One word. That's all Jason Witten could utter after our 11th top game of 2015. But in his defense, that's the only word he really needed to sum up what had transpired in the final 1:29 seconds of regulation.
That's some serious misfortune, but it ultimately set up Romo and the Boys' improbable comeback.
This drive was vintage Romo. And no, not the misinformed "choke artist" narrative that so many love invoking when Romo and the fourth quarter are mentioned in the same breath. This was Romo throwing darts for first downs. Romo scrambling and lofting awkward, normally ill-advised (for other quarterbacks) completions for big gains. Hell, the game-winning touchdown strike couldn't have been any more Romo.
Third-and-2 from New York's 11-yard line, no timeouts and 13 seconds on the clock. Romo is in the shotgun. Travis Frederick snaps the ball back -- and it bounces off Romo's hands!
This clash was the conclusion to the opening Sunday of the NFL season, and when it was all said and done, the viewing public had but one word to say.
OK, back to the bizarre Giants drive the put them up 26-20. Getting the ball with 5:08 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Giants had moved into Dallas territory (the 33-yard line, to be exact), chewing up 2 minutes and 43 seconds of game clock before the Cowboys were forced to start taking timeouts. After Dallas' first, Jeremy Mincey committed a foolish personal foul penalty, moving the Giants 15 yards closer to paydirt. A nice pass to Odell Beckham Jr. put Big Blue on the doorstep at the two minute warning. Two failed Jennings conversions followed by two Dallas timeouts left Eli facing a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. This is when the inexplicable happened.
Conservative coaching would be to run the ball. If you get stuffed, you kill another 40ish seconds before a chip shot field goal. Aggressive coaching is to try for a pass, but with your quarterback understanding a sack is just fine -- it protects the ball and runs off more clock. The Giants called a pass play (fine), but as Eli rolled out, he decided to heave the ball out of the back of the end zone instead of kneeling down for a sack. Huh? A player of Manning's football acumen and experience should know better. That left just enough time for Romo to counter with the game-winning drive. Could Romo have still done it with 30-40 fewer seconds? Sure. But it would have been a heck of a lot harder.
You've probably noticed a certain name has been missing from this piece, and that is by design. Dez Bryant managed just five catches for 48 yards before exiting in the fourth quarter with a foot injury that would ultimately cost him seven games and most of his game-breaking explosion once returning. Well, Dez's injury (and this game as a whole) served as a microcosm for the entire Dallas season.
Lance Dunbar was proving to be a dynamic role player in this game and the early portions of the season (21 catches for 215 yards in the first three games) before a torn ACL ended his season in Week 4. Joseph Randle, the starting running back, would suffer from injuries and off-field issues, leading to his dismissal from the team.
But the biggest blow would come the following week, when Tony Romo broke his clavicle. He worked his way back onto the field, only to re-break the same bone in his second game back -- that Thanksgiving Day thrashing handed to the Cowboys by the Carolina Panthers. Losing your two best players for large portions of the season in back-to-back weeks was a troubling harbinger for what the rest of this season held for the Cowboys.
Why This Game is No. 11
The wild finish to the first half and insane ending helped elevate this game through the lulls, and the vintage Tony Romo game-winning drive was the icing on this top game of 2015 cake. It also had a big impact on the rest of the league, as Dez Bryant and Romo going down in back-to-back weeks left the NFC East wide open for the taking. And with both Romo and Witten aging, will we ever get to see another game-winning drive like this from one of Dallas' all-time great QB-TE duos? If not, they certainly went out with a memorable bang.