- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Cowboys did a lot of good things in this game, especially on offense. But a rash of penalties (13 of them, for a total of 82 yards) and the defense's inability to get a stop on critical Ravens drives late in the second and fourth quarters did them in. They had a chance all day to pull the upset at one of the toughest places in the league in which to play, but they are not a good enough team to overcome the kinds of mistakes they made. They are now 2-3 for the season. There are no moral victories in the NFL.
Injuries: Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne returned to the game in the second half after leaving in the first with a knee injury, so that was good. But running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 91 yards in the first half, couldn't shake off a foot injury and had only one second-half carry. Felix Jones, who looked good replacing him, also left the game for a time with an injury and left the running back duties to Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. Jones came back on the final drive. The Cowboys also were without linebacker Anthony Spencer for the second straight game, since he has a pectoral muscle injury. Spencer's absence almost certainly impeded the Cowboys' ability to stop Ray Rice when they needed to the most.
The big play: After Dallas cut the Baltimore lead to 17-13 with an early third-quarter field goal, Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. The return tied an NFL record for the longest ever and built the Ravens' lead to 24-13. The play was well blocked, but it was a complete breakdown by the Cowboys' coverage unit, which never laid a finger on Jones.
Credit where it's due: The criticism here and in many other places of the Cowboys' offensive line this year has been justified, but Sunday's game showed marked improvement in strength and toughness across the line. They still got too sloppy with the penalties, but they were able to physically pound the Ravens' defensive front all day, pushing forward to make holes for the backs and even protecting Tony Romo better than they normally do (with some glaring exceptions, yes, but Rome wasn't built in a day). The Cowboys' line must continue to improve if the offense is going to have any chance of being effective this year, and Sunday was an encouraging sign that improvement is possible. Dallas rushed for 227 yards -- the most ever allowed by the Ravens in a game in their history -- and possessed the ball for a stunning 40:03 of the game's 60 minutes.
The quarterback: Romo's one interception was a damaging one, but it's tough to criticize the game he played Sunday. Especially after he led the Cowboys on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to cut the lead to two. Romo's two-point conversion pass hit Dez Bryant in the hands, but Bryant could not catch the ball, and even though they recovered the onside kick and moved into long field goal range with a pass interference penalty in the final seconds, Dan Bailey's 51-yard attempt missed wide left.
What's next: The Cowboys travel to Carolina to play the Panthers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Fans of Andre Brown and the Giants know that this means the Dallas run game will have a chance for another big day.