I said six.
The Cowboys were the benefactors of six – count ‘em, six – turnovers last Sunday night in their 36-31 win over the New York Giants. Dallas hadn’t created six takeaways in 10 years (since a win over the Washington Redskins in ’03) and never in the history of the 54-year-old franchise had it produced three takeaways in the first quarter of a game. It was reminiscent of Super Bowl XII (eight takeaways of the Denver Broncos) or even Super Bowl XXVII (nine takeaways of the Buffalo Bills), though obviously the stakes were a tad less significant.
In all, the Cowboys – who produced only 16 takeaways under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in 2012 – recovered three fumbles and picked off three Eli Manning passes to finally beat New York in Arlington. Call it the Full Monte (Kiffin). Usually an NFL home team with a +5 turnover margin wins by 21 points. The Cowboys had to survive, escaping only when Sean Lee recovered an onside kick with 11 seconds remaining.
Still, a win is a win is a win is a …
“You can’t win turning the ball over,” said Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin. “That’s the bottom line.”
But were the Cowboys good? Or just at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time lucky?
Let’s break down all six takeaways and make a fair determination.
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1. DeMarcus Ware interception – On his first play as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end, Ware shed the block of Giants’ tackle Will Beatty and sniffed out the imminent screen pass to running back David Wilson. Don’t know how or why, but an unhurried Eli Manning threw the ball off his back foot right into the waiting arms of No. 94. Good thing, because the play was going to go for big yardage. Behind Ware the Giants had five blockers set up to take on only four Cowboys’ defenders. A little help from Eli, but that’s a good play by a great player. Score: Good.
2. George Selvie fumble recovery – Giants had 1st-and-Goal at Dallas’ 8 when Wilson took a handoff and swept left. Safety Barry Church shot a gap at the 10, beat fullback Henry Hynoski’s block and literally tackled the ball, yanking it free from Wilson’s left arm and forcing a fumble that Anthony Spencer’s replacement jumped on to save at least three points. Score: Good.
3. Will Allen interception – Facing 3rd-and-10 from Dallas’ 49, Manning dropped back and looked for Rueben Randle at the 35. Mildly pressured by a stunting Jason Hatcher, Manning sailed the ball well over the receiver’s head and into the waiting arms of Allen for New York’s third turnover in three possessions covering barely more than five minutes. Cornerback Mo Claiborne had decent coverage on Randle and Allen was in position to make a tackle, or a pick. Score: Good.
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4. Barry Church fumble recovery – Facing 2nd-and-15 from their 25 and trailing by three the Giants again hand off to Wilson with epic implications. The running back runs a draw by is hit at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Nick Hayden, who spins Wilson to the ground. The ball is stripped free just before Wilson’s knee hits the turf, and Church scoops it at the 27 and scores untouched. Wilson is benched, but he again had lotsa help in fumbling. Score: Good.
5. DeVonte Holloman fumble recovery – As Chris Jones’ mediocre 34-yard punt bounded around New York’s 20-yard line it suddenly took a sharp right turn. It was there that rookie J.J. Wilcox was engaged with Giants’ blocker Trumaine McBride, who was unexpectedly hit by the ball in the right arm. Holloman fell on the loose, live ball, but the play that pushed Dallas’ lead to 27-10 had little to do with game-planning and a lot to do with a quirky carom. Score: Lucky.
6. Brandon Carr interception – With everyone in AT&T nervous and fearing another horrible ending to another Giants’ comeback, Manning dropped back to pass on 1st-and-10 from New York’s 48. His team trailed by only six. There were more than two minutes remaining. He had two timeouts. And we wanted another screen pass. When the Cowboys showed blitz with both Lee and Bruce Carter threatening to shoot the A gaps, Manning audibled to a dump pass to his running back, Darrell Scott. But Scott was slow to turn his head around, and by the time he saw it – too late – Manning’s on-target pass glanced off his left shoulder pad to Carr, who had sniffed the play out and waltzed into the end zone to seal the deal. It was a second defensive score, both easy and untouched. The Cowboys took advantage of the miscue, but they didn’t exactly force it. Score: Lucky.
So of the six takeaways, the Cowboys “earned” four of them. And, in the end, they owe a big thanks to the Giants’ running backs for two fumbles and deflected pass that resulted in a pick.
Moral to the season-opening story: It’s better to be lucky and good.