FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Dallas Cowboys entered Sunday’s game with a lot of things going against them: history, Tom Brady and road-field disadvantage at Gillette Stadium.
But they had defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and a conservative offensive game plan they thought gave them a chance to beat the odds and the New England Patriots.
In the end, it was close but no upset.
Brady engineered his 32nd career fourth-quarter comeback as the Patriots beat the Cowboys 20-16 with a Brady touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez with 22 seconds remaining.
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“Coming to play the New England Patriots at a place where they’ve won 19 straight games is a heck of a challenge. It’s a heck of a challenge,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We understood that going in. But we wanted to come up here to play our best game to win the game. It isn’t about a moral victory. It’s about coming up here and trying to win.”
The Patriots don’t lose at home in the regular season. They certainly don’t lose at home in the regular season with Brady at quarterback. That hasn’t happened since Nov. 22, 2006, against the Jets, a streak that stands at 31 consecutive victories.
New England also rarely loses in October, having gone 32-5 in the month since 2003.
The Patriots, the league’s top-rated offense, had another streak that was of concern to the Cowboys: They had scored 30 or more points in 13 consecutive games. The last time — before Sunday — that New England didn’t top the 30-point mark was a loss to the Cleveland Browns, who had Ryan as their defensive coordinator last season.
The Cowboys’ plans were to let Ryan work his magic against Brady, while keeping Brady off the field as much as possible. On the Patriots’ first 10 possessions, Brady completed only 19 of 32 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Patriots also lost their first two fumbles of the year.
“Whenever you get the ball into the hands of a player like Brady at home, you’ve got problems,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We are up here on their field, and we knew what the odds were. So we flipped a coin, and it came up against us. We knew what they are about, and we knew what our challenge was here. We got it down to a coin flip at the end.”
Brady went 8 of 9 for 78 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots’ final series, which took 2 minutes, 9 seconds. The other 2 yards in the 80-yard, game-winning drive came on a Brady quarterback sneak.
“You are not going to stop him all the time,” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. “We are playing against one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. He is going to rise to the occasion. This is the NFL.”
The Cowboys outgained the league’s top-rated offense 377-371. They were plus-two in the turnover battle. They held the ball for 32:49 to 27:11 for the Patriots.
But the difference was the Cowboys reached the end zone only once against the league’s worst-rated defense. Dallas had the ball inside the New England 20-yard line three times and scored only one touchdown, a 1-yard pass from Tony Romo to Jason Witten.
They settled for field goals after reaching the New England 4 and the 8 and now, after five games, have scored only six touchdowns in 18 red-zone possessions.
“We have to find ways to get in the end zone,” Witten said. “Three is not enough. We have to have that attack mind-set.”
The Cowboys took their first lead with 5:13 remaining on a 26-yard Dan Bailey field goal, his third of the game. After reaching the New England 10-yard line, the Cowboys had first-and-goal and threw three short passes, the last a shovel pass to running back Tashard Choice for minus-3 yards.
After they forced New England to go three-and-out, the Cowboys then ran the ball three times and punted, which set up Brady’s heroics.
Even Jones questioned whether the Cowboys were too conservative at the end.
“We rolled dice there at the end and went conservative rather than trying to get some points, and it bit us,” the owner said.
The Cowboys, who have lost two in a row, are 2-3 and trail the Giants (4-2) and Redskins (3-2) in the NFC East. They are a half -game ahead of the Eagles (2-4).