By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 16, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH -- This was more like a win you would expect in January rather than October.

You had two defenses that forced a lot of mistakes, and two offenses that can light it up but could not on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. In the end, you always want Tom Brady rather than Tony Romo, and Brady came through big with just 22 seconds left. Brady hit Aaron Hernandez from eight yards out, and the Patriots walked off the field with a 20-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

This is an oversimplification regarding how hard a game this was to win. Brady and not Romo was the man in the end, which is usually how things turn out regarding these two guys. Both quarterbacks get beautiful women and both men can put up big numbers. But Brady does the latter better and more often than Romo, and Brady is the better quarterback in the clutch than Romo. In a game where the defenses ruled the day, the Patriots in the end, by their coach's admission, "made a few more plays than they did" and won the game.

Amazingly, both quarterbacks were 27 of 41 passing. Romo threw for 317 yards, Brady 289. Brady threw two touchdown passes, Romo one. Ditto for interceptions, which is why Romo's rating was just under five points better than Brady's. But in the one element that matters, Brady won and Romo lost. Brady found a way to win whereas Romo did not.

The defenses were the real stars of the show in this game. Despite still looking porous in the secondary, the Patriots were able to stop the Cowboys when they had to and forced the Cowboys to kick three field goals, two of them involving drives which were stalled inside the Patriot 10-yard line. The Patriot run defense held the Cowboys to only 3.2 yards average per rush as a team.

Penalties also killed the Cowboys, who were flagged ten times for 77 yards. Perhaps most potentially damaging was a running into the kicker penalty on Anthony Spencer when he grazed Zoltan Mesko after a third quarter punt. That prolonged a 15-play drive for the Patriots, which ended with a lost fumble by Hernandez at the Dallas 17. A false start by Tyron Smith helped Dallas go three-and-out prior to the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.

About the best thing both offenses could do against the defenses was to run mostly hurry-up packages. There were three penalties combined called for too many defenders on the field, one against the Patriots and two against Dallas. Otherwise the defenses brought a lot of pressure during the game, as Brady was sacked three times (twice by DeMarcus Ware), while Romo was sacked twice (both times by Andre Carter).

The Patriots fumbled twice, while the Cowboys fumbled once, all three fumbles resulting in turnovers. In addition to Hernandez's fumble, Matthew Slater returned a first quarter kickoff 22 yards before being stripped by John Phillips. But Tashard Choice gave it right back five plays later when he got his pocket picked by Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren recovered the loose ball.

Brady's two interceptions were not terribly costly, yielding only field goals each time. Brady tried to hit Deion Branch deep in Patriot territory, but the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Kenyon Coleman and intercepted by Terence Newman at the Patriot 24. In the fourth quarter, Brady threw into double coverage and linebacker Sean Lee tipped the ball up in the air and picked off the ball at the Dallas 26-yard line. The second pick was on Brady, as there wasn't any open Patriot nearby as he was scrambling to his left and away from the pass rush.

Trailing 16-13 with 2:31 left, Brady took the Patriots on an 80-yard drive which might remind many folks of some Super Bowl winning drives. He started with right flat dump passes to tight ends Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski for 16 and 11 yards respectively. Wes Welker then hauled in a five-yard pass and a ten-yard pass to get the Patriots to the Dallas 38. Danny Woodhead took a dump pass for nine yards, then on third and short Brady sneaked for the first down. Woodhead then took a dump pass over the middle for 13 yards, Welker made a diving catch to get the Patriots to the Dallas 8, then Brady finished off the drive by hitting Hernandez in the back of the end zone. Hernandez was able to get a step on cornerback Mike Jenkins and Brady hit him perfectly in stride.

The Patriots have now won their fourth straight game against Dallas after losing their first seven to the Cowboys in this strange series. This marked the second straight game where the Patriots faced a defense by one of Buddy Ryan's sons, as former Patriot linebacker coach Rob Ryan is the Cowboys defensive coordinator. Ryan was the last defensive coordinator to hold the Patriots under 30 points, as he did with Cleveland last season, and he did it again on Sunday in a losing effort. The Cowboys played a tight coverage game with great pressure from the front four, but Brady made just enough plays to overcome Ryan this time, unlike last year's 34-17 loss at Cleveland.

And in another interesting twist, the Patriots wore their white jerseys, forcing the Cowboys to wear their dark blue jerseys. Historically the Cowboys hate to wear their blue jerseys and don't usually play well in them. The Cowboys hadn't worn the blue jerseys since December of 2009 until Sunday. The Redskins usually make the Cowboys wear blue at FedEx Field, same with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cowboys, who lost a 1968 playoff game against Cleveland and Super Bowl V wearing blue jerseys, thought of the blue jerseys as a jinx. In 2003, the Patriots wore their gray jerseys at Gillette Stadium, forcing Bill Parcells' Cowboys to wear blue.

Myths be darned, the Patriots won the game anyway by simply outplaying the Cowboys. Seeing the Patriots win a close, low scoring game goes against many recent tendencies and was refreshing to see, especially for those who remember how the Patriots used to win the tough games in the championship years. With Buffalo losing at the Giants, the Patriots are now 5-1 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

The Patriots now head into a bye week before they travel to Heinz Field and play the Steelers, the last team to beat the Patriots at home in the regular season. The Patriots have had success against Pittsburgh in recent years, especially at Heinz Field. With two weeks to prepare, Bill Belichick will be on top of things and will hopefully be ready to flummox Ben Roethlisberger again.

Given how tough the Cowboys played the Patriots, the Patriots ought to thank them for setting them up for the match with the Steelers in two weeks.


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