Dallas Cowboys: Bailey’s boot thwarts Texans comeback

It wasn’t meant to be. Thirty-one-for-31 wasn’t Dan Bailey‘s destiny – 4-1 was.

Dan Bailey missed a game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired. Sometimes, that’s the end. The “bad guy” wins, the “hero” goes home to wallow. Real sports don’t often have those overly optimistic (still awesome) Mighty Ducks’ endings. Today, it did.

Bailey began a new consecutive field goals made streak with a 49-yard field goal in overtime to thwart the Houston Texans attempt to win the newest edition in the Battle for Texas.

The Dallas Cowboys won this duel, leaving their bullet-holed in-state brethren to limp off, deflated and defeated.

This J.J. found himself upstaged by another at AT&T Stadium.

This J.J. found himself upstaged by another at AT&T Stadium.

As dramatic as the second half and overtime were, the first half was lackluster, devoid of the fireworks and buckaroo-style excitement 90,000-plus Texans gathered to see. Everything is bigger in the Lone Star state, but at the end of the first half, the numbers were small.

The Dallas defense continued to stifle conventional wisdom by playing stout, smart, really damn good defense. The Texans finished the first half with just 87 total yards and four first downs. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t sacked; he was hurried and chased in and out of the pocket several times, leading to errant throws, hard hits and an interception by Orlando Scandrick, who capitalized on perceived miscommunication between Fitzpatrick and running back Arian Foster.

Throughout the first J.J. was playing at a speed none could keep up with, flying around, single-handedly destroying screens and pile-driving receivers into the ground with equal amounts of disdain and delight spread across his face. Not J.J. Watt, but J.J. Wilcox, Dallas Cowboys safety. For at least one half, the most important J.J. in Texas – though I imagine Jerry Jones might have different thoughts – was not the Texans warrior.

The Dallas offense had a far better go of things in the first half, with Tony Romo completing passes to six different receivers for 115 yards. Romo continued his return to form, eluding and escaping defenders, including the beastly Watt, a hunter who seemingly never lets his catch get away.

Despite several long drives, Dallas was again plagued by turnovers. DeMarco Murray‘s slippery hands will be overlooked because of another MVP performance — 31 carries for 136 yards and 6 receptions for 56 yards — but four fumbles in five games sets him on pace for a record he’d rather not have. The Texans were unable to capitalize on two Cowboys’ fumbles and a Terrance Williams dropped touchdown pass.

Bryant’s overtime catch defied what most humans can do and secured a Dallas victory.

Better teams, say, the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, never fail to capitalize on such opportunities. Despite the win, celebration should be tempered until these turnover issues can be adequately put down.

The true rodeo began in the second half.

Arian Foster and Murray traded long runs and broken tackles. Romo and Watt played a game of bullfighter, with the matador spinning away from the rushing bull to the delight of a sold out AT&T Stadium.  Concerns are Romo’s back should recede into obscurity now; unhealthy men don’t escape Watt’s wrath.

Romo and Murray and the offensive line were key components of the Dallas win, but the game-defining moment belonged to No. 88 alone. Dez Bryant‘s 37-yard, twisting, floating, pirouetting grab over the helmet of Texans corner Jonathan Joseph is the kind of play Jones’ high-definition video board monstrosity was created for. Bryant managed to haul the ball in over Joseph’s head, bobbling it several feet in the air as the two men tumbled to the ground.

The Battle for Texas needed a big play. Dez was more than happy to oblige.

With the win, the Cowboys move to 4-1 for the first time since 2008. A blowout loss to the Eagles in the season finale (familiar territory by now the Dallas) denied their entry into the playoffs. The narrative this year, though, is different.

Dallas is overachieving. Predictions and pundits be damned, this might truly be a good team. The coming weeks will tell, but the start is as good as any could have hoped for.

Stars of the Game

1. Dez Bryant – 9 receptions, 85 yards, 1 TD.

Bryant’s play is the catch of the year. After a slow first half with just three receptions for 19 yards, Dez finally found his rhythm, hauling in six for 66 with an easy touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Bryant is too big, too powerful and too proud to be held down for an entire game. His overtime catch — impossible, amazing, breathtaking, powerful — encapsulates everything Dez is.

2. Tony Romo – 28/41, 324 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT.

Romo looked his old self again against the Texans.

Romo looked his old self again against the Texans.

Romo’s interception in the redzone could have been costly. It was his lone mistake. In another game that could prove fatal. Tonight, it was just a minor blip on a radar mostly dotted with success and cunning. Romo avoided the bull rush of Watt several times, notably avoiding the monster in a one-on-one situation and lofting a 43-yard bomb to Terrance Williams in the end zone. The gunslinger is back, don’t expect to see those types of plays holstered any longer.

3. DeMarco Murray and the Offensive line – 31 carries, 136 yards (6 receptions 56 yards)/One sack allowed.

It’s easy to put this group up here each week. Murray has gained 100 or more yards in every single game this season. The line has been dominant. Double teams on Watt severely hindered his usual menacing rush for most of the game.

The pass protection was shaky at times, but Romo has a knack for making his line look good. Again, Watt was largely inconsequential this game — that’s a rarity.

Plays of the Game

1. Bryant’s catch

I’ve already discussed this above. Just wow.

2. Romo’s “Ole'” of Watt

With Houston up 7-3 and momentum shifting its way, Romo delivered one of his signature playground escapes. Watt edged around Tyron Smith with little effort and saw red — Romo. Watt’s charge was deftly deflected by Romo. Spinning, rolling away from the 6-5, 288-pound bull, Romo unfurled a rainbow 43 yards deep to Terrance Williams in the end zone; 10-7 Cowboys. Momentum had shifted once more.

3. RFP, meet Jeremy

Overtime. Third and 2 from the Dallas 48. The Texans inching their way closer to a score behind the legs of Arian Foster. A pass play is called. Jeremy Mincey barges through the line, throwing his 6-foot-4, 280-pound body into Ryan Fitzpatrick. The pass is errant. Houston punts. Five minutes and 10 seconds later, his fist is raised in victory as Bailey’s boot sends the ball through the uprights.

Up Next – Seattle Seahawks, Sun. 1:25 p.m.

Dallas takes its 4-1 record into the unfriendly confines of CenturyLink field in Seattle. Since Seattle doesn’t shift its cornerbacks to different sides of the field for particular assignments, it will be interesting to see how and where Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan deploy Bryant. Bryant versus Sherman might be on of the most fascinating CB-WR matchups this season.

Dallas was mercilessly beaten by the Seahawks in 2012, 27-7, in front of a malignant sea of navy and gray. Redemption was in abundance this game. Dallas will hope to continue that trend next Sunday.