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The Patriots won their 20th straight regular season home game pulling off a 20-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon.
The win propels the Patriots to 5-1, and back on top of their division while sinking the Cowboys to 2-3. The game was surprisingly defensive oriented for a game featuring the NFL’s No. 1 offense in the Patriots and the leagues No. 3 passing offense in the Cowboys.
This was the first time the Patriots had been held to below 30 points in a regular season game since the last time the Patriots played Rob Ryan’s defense last year against Cleveland. But, in a reversal of roles, the Pats defense kept them in the game and was able to get the ball to Tom Brady with enough time left to win it.
The first quarter was filled with mistakes from both teams, as the Cowboys opened with an interception by Kyle Arrington. The Patriots drive was stalled in the red zone where they settled for a 31-yard field goal. Later however, Brady tossed an interception to Terrence Newman to give the Cowboys the ball at the Patriot 24-yard line.
In a sign of things to come, the defense forced the Cowboys to go three and out and the Cowboys settled for a field goal to tie it. Then after the Patriots fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Cowboys gave the ball right back with a fumble by Tashard Choice.
The first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie.
The second quarter started off well for the Patriots as Deion Branch was able to take a short pass 45 yards deep into Cowboys territory. Though the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal, when they got the ball back they were able to make a quick stop on defense and get into the end zone on a 7-play 69-yard drive culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Welker.
But though the Cowboys received the ball at their own 9-yard line because of a penalty on the kickoff, they finally broke through the Patriot defense driving 91 yards in 11 plays while chewing up just over seven minutes of clock. The drive was highlighted by two big plays by Dez Bryant, including one where he juked two Patriot defenders out of their jock straps, and ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
The half ended with the Patriots up 13-10.
The second half started rather inauspiciously for Patriots as they went three and out, with Brady being sacked for the second time by DeMarcus Ware and then getting hit on a play where the Cowboys rushed just three. The Cowboys followed that up with a 12-play drive spanning 77 yards, but which stalled at the 5-yard line as the Cowboys settled for a Dan Bailey 22-yard field goal to tie it at 13.
Late in the third quarter the Patriots were moving the ball well and after stalling in Cowboys territory, got the ball back after a running into the kicker penalty. However, the drive ended when Cowboy linebacker Bradie James forced Aaron Hernandez to fumble and Newman recovered.
The Patriots continued to hold on defense into the fourth quarter and Brady began to move the ball. However, after again driving into Cowboy territory Brady’s arm was hit by Victor Butler and his pass was intercepted by Cowboy linebacker Sean Lee.
The Cowboys came back with a 9-play 60-yard drive, but ended in another short field goal when the Patriots defense stiffened in the red zone.
The Patriots got the ball back with 5:13 and did nothing with the ball, handing it back to the Cowboys with just 3:46 left to play. However, the Patriot defense was able to make a key stand, first by tackling two Cowboy runs for losses and holding them to an 8-yard run on 3rd and 18 to give Brady the ball back with 2:31 remaining and two timeouts.
Brady was just 19-31 with 209 yards one touchdown and two interceptions until this point, far from impressive especially by his standards.
But on this drive he was brilliant, completing nine out of 10 for all of the 80 necessary yards, and most importantly, adding one to the touchdown column. Taking what the Cowboys gave him, with the offensive line finally giving him time to throw, Brady hit mostly short and intermediate passes to navigate down the field.
With 27 seconds left at the 8-yard line of the Cowboys, the Patriots used their final timeout. Then on 2nd and 4, Hernandez redeemed himself for his fumble by beating Mike Jenkins on a square in and catching the go-ahead touchdown.
The Cowboys were able to move to the Patriot 49-yard line with seven seconds left but Tony Romo’s hailmary pass sailed out of bounds.
This game definitely was the most impressive showing out of the Patriot defense.
Though they once again gave up some yardage in the passing game, they held the high powered Cowboy offense in check. Aside from a couple 20-yard gains by Bryant, the Cowboys had no big plays in the passing game and they had essentially no running game.
On the other hand, this game showed the weakness in the Patriot offense. First of all, for the second straight week they allowed Brady to be pressured, only this time the pressure seemed to affect Brady more.
When Brady has time to throw he was brilliant, hitting some passes in very tight windows. But the Patriots did seem to be hurt from the lack of an explosive receiver, Welker was contained for the first time this season, putting the main burden on the two tight ends for passing success.
If the Patriots get a chance at Brandon Lloyd, they should seriously consider making the trade.