It was a very interesting game with lots of twists and turns on Thanksgiving Day. Allow me to elaborate on some various topics from the Saints 30-27 thriller:
* Part of being a team that is capable of winning a Super Bowl is the ability to figure out a way to get a win - especially when the team is not playing as well as it can. The Saints entire 2010 is shaping up like that, as they are 8-3, without playing to their standards of 2009 in many regards. Yesterday is a perfect example where the Cowboys emotional level was extremely high and the momentum of the game was getting away from the Saints. But, all you have to do against a good team is leave the door cracked just a little and they will come storming through. Surely this is what happened yesterday. The Roy Williams fumble will be long remembered in Dallas as a ball you must secure. But, from a Saints perspective, it was stealing victory from the jaws of defeat by Malcolm Jenkins. What a clutch play and the momentum stealing scenario that can be the difference in not only a game, but a season. We saw the Cowboys "figure out" how to win games that they could and should have lost back in the 1990's and the opponents would shake their heads on the way back to their airplanes in disbelief. Winning is often decided on one moment, and that fickle hand of fate smiled on the Cowboys when Bryan McCann worked his magic against the Lions, but perhaps things evened out when Jenkins ripped a victory out of Williams' arms.
* Great to see Jesse Holley make a play like he did when he stripped Reggie Bush of the ball on a punt return. I must admit that I thought another amazingly absurd moment in Cowboys' history was when they allowed Michael Irvin to determine a spot on the 2009 training camp roster on his silly reality show. This further undermined a personnel department that is constantly under fire for the way that Jerry Jones finds talent. Nevertheless, Holley, who was an accomplished college player at North Carolina, has turned into a reasonable special teams contributor on the 2010 Cowboys. That is the good news. The bad news is that of all of the Cowboys to join the franchise in 2009, Holley is on the very short list with David Buehler and Victor Butler as the biggest contributors to the team. The 2009 draft has been an unmitigated disaster, and if the only items you get for an entire year of talent gathering is a kicker who is under fire, a backup LB who hardly plays, and a special teams-only player who made his first NFL play of substance yesterday, you know that times are tough.
* Andre Gurode's inability to perform a shotgun snap on time is a wonder. I think he is generally a decent lineman (but 4 straight pro bowls?), and I might offer you the opinion that he is, at worst, the 2nd best lineman for the offense this season. But, wow. Talk about killing drives, there is no better way to zap any sort of momentum completely out of an offense than an off-timed shotgun snap that even if it was at the proper time, it missed its target by a few feet. This is likely a good time to remind all involved that this offense is not capable of overcoming a 17 yard loss because of a poor snap. What a killer. And in the blink of an eye, the Saints had a 17-0 lead.
* One of the plays lost in the shuffle was the Saints conversion of 3rd and 10 in the 2Q, when Drew Brees faced an intense blitz that should have secured him. Surely, the Cowboys had the play properly defended, but he somehow found Julius Jones in open space who then was able to make Orlando Scandrick miss and grabbed a 12 yard gain to move the chains. Scandrick is certainly a nice story and a good competitor, but his inability to tackle with more regularity is bothersome in a secondary where it seems like there is very little quality tackling. You might be able to live with a small corner or two in some secondaries, but it sure looks like the Cowboys have nobody in the back half of their defense that consistently brings the lumber.
* How many breaks did the Cowboys get yesterday? Fumble after fumble bounced right back to them. They actually fumbled the ball 7 times and somehow only lost 2. Reggie Bush dropped a sure touchdown in the 3rd Quarter. 2 reviews properly went the Cowboys' direction. It seemed like all of the Thanksgiving forces were going in their favor and conspiring for a win for the home side, and yet they still lost the game. It is just one of those years.
* Blitz pick-up 101: If you ever see yourself in the spot where Marion Barber was yesterday in the 3rd Quarter, on a 3rd Down and 6 situation, and 2 players are blitzing on your side, don't ever take the outside man! They will teach you early in life and it will never change to always block the inside player and leave the outside player to the QB. This will help extend the life of your QB and give your team a better chance to succeed. Amazingly, Jon Kitna still completed the pass and the Cowboys gained the 1st Down, but Barber will surely be called out in film study on that odd decision.
* Was it Dez Bryant's worst game as a pro? 6 targets for 0 catches and a tantrum on the sideline. Every week, I marvel at his ability, but to review the reason several teams passed on him on draft day was an overall feeling that despite his ability he was not going to be worth the trouble. Is it a fair characterization? Maybe, maybe not. The fact is, there is no position in professional sports that generates the maintenance requirements of the NFL Wide Receiver. They are loud, they act entitled, and they seem to get more and more difficult to deal with every year for teams. Why aren't Running Backs as a group thought of the same way? I have no idea. Regardless, the fear around the league was that Dez is going to be another guy who is "too much trouble". Another diva, who if he doesn't get his proper amount of ball distribution, he was going to throw a fit. And when that happens, divas will undermine a QB, a coordinator, and a head coach without thinking twice. I trust this won't be a trend, and that Ray Sherman has it all under control - as it appeared he did yesterday. But, I would prefer that Dez stays on point and understands that even if he has 1 catch for 1 yard and the Cowboys win, he had a successful day.
* One thing we are forgetting about after the Roy Williams fumble is the simple reality that the Cowboys defense still could get a stop at the moment of truth. 3 minutes to play, 4 point lead, Saints are 89 yards away from the end zone. They must score a Touchdown and will only get 1 possession to do it most likely. So, I need my defense to get a stop. This game all comes down to this. 1st play - Colston for 22. OK, but you can still hold firm now. Meachem for 55 yards as he goes right past my best defensive back in Terence Newman. Now, they are at your 12 yard line. But, if you can just pull it together and keep them from a Touchdown, the Cowboys will still win. 1st snap, Lance Moore beats Mike Jenkins for the Touchdown. Dagger. The defense conceded way too easily. 3 plays gathered all 89 yards in about 1 minute.
* Finally, I applaud Roy Williams being accountable in the locker-room, and I know he surely meant to hold on to the ball, but we have a bit of a trend here, don't we? Given the fact that his catches are rather minimal in his 3 seasons in Dallas, I find it very disappointing that a simple search of our memory gives us all of these similar results:
Last Year at Green Bay:
September vs Chicago:
The bottom line is that this is a performance based business. If you fumble, they are going to go for the ball even harder next time, and I would suggest that Roy Williams is building a case that says he will continue to be a target.
Rest up, Peyton Manning and the Colts are next.