Few things can make an offense shine more than a defense that keeps giving it the football in favorable field position.
With a new play-caller and a reconstructed offensive line, the Dallas Cowboys may have failed to blind anyone with their luminance Sunday night. But like rhinestone Cowboys, Tony Romo, Jason Witten and the gang made their few shining moments stand up.
They outscored and outlasted the New York Giants 36-31, mostly because their new-look defense kept leaving gifts at their doorstep.
The Cowboys’ offense was long overdue, of course. Last season’s turnover ratio (minus-13) was among the worst in the NFL.
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But when your defense gives you six turnovers in front of a national TV audience, you don’t dare stop to thank them. Instead, you take an early fumble and kick an easy field goal, you let Romo throw the ball to Witten and Miles Austin, and you don’t look back.
The overall performance was ... well ... spotty. But at times, the Cowboys offense was impressively efficient.
You could get picky and wonder what happened to that commitment to the running game that head coach Jason Garrett promised. You could note that the Cowboys’ lone touchdown march of the second half covered all of 16 yards.
But let’s be fair. Romo and the Cowboys were said to be operating behind an offensive line that was as thin as the owner’s hair.
Yet, the starting line — Tyron Smith, Ron Leary,Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free — opened sporadic, but valuable running aisles for DeMarco Murray and, for the most part, kept Romo on his feet.
Romo, who threw 33 passes in the first half, seldom loses the statistics war. But he overcame a spectacular early interception, which the Giants returned 91 yards, and kept finding Witten and the rejuvenated Austin.
And to think, a year ago at this time we were writing stories about how tight end Witten’s usefulness to the Cowboys was on the decline.
And a few weeks after that, we wondered whatever happened to receiver Austin.
The latter picked up right where his training camp performance left off. Austin’s breakout 2009 season had been followed by three disappointing, injury-troubled campaigns. He could easily have lost his starting job this summer.
Instead, the eight-year pro from Monmouth University, just down the road from where the Giants play, has shown he still can get open and then run like an antelope once he makes the catch. Austin caught 10 passes Sunday for 72 yards.
Witten, meanwhile, again proved to be Romo’s favorite target. With the Giants’ pass coverage sandwiching Dez Bryant, Witten was often left to trawl the middle with only a lone linebacker in pursuit. He caught eight balls, including two touchdowns.
Romo’s other preferred target, Murray, had eight receptions out of the backfield and carried the ball 20 times for 86 yards.
It was a brow-raising reminder of what a healthy Murray can mean to the Cowboys’ offense and can mean to Romo.
The night’s output – 331 total offensive yards, two touchdowns – may have lacked the neon that the offseason moves promised. But with coordinator Bill Callahan calling the plays, it was shiny enough.
Turnovers change everything, last season reminded the Cowboys.
On Sunday, Romo and the offense eagerly embraced their gifts.
It was long overdue.