ARLINGTON, TEXAS – A 31-yard punt pinned Tony Romo at his 10-yard line with two timeouts left in a game his Cowboys trailed by three with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left.
Oddly, it felt like advantage Romo. Sort of like the opposite of last week, when the overmatched Cowboys pass defense was torched in the closing minutes during a 31-30 loss to Detroit.
This time, it was the Vikings defense that looked helpless at the end of a 27-23 loss that dropped them to 1-7 on the season.
“I didn’t have any doubts,” Romo said of a nine-play drive in which he completed seven of nine passes to four receivers for all 90 yards, capped by a 7-yard touchdown to receiver Dwayne Harris.
The Vikings, meanwhile, were still doubting the approach of defensive coordinator Alan Williams long after the game had ended. Specifically, defenders didn’t agree mostly with the plan to rush only three and drop eight into coverage on the game-winning drive.
“We’re putting heat on [Romo] the whole day,” left end Brian Robison said. “We had [three] sacks today? That’s a pretty dang good day and then all of a sudden we get in a drive where we’re going to rush three guys and then we don’t get to him. You’ve got five guys to block three so …”
Without pressure, Romo was able to attack a secondary that was without four of its top five players. Harrison Smith (turf toe) is on injured reserve, Jamarca Sanford (groin) and Chris Cook (hip) were inactive, and Xavier Rhodes injured his left knee on the previous Cowboys possession and left for good after one play on the winning drive.
Romo’s last pass before the winning drive was an interception by cornerback A.J. Jefferson, the first interception by a Vikings cornerback this season.
“I saw the ball coming and all that was going through my mind was just to catch it because this would be the play that changes the game,” Jefferson said. “The play we turn around and win with.”
Romo took his first significant step toward changing that on second-and-10 from the Cowboys 45-yard line with 1:30 left. Facing a single-high safety with Mistral Raymond as the deep safety, Romo threw short to receiver Dez Bryant. Raymond, as he did throughout the game, took a bad angle and missed the tackle, enabling Bryant to turn the play into a 34-yard gain.
“You’ve got to make those open-field tackles,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “You’ve just got to make it. You can’t have 5-yard catches becoming big plays.”
The drive ended when Dallas caught the Vikings double-teaming tight end Jason Witten. Romo threw inside to Harris, who slipped past cornerback Marcus Sherels, caught the ball and dived across the end zone before linebacker Chad Greenway could close in.
“They had run a couple of coverages earlier in the game that allowed us to kind of have a plan going [into that play],” Romo said. “I felt like they would probably double Witten there, and we did a good job of getting to what we needed to get to.”