense growing stronger late in the game. Richardson gained only 18 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter and overtime. Safeties Danny McCray and Gerald Sensabaugh were especially strong in run support. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, as usual, was also a force against the run, recording six tackles, including one for a loss.
The Cowboys weren't able to rattle a rookie quarterback. Brandon Weeden completed 20 of 35 passes for 210 yards, hitting tight end Ben Watson for two touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't blitz often and the Cowboys struggled to get pressure on Weeden, who tends to commit turnovers when he has heat on him. Dallas had only two sacks, one shared by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher and one by Anthony Spencer that was a trifecta (sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery). The Cowboys had two golden opportunities for interceptions when they got pressure on Weeden, but Spencer and nose tackle Josh Brent dropped the ball.
The Cowboys twice made the mistake of punting to Cleveland's Josh Cribbs and paid a steep price both times. His 20- and 22-yard returns set up the Browns' two touchdown drives. Brian Moorman booted the ball out of bounds on his other five punts, including three that landed inside the 20. Dallas' Dwayne Harris made a critical big play on a punt return for the second consecutive week. After taking one to the house in Philadelphia, Harris had a 20-yard return to set up the game-winning field goal. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals, including the winner. An onside attempt was unsuccessful, but the Browns didn't convert that field position into points.
Jerry Jones gushed about the halftime adjustments made by Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan. Well, how about the preparation during the week? It's inexcusable to have dug a 13-point hole at halftime against a two-win team. The offense was especially awful in the first half, accounting for only 68 total yards. It shouldn't have taken Garrett two quarters to figure out that his offensive line wasn't good enough to allow Romo and the receivers to attack the Browns vertically. The Cowboys managed to pull out the win -- or the Browns found a way to lose -- so this won't go down as a disaster. But it certainly doesn't inspire confidence that Garrett is the right guy.
We now take look at who played well and who didn't following the Cowboys' dominating 34-14 NFC wild card win Saturday over the Eagles.
Wade Phillips: To quote Deion Sanders about Josh Cribbs, "Pay the man." Jerry Jones should just pick up the team option and give Phillips an additional year as well. Plus, a raise. Hey, Bill Parcells didn't win a division title or a playoff game. Don't make Phillips a lame duck next year. Phillips deserves more security.
Cowboys secondary: We guess the Cowboys' secondary stung the Eagles wide receivers. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick did a fantastic job of preventing the big plays that the Eagles have used to beat teams.
Felix Jones: The Cowboys second-year back rushed for a career-high 148 yards on 16 carries. He also had a 73-yard run and a 30-yard reception.
Marion Barber: A reporter in the press box said a "boo boo" kept the normally tough Barber from playing the bulk of three quarters. It was disapointing that Barber didn't finish the game. He has a sore knee. His status is to be determined.
Ken Hamlin: Hamlin had the same number of tackles as he did personal fouls: Three. That's not acceptable for a veteran player like Hamlin, who was trying to bring an alley fight to the football field. It was good that he was physical and didn't want to give up an inch, but he has to keep his emotions in check.