At first glance in what is supposed to be a super season, the Dallas Cowboys saved the best for last.
And fittingly, it was the oldest tenured members of the Cowboys who clinched the miraculous victory.
Thirty-five-year-old quarterback Tony Romo tossed touchdown passes of 1 and 11 yards to tight end Jason Witten, who is 33, to rally the Cowboys from a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes.
It was the 11-yarder with 7 seconds left that provided a 27-26 victory against the New York Giants, sending the Cowboys and their 93,579 fans at AT&T Stadium into delirium.
“We’re, of course, elated,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It seemed like we couldn’t think of enough ways to lose that game and then to have the fortitude and have just the will to come back and win that game by some of our key players was very special.
“It just seemed like we couldn’t make enough mistakes to lose the game. To everyone’s credit, and it was I think the kind of win that can build, even though we’ve got a lot to work on, can build the team.”
Said coach Jason Garrett, “It was great example of the relentless spirit and mental toughness of our team and continuing to play. The offense did an unbelievable job at the end of the game. It was far from a perfect game. We made a couple of critical mistakes. But it was obviously a big win for us.”
The Cowboys outgaind the Giants 436 to 289 and dominated time of possesion, 37:10 to 22:50. But they found a way to win despite losing the turnover battle 3-0, which the Giants turned into 17 points.
“Any win is big but obviously this one was against a division rival in our first wee,” Romo said. “We moved the ball up and down the field but giving them the scores was tough. The fact that we came out witha win was big to keep that mental toughness throughout the game.”
The Cowboys suffered two huge setbacks in the game. Wide receiver Dez Bryant will undergo surgery this week after fracturing a bone in his right foot and could be out four to six weeks. Rookie defensive end Randy Gregory suffered a high right ankle sprain, which generally takes four to six weeks of recovery.
For now the Cowboys are just happy to be 1-0.
It was Romo’s franchise-record 24th comeback victory in the fourth quarter or overtime. It’s the most in the NFL since he took over as starting quarterback in 2006.
The Cowboys earned a fifth straight victory against the Giants and sixth in the past seven meetings.
It also upped their record to 8-0 all-time against the Giants in season openers.
It was the unlikeliest in the streak, considering the Giants the three Cowboys turnovers, a 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and two Romo interceptions, to take a 23-13 lead with 8:09 left.
Even after Romo connected with Witten on the 1-yard score to narrow the lead to 23-20, the Giants made it 26-20 on a field goal with1:34 left.
Of course, that only set up the great final, as Romo led the Cowboys 72 yards on six plays. He completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive, including throws of 24 and 16 yards to former Haltom and North Texas star Lance Dunbar to get things started.
The clincher to Witten came after Romo dropped a snap from center Travis Frederick.
Witten had eight catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
“We gave them the ball too many times,” Romo said. “Some random things we are not accustomed to doing. When we give them points, it’s hard to overcome. It was not us.
“But in the fourth quarter, we turned back into what we think we can be.
Romo, who completed 36 of 45 passes for 356 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, completed 11 of 12 passes on the final two touchdown drives.
“He has great poise and great understanding what he wants do,” Garrett said. “His patience is outstanding. His command his outstanding. Making the play and not making the bad play. There’s lots of confidence in that huddle and it starts with the quarterback.”
Credit the Cowboys’ defense holding the Giants to field goal on the drive to set up the game winning score. The Giants drove 79 yards following Witten’s first touchdown and had a first-and-goal at the 4.
But three plays later they had to settle for 19-yard field goal from kicker Josh Brown, allowing Romo to work his final miracle.
The Giants did their part in aiding the comeback with poor clock management on that final drive. Quarterback Eli Manning went for a game-clinching touchdown pass that fell incomplete to stop the clock. A sack or a safe run would left the Cowboys with minimal time.
The soft prevent defense the Giants played on the final two drives for the Cowboys didn’t help either.
“I take full responsibility for it becuse the strategy was obviously wrong at the end,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “We played hard and put ourselves in position to win on defense. But the drives towards the end of the game were quite frankly knives through butter. It was too easy. But tha’s not the reason we lost. They shouldn’t have had the time even do that had we done it properly.”
The Cowboys dominated the majority of the first half, but found themselves trailing 13-6 at halftime because of red zone miscues and two costly turnovers in the final two minutes.
The first was a fumble by receiver Cole Beasley that Rodgers-Cromartie returned for a touchdown.
The second was an interception off Romo on the first play of the next series. He threw an errant pass behind Witten, who tipped it into the hands of linebacker Uani Unga.
After Cowboys narrowed the score to 16-13, disaster struck again. A pass to Devin Street, who was in for the injured Bryant, popped into the air after he was hit by Brandon Meriweather. It was picked off by cornerback Trumaine McBride, who returned to the 1-yard line, setting up a Rashad Jennings score to make it 23-13.
Joseph Randle had 16 carries for 65 yards and three catches for 42 yards in his first start in place of the departed DeMarco Murray. Dunbar had eight catches for 70 yards, while Darren McFadden had six carries for 16 yards.
“I’ll take that win,” Jones said. “I’m very happy with it because that was just a classical case of giving yourself every chance to be frustrated and having a lot of reasons to doubt yourself. We certainly weren’t playing at a high level. Because of certain consequences we had the opportunity to come back at the end. I don’t want to temper the win. Too many people worked too hard to win this game tonight. We can play a lot better and will play a lot better."