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Amid controversy and high drama, the Dallas Cowboys overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to comeback to defeat the Detroit Lions 24-20.
The Lions scored on both of their first-quarter possessions; including driving 99 yards for a touchdown to take an early 14-0 lead.
As good as their offense was their defense was even better. They held the well-regarded Dallas offense to 315 total yards. Receiver Dez Bryant caught just three passes for 48 yards, and running back DeMarco Murray gained just 75 yards on 19 carries.
It wasn’t enough, though.
Even though they played arguably the better game, Detroit failed to put Dallas away. They lacked the killer instinct of a champion, playing unhinged and committing costly fourth-quarter penalties.
Still, the Lions won’t remember this game for their inability to finish.
On third-and-1 with just over eight minutes remaining, officials picked up a pass interference call on linebacker Anthony Hitchens that would’ve given the Lions a first down deep in Dallas territory. Hitchens, who never turned his head toward the ball, appeared to have interfered with tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Pete Morelli’s officiating crew picked up the flag, though, providing very little on-field explanation. Additionally, Bryant had run out onto the field with his helmet off to protest the call. That alone is a 15-yard penalty, yet officials made no such call.
Detroit fans have every right to feel cheated, but they didn’t lose this game on that play.
They lost it on the next one.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from about midfield, Jim Caldwell opted to take a delay of game penalty and punt instead of going for it. The Lions are a defensive-oriented team, sure, but running back Joique Bell had been running hard. A conversion at the point in the game significantly increases Detroit’s odds of winning. Instead of playing to win, Caldwell played not to lose.
As a result, he gave quarterback Tony Romo a chance to complete the comeback. Romo drove the Cowboys downfield, connecting with receiver Terrance Williams on an eight-yard touchdown. It was Williams’ second touchdown of the day, making him the first Cowboys player to score two touchdowns in a playoff game since Michael Irvin did it in the 1995 NFC Championship.
Romo finished the game completing 19-of-31 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. More important, he avoided throwing a costly interception. In other words, his December momentum carried into January.
The Cowboys will hope to keep that momentum going when they play the Packers next Sunday. It will be the first time since the Ice Bowl that Green Bay and Dallas are meeting in the playoffs at Lambeau Field. The Packers won that game 21-17 on Bart Starr’s game-winning quarterback sneak.
Odds are we‘ll see a higher scoring game this Sunday, as the Packers and Cowboys feature arguably the top two offenses in football. The Packers are a perfect 8-0 at home, while Dallas is perfect on the road.
Something has to give.