By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys came into their final home game of the 2014 NFL regular season with questions. Yes, the Cowboys were leading the NFC East, and with the Philadelphia Eagles losing on Thursday night to the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys just needed to win this game to clinch their playoff berth, but people still doubted them.
Over the last three seasons, Dallas just needed to win their final game of the season all three years to make the playoffs and lost every year. This year, they had two games to clinch their first playoff spot in five seasons, and some still expected them to choke. Plus, people claimed that the Cowboys couldn’t win at home and the Indianapolis Colts had the number one ranked pass offense in the NFL.
None of that mattered because the Dallas Cowboys won the game in dominating fashion, 42-7, and made a huge statement as they head towards the 2014 NFL playoffs. With the blow out win, here is a look at the Cowboys team grades for the big win over the Colts.
The Dallas Cowboys biggest question mark was what would happen if they entered a game against the NFL’s top rated quarterback without DeMarco Murray healthy to control the clock. The Cowboys never needed to worry about that. Just six days after having a broken bone in his hand operated on, Murray was back on the field with padding on his left hand and played from the start.
Murray didn’t have a great game, compared to the rest of the season, but his running allowed the Cowboys to eat up over eight minutes on their opening drive and Dallas held a huge 35:29-24:31 advantage over the Colts in time-of-possession, which is all about running the ball. Murray ran the ball 22 times for 58 yards, and that was despite sitting out most of the fourth quarter when the Cowboys rested their starters. Murray also ran for a touchdown in his fourth straight game.
Tony Romo was almost perfect. The Cowboys quarterback completed 18-of-20 passes (90 percent) for 218 yards and four touchdowns. He passed Troy Aikman on the Cowboys’ all-time passing yardage list and did everything he needed to do to win this game. Brandon Weeden even finished out the game and complete his only pass, a 43 yard touchdown to Terrance Williams.
Speaking of Williams, after disappearing for most of the season, he pulled in two receptions in the game for 52 yards, both of them huge touchdowns. Jason Witten also had his best game of the season, with seven receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown, and Dez Bryan chipped in with five balls for 73 yards and a touchdown. Cole Beasley scored the other touchdown of the game for the Cowboys.
Andrew Luck leads the NFL in a number of passing categories this season, but he has always struggled with his passer rating thanks to interceptions and fumbles. He usually overcomes these deficiencies with his touchdown passes and never-say-quit attitude. Luck was forced to quit in this game, as the Colts benched him after he went 15-for-22 for only 109 yards and two interceptions, with no touchdowns. The interceptions were by J.J. Wilcox and Anthony Hitchens, and both stalled Colts drives and with one resulting in a Cowboys touchdown and the other ending the Colts drive at the end of the first half.
The Cowboys defense also forced a Matt Hasselbeck fumble after the veteran backup entered the game, recovered by George Selvie. Anthony Hitchens led Dallas with eight solo tackles in the game and both cornerback Orlando Scandrick and linebacker Kevin Wilber recorded sacks.
For some reason, the Colts wanted to run the ball to start the game, and failed miserably. The Cowboys defense completely shut down the run, only allowed Indianapolis to rush the ball for a total of one yard in the game. Overall, the Cowboys allowed only 229 total yards in the contest and played their best defensive effort of the season. The only Colts touchdown came at the end of the game, following a pass interference call that negated a third Cowboys interception.
The Dallas Cowboys scored on their first drive of the game, eating up over eight minutes of the clock. The Indianapolis Colts wanted to get the momentum back in their favor on their first drive. After inexplicably running the ball all three times on their first drive, the Colts went for a fake punt from the Cowboys 20. The ball was dropped by the receiver and the Cowboys offense got the ball back and scored on that drive as well.
The Dallas special teams played well, with Dan Bailey only allowing two returns after his seven kickoffs, and Dallas limited the explosive Josh Cribbs to just 57 total yards on those returns. Cribbs also only had a chance to return one of Dallas’ two punts, and that was only for seven yards. The Cowboys special teams were just locking down and limiting all return possibilities.
Under no surprise, since the Colts only scored one touchdown, the Cowboys never had a chance to return a kickoff in the game. Dwayne Harris did get three punt return possibilities, and averaged 9.7 yards per return. Dan Bailey missed his only field goal attempt from 52 yards out, a rarity this season for the Cowboys.
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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.