A combination of Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray drove their teammates down the field, before a game-winning field goal from the foot of kicker Dan Bailey gave the Dallas Cowboys a 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. With that one sweet strike from the young kicker, along with a touchdown pass from Romo to Dez Bryant earlier in the fourth quarter, the Bengals’ opportunity to take control of their own playoff fate was lost. Even though the Cowboys held a lead entering the fourth quarter, it would be very difficult to blame the defense for this loss.
Mike Zimmer’s unit was close to it’s very best once again, as it limited the Cowboys’ offense to just 20 points on the day with one turnover and three sacks. Unlike last week however, when the defense sealed the victory over the San Diego Chargers with two late turnovers, a forced fumble and interception in the endzone, this week the Bengals’ defense couldn’t come up with the stop late on. Yet, realistically, they should never have been put in that position as Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense repeatedly missed opportunities to put more points on the board.
Of the Bengals’ four scoring drives for the day, only one went for a touchdown. That touchdown came early on from a sweep pitch in the backfield for Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins did most of the work to weave his way into the endzone, but Dalton was still credited for a touchdown pass. It was his only touchdown pass of the day, although AJ Green did drop a certain score at the goalline while a completed touchdown pass to Marvin Jones was negated by penalty. Dalton hit Jones in the corner of the endzone on a rollout at the goalline, but Jones had run out of bounds at the back of the endzone when trying to free himself from coverage.
It could be argued that Dalton was let down by his teammates today, but the reality is those teammates have been carrying him for much of the season so far. Dalton has enjoyed stretches of productive football this season, but much of that production has come as a result of outstanding offensive line play and impressive displays from multiple receivers on a week-to-week basis. Entering the fourth quarter of this game, the Bengals had a nine point lead. When Dalton first got the football, there were roughly 12 minutes left and the Bengals were looking to take plenty of time of the clock with a sustained drive. Despite starting the drive backed up against their own goalline, a big run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis gave the offense plenty of breathing space.
After that, a penalty from Kyle Cook forced the Bengals into a second and 17 situation deep in their own territory. At this point of the game, you look to your franchise quarterback to guide your team to victory. A five yard run set the offense up with a third and 12, but Dalton held onto the football too long with at least one option, Gresham in the flat, against a three man pass rush. When they needed their quarterback to make a play, he didn’t. The Bengals punted and Romo replied with a 62-yard touchdown drive that took just three minutes.
Now it was a two point game, Bengals’ football with six and a half minutes to go. Not wanting to become too conservative on offense, coordinator Jay Gruden put the ball in his quarterback’s hands and asked him to close out the game. At his own 20, Dalton first completed an instant pass to the flat which Jermaine Gresham turned upfield for a five yard gain. That was followed with a good decision and efficient throw that converted for a first down and kept the clock moving. However that was the last first down the Bengals converted for. On the next play Dalton missed an open receiver over the middle before scrambling outside and overthrowing a covered receiver. A quick five yard completion kept the clock moving, but on third and five Dalton was sacked as he failed to throw on anticipation.
It initially appeared that Dalton was let down by his pass protection, but if he had stood tall in the pocket and anticipated his receivers’ routes, instead of waiting for them to come free, he would have had one receiver open over the middle for a first down and another deep running to the right sideline. Dalton made the safe decision and trusted his defense to win the game. At least, that is one way to look at it. Another way is to say he wasn’t brave enough trying to win the game and his fear put the responsibility on his defensive teammates.
Dalton needs to decide if he is going to be a game manager who is satisfied with relying on his teammates to carry him to victories, or if he is going to develop the attitude of a winner. There aren’t any franchise quarterback in the NFL who doesn’t have that attitude. At least, no successful ones.