Story of the Game
The NFC Wildcard game at Jerry World came down to the last minute. The Dallas Cowboys gutted out a 17-7 deficit at the half against the visiting Detroit Lions, Tony Romo hooked up with Terrence Williams for a pair of scores. Detroit’s defense showed why they ranked 2nd best throughout the season, containing the Cowboys in the first half. DeMarco Murray, this season’s leading rusher, had a stacked box to go up against. What came hand-in-hand with that, was the extra blitzers that came at Romo all game long. That blueprint worked against a very good offensive line that was simply outnumbered. Eventually, they bought their quarterback enough time to make some plays downfield.
Veteran tight end, Jason Witten, was leaned on in crucial moments, and was involved more than he had been in recent games. The safety blanket converted a few third downs, breaking the back of the Lions’ defense. A pivotal moment happened when each team fumbled the ball on the same play. Matthew Stafford dropped back, and what happened throughout the second half, he didn’t have time to throw. Dallas really picked up the pressure and on this play, they got a sack that forced Stafford to fumble. Rookie defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence, scooped the ball up, only to cough it right back up to the Lions.
Reggie Bush looked healthier than he has been in awhile, but it could have been his last game playing for the Lions. The same can be said about Ndomukong Suh, who won his appeal and was not suspended for stepping on Aaron Rodgers last week. Suh’s presence was felt as he made plays in the backfield and demanded double teams.
Game Changing Penalties
Detroit was winning battles on both sides of the ball in the first half, including a 99-yard touchdown drive, thanks to a roughing the punter penalty from their own goal line. Speaking of penalty, the Lions were called for a few defensive holds in the second half. As usual when it comes to these two teams, controversy also hit in the second half. Instead of a penalty, the flag thrown for pass interference on Dallas’ defense was picked up and negated. Stafford targeted tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, deep along the left hash marks, where linebacker Anthony Hitchens failed to turn around and locate the ball. No explanation was given on the play. Lost in the fold, Dez Bryant took his helmet off and ran onto the field to argue against the call. That is also a 15-yard penalty and would have been a first down for the Lions, but the officials didn’t call any penalty on the play, and the Cowboys got away with those. The Lions wound up punting away that 4th quarter drive.
Nonetheless, Romo steered his offense to 17 second half points, scoring 10 in the final quarter. The defense deserves the majority of the credit for locking up Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Golden Tate, to a mere field goal in the second half. Stafford didn’t get the blocking a QB would like to get, but he was too conservative and didn’t take many shots in the second half. In a game where Romo didn’t turn the ball over, Stafford threw an interception and fumbled twice on sacks, both recovered by the Cowboys.
Dallas is being guided on this playoff run by leaders with contracts that expire when their season ends: head coach Jason Garrett, running back DeMarco Murray, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. The Cowboys advance 24-20, which has earned them a date with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Cheese Heads were the best home team in the league at 8-0, you may recall when they posted back-to-back 50-point efforts in blowout wins. What makes this an interesting matchup is that the Cowboys were the best road team in football, as they went an undefeated 8-0 this season.