Cowboys QB Tony Romo overcame an early gaffe to slay the Giants. (Reuters photo)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It started out looking like just about every other big game Tony Romo ever played in for the Dallas Cowboys.
Plenty of All Pro quality quarterbacking all undone by one spirit-killing, forehead-palmingly terrible play.
Romo did it again early in the NFL’s season-opening game Wednesday night against the host New York Giants.
But Romo instantly overcame that what-the-hell-was-he-thinking blunder, and was simply spectacular thereafter, as the Cowboys upset the defending Super Bowl champions, 24-17, before a record Giants crowd of 82,287 at MetLife Stadium.
Romo’s big gaffe occurred early in the second quarter, with the game scoreless and the defences dominating.
He threw over the middle near midfield to Kevin Ogletree, covered in a wall of Giants blue. An awful decision. New York linebacker Michael Boley intercepted the brain-fart and returned it to the Dallas 1-yard line.
But the Cowboys’ stout defence pushed the Giants back to the 5 and forced a field goal.
Then the All Pro-calibre QB in Romo took over the game.
He outshone his celebrated New York counterpart, Eli Manning. And he even stole the thunder from both backfield mate DeMarco Murray, who on a workhorse night gained 131 yards on 20 carries, and the Cowboys defence, which shut down the Giants’ attack for most of the game.
After his blunder, Romo completed 18 of his final 22 passes for 243 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions — and no more blunders.
“Whether you’re playing in the parking lot or in Giants Stadium against the world champions,” Romo told NBC afterward, a quarterback must overcome the big mistakes.
“It’s a big win,” he later told reporters. “We put together a good plan.”
For the game, Romo was 22-of-29 for 307 yards — a wicked passer rating of 129.5.
That’s not all. It’s how he did it that was just as impressive. No more deer-in-the-headlights Tony.
Romo looked like (for oldtimers) Fran Tarkenton or (for you young-’uns) Cam Newton in the pocket — spinning, sliding and stutter-stepping time and again to avoid the heavy Giants pass rush, and then thread perfect passes, usually to Ogletree or Miles Austin.
Romo was 5-of-6 on Dallas’ first scoring drive. The key play was a 38-yard strike to Dez Bryant down the right sideline, after Romo bought himself more time. Romo hit Ogletree from 10 yards out for the go-ahead TD.
Romo kept the hot hand to start the second half. From the New York 40, he hit Ogletree deep down the right side for a TD that broke the game open, 14-3.
Manning was 6-of-6 in bringing the Giants back on a nine-play, 89-yard touchdown drive to close within 14-10.
Romo didn’t flinch. He completed all three of his passes on a 65-yard drive, which ended with a 33-yard Dan Bailey field goal.
Dallas extended its lead to 24-10 in the fourth quarter, thanks to Romo’s best work of the night.
With his confidence now soaring, and the frustrated Giants pass rushers unable to get to him, Romo completed pass after pass, including a 10-yarder to Austin after Romo spun twice in the backfield to gain himself more time. A few plays later Romo danced free and perfectly hit Austin breaking downfield for a 34-yard score.
Manning mustered only one Giants touchdown thereafter.
With 2:11 left up 24-17, Dallas needed one first down to seal the deal. And on third and 12 from their own 24, Romo was clutch — hitting Ogletree on a pass route that had burned the Giants defence all night long: A quick slant.
The Cowboys then ran out the clock.
Said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones afterward: “This becomes one of the highlights for me in my 24 years in the NFL.”
Ogletree caught eight passes on the night for 114 yards, and appears to be Romo’s new go-to receiver.
“Trust doesn’t come with one game, or one play,” Ogletree said. “But we’re going to continue to work and hopefully that relationship continues.”
The replacement officials were mostly a non-story, although some Giants felt hard done by.
“I haven’t been held this much since I was a baby,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said.
The Giants became the first defending Super Bowl champions in 13 years to lose their opener the following year.
“Taking a bite out of humble pie is what this is,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said afterward.
Taking a bite out of his own “Romo sucks” reputation is what the Dallas quarterback did.
• Victor Cruz dropped three balls. Wasn’t Hakeem Nix supposed to be the rusty Giants WR?
• The Cowboys had eight — eight! — plays blown dead before they could begin by these penalties: five false starts, two delay-of-games and an illegal motion. Yeesh.
• Eli Manning on Tony Romo‘s performance: “Tony played well. He’s a tremendous competitor and a good quarterback, and he made some great throws, buying time, running around. He played well enough to win the game.”
• The Cowboys defence allowed only two TDs to Manning and the Giants — the first string’s first of the year, after having not allowed a TD in four pre-season games. On one, Manning had to be perfect (6-of-6), and the other came late with the Giants down 24-10. It’s for real, folks.
• New Dallas CBs Brandon Carr (free agency) and Morris Claiborne (No. 6 overall draft pick) both got picked on by Manning on New York’s promising second possession of the game. But rookie RB David Wilson‘s fumble killed the drive, and seemingly most of the offence’s momentum on the night. After that, Carr and Claiborne were stellar. Carr busted up one slant that Manning must have made Manning think, “Man, I always complete that one against Dallas.”
• Wilson had said just a few days ago that one of his statistical goals in 2012 was to not fumble all season. He didn’t get another carry the rest of the game.
• Evidently Giants fans don’t have as much faith in Eli’s comeback abilities as you’d think. When Dallas went up 24-10, hundreds if not thousands of fans streamed for the exits.
• Said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett about Romo afterward: “He was outstanding. I thought he played a great football game and, again, we had a lot of pre-snap penalties … It is really important for the quarterback to handle that. Try to get some positive things going, convert the third downs, and I thought he did that throughout the ball game … When things weren’t perfect he kept going and I think our guys followed his leadership.”
• Romo: “Well, we are judged by winning and losing, so the best thing is going out on the road and getting a win and not only a win, but one against a division rival and obviously against the world champs. I don’t know how many times teams go in and beat them in that first game of the year, but it was a tough atmosphere and a tough game, but we came grinding out and we did good.”