A fumble, an interception, untimely penalties, poor play selection and 21 points surrendered.
And that was just the first quarter.
Coming into this season-opening game against San Francisco, a 28-17 loss in front of 91,174 fans, the Cowboys knew defending the 49ers’ vaunted offense would be a difficult task. What they didn’t expect was their own offense, and namely quarterback Tony Romo, being the main culprit in what would become the team’s first loss of the year.
Romo threw three interceptions in the first half alone, two of which eventually resulted in 49ers touchdowns with the third coming in the end zone when Romo missed a wide open Dwayne Harris and instead opted to throw to a well-covered Jason Witten.
He finished the day with 281 yards passing, completing 23-of-37 attempts with one touchdown, although 182 of those yards came in the second half when the game was already well out of hand. Three different receivers caught four passes for the team, as Dez Bryant topped the club with 55 receiving yards.
There was also questionable play-calling in the early going, although whether that was coming from the sideline and new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan or being changed at the line by Romo is uncertain.
Case in point came early in the first quarter, with Dallas already down 7-0 after 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver scooped up a DeMarco Murray fumble and took it back 35 yards for the score within the first minute of the game. The Cowboys had then worked their way down to the San Francisco 2-yard line, but there, despite three first-round picks on the offensive line and a 1,00-yard rusher in their backfield, the Cowboys opted to then do nothing but pass.
On one play, Romo even appeared to pull back an intended handoff to Murray to instead throw the ball, the result a 9-yard sack that left Murray fuming as he walked to the sidelines. That caused the Cowboys to settle for a 29-yard field goal from the sure-footed Dan Bailey to get on the board.
Overall, the Cowboys offense snapped the ball 13 times inside the 49ers’ red zone during the game, including six times within 5 yards of the goal line, and only once did they attempt a running play. That, of course, was a 2-yard dive by Murray in the third quarter for the team’s first touchdown.
Which is all the more curious considering that Murray had 95 yards on 16 carries in the first half alone, an impressive 5.9 yards-per-carry average. With the Cowboys having to abandon the run for the most part over the final two quarters – they didn’t even attempt a run in the fourth frame – Murray would finish the game with 118 yards on 22 carries, the eighth time in his career he has topped the 100-yard mark.
On the other side of the ball, the beleaguered Dallas defense actually put up a valiant fight. The team’s makeshift front line was able to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick, holding the 49ers quarterback to just 201 yards on 16-of-23 passing. Overall, the Cowboys had more total yards than San Francisco (382 to 31), more first downs (26 to 19) and fewer penalties (10/72 to 11/80).
But the 49ers quarterback, who is as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm, used both to push his team down the field in the first half. Such was the case on San Francisco’s second score when he avoided the rush and then found tight end Vernon Davis wide open in the end zone, Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox having left his man to close on Kaepernick.
Down by 18, the Cowboys defense then got a healthy dose of the 49ers running game, featuring Frank Gore, and seemed ready to roll over, especially after San Francisco held possession for 10:23 in the second quarter and added another score thanks to a 9-play, 64-yard drive to go into the half with an insurmountable 28-3 lead.
But, the defense didn’t back down and kept the 49ers scoreless in the second half. They held up their end of the bargain.
Having not done their part thus far, the Dallas offense did manage to give the home fans a reason to cheer after the break, thanks in part to a pass that Romo basically threw up for grabs, but Harris was able to come down with for a 56-yard pass completion down to the 49ers 11. That eventually resulted in the 2-yard score from Murray on fourth-and-1, this after three previous pass attempts.
Romo and Co. then closed out the game with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that resulted in another touchdown, this time a 2-yard pass to Terrance Williams, but it was too little too late, the Cowboys falling to 0-1 on the season, 28-17.
The Cowboys now play consecutive games on the road, traveling to Tennessee (1-0) for a noon game next week before then heading to St. Louis (0-1). Their next home outing will take place on Sept. 28 against New Orleans (0-1).