With the Cowboys over half a year away from taking the field for the 2018 season, we are going to go back in time to check out a random game from the team’s past and make some observations after watching that game. Most of my collection of over 125 Cowboys’ games is from the relatively recent past, but I have collected some older games over the years and You Tube also allows for the viewing of some games I do not have in my collection. Today’s game is from November 13, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium as the Cowboys face Chan Gailey and the Buffalo Bills in a rare contest between the inter-conference foes.
Terence Newman begins his 43 yard interception return for a touchdown to close out the scoring in the Cowboys’ 44-7 win over Buffalo.
Dallas entered the game with a 4-4 record. After winning two of their first three games, the Cowboys dropped three of their next four to fall below the .500 mark. A 23-13 win over Seattle at home got their record even heading into the game with Buffalo.
The visiting Bills started play on November 13th with a 5-3 record. After winning their first three contests, the Bills lost three of their next five heading into the game with the most recent loss coming in week eight by a 27-11 score to the New York Jets.
TONY WAS TERRIFIC
The Cowboys’ rout of the Bills was sparked by the great play of quarterback Tony Romo, whose 148.4 QBR for the game was the second highest in the NFL in 2011. Benefiting from excellent protection from his line of Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, Phil Costa, Montre Holland and rookie Tyron Smith, Romo completed his first 13 throws in route going 23 for 26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns in the game.
Romo’s QBR rating was the fourth highest of his career, trailing his 151.7 mark against the Colts in 2014, a 150.5 figure in a 2012 Dallas win over the Eagles and his 148.9 rating in the Cowboys’ 38-10 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Buccaneers in 2006.
BIG PLAY ABILITY
Many complained about the 2017 Cowboys’ inability to make big plays in the passing game. That was not a problem in 2011.
Romo’s 56 20 yard plus passing plays on the season was the second highest total for a season in his career, behind only the 61 such plays he produced in 2009.
Two of the big plays hit for scores against the Bills. On the Cowboys’ opening drive Romo threw a 34 yard scoring pass to Dez Bryant, who made a leaping catch over Bills’ corner Terrence McGee for the acrobatic score.
In the early minutes of the second quarter, a well-designed play on first down isolated Cowboys’ receiver Laurent Robinson on Bills’ corner Drayton Florence and Robinson beat him for a 58 yard touchdown on a beautiful post-pattern.
CARRYING THE LOAD
In his rookie year of 2011, running back Demarco Murray began to show signs that he would be a star in the NFL. He gained 135 tough yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown against Buffalo, concluding a four game stretch in which he ran for 601 of his 897 yards on the season.
Murray’s ability to hit the accelerate out of cuts into the second level was on display in the early part of the game, as he helped the Cowboys offense dominate from the beginning grind-it-out runs that wore down the Bills’ defense. In the fourth quarter, Murray, backup runner Phillip Tanner and the Cowboys’ offensive line combined to hold the ball for over six minutes leading to a Cowboys’ field goal that extended the Dallas lead to 37-7.
NEXT MAN UP
An early season injury to talented Cowboys’ wide receiver Miles Austin left a void in the Cowboys lineup, but backup Laurent Robinson stepped into that void to have the best season of his six year NFL career.
Robinson scored 11 of his 15 NFL touchdowns in his only season with the Cowboys, with two coming in the victory over Buffalo. He would finish the season with 54 catches for 858 yards and a 15.9 yard per catch average as he became a reliable target for Romo.
RELIABLE AS THEY COME
Rookie Dan Bailey made all three field goal attempts he tried in the game, showing that the Cowboys had solved a problem at placekicker that had plagued the game for over a decade. Bailey would end up making 32 of his 37 attempts on the year (86.5 percent), and his career would continue going up from there. His 88.2 career success rate on field goals is the third best all-time for kickers with at least 50 field goal attempts.
A GOOD DAY FOR THE DEFENSE
Rob Ryan’s risk-taking defense had its ups and downs, both during the 2011 season and during Ryan’s tenure as Cowboys’ defensive coordinator. On this day however, the defense did a superb job creating mistakes for a Bills’ offense that to that point had been careful with the ball.
A first drive sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick by Canton-bound Demarcus Ware set the tone early for a defense that pressured Fitzpatrick all game long. Later in the first half, Ware and defensive backs Terence Newman and Gerald Sensabaugh sniffed out Bills’ screen pass attempts and made excellent open field tackles to prevent big gains. In the third quarter, backup defensive back Danny McCray did the same on a pass to dangerous Bills’ halfback Fred Jackson.
In the second half, a hard hit by safety Sensabaugh caused Jackson to fumble with Jay Ratliff recovering in Dallas territory to thwart a Bills’ scoring opportunity. In the final quarter, Newman provided a final big play with a 43 yard interception return for a score. The interception was one of two on the day for Newman, who finished his Cowboys’ career with 32 picks (tied with Lee Roy Jordan for the seventh most in Cowboys’ history).
MOVING THE CHAINS
In the game Romo and the Cowboys’ offense excelled at converting on third down, picking up eight first downs in 12 opportunities. The Cowboys’ quarterback did so with the help of a variety of receivers.
On Dallas’ first drive, Romo hooked up with little used receiver Jesse Holley on a perfectly thrown 25 yard seam pass on a third and four play. Bryant’s 34 yard touchdown came on the next play.
The next time Dallas got the ball, a five yard pass to Jason Witten on third and three from the Buffalo 25 kept the drive alive. Four plays later on third and goal from the Bills five, Romo escaped a Buffalo blitz by spinning to his left and finding Robinson alone in the corner of the end zone for Dallas’ second touchdown.
In the drive leading to Murray’s score that put Dallas up 28-7, Romo connected with Murray (17 yards), Witten (17 and 10 yards) and Bryant (11 yards) on third down passes that kept the chains moving for Dallas.
The Cowboys’ win was part of a November to remember for the Boys, who won the following week in overtime at Washington and defeated Miami 20-19 on Thanksgiving Day in a Romo-led final quarter comeback. Unfortunately the Cowboys final month was not as productive. Dallas lost four of its final five games, including a crushing 37-34 week 14 loss at home to the Giants. By the time Dallas traveled to New York in the final week of the season in a NFC East title showdown, the Cowboys had lost the momentum they’d built in November. The Giants defeated Dallas easily in the contest, and the Cowboys’ once promising season ended in the disappointment of an 8-8 finish.