Four turnovers in the first half doomed the Cowboys in their 28-17 loss to the 49ers at AT&T Stadium. Here are five observations from my role as sideline reporter:
1. It was obviously going to be a long day when, on the very first play from scrimmage, Cowboys Pro Bowl offensive lineman Tyron Smith gets a 5-yard penalty for a false start. Then, two plays later, Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray fumbles the ball which 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver scooped up and returned 35 yards for a touchdown. In less than a minute, two Pro Bowl players make mistakes and the Cowboys trail by 7 points…and the 49ers offense hasn’t even touched the ball!
2. The second time the Cowboys got the ball, they moved all the way down the field to the 49ers 2-yard line. But instead of punching the ball in the end zone with a run play, quarterback Tony Romo changed the play (he called an “audible”) and, instead of handing off the ball, he tried to pass it. He got sacked by 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith. The Cowboys had to settle for a 3-point field goal. Would the Cowboys have scored a touchdown if they had run the ball? We’ll never know for sure. But the sack was a horrible play.
3. The next three times the Cowboys had the ball on offense, Tony Romo threw three interceptions. None of the throws looked like good decisions; it looked like the quarterback was trying to force the ball into coverage each time. The three interceptions, along with DeMarco Murray’s fumble, meant the Cowboys gave away the ball four times in the first half. Those four giveaways resulted in 28 points for the 49ers as San Francisco was able to capitalize on the Cowboys’ mistakes. It’s just inexcusable. You cannot give the ball away, period.
4. Tony Romo is getting a lot of criticism because of this game, and he deserves it. When he throws three interceptions in three straight possessions, he knows he’s going to be criticized. He looked rusty and unfortunately, that’s to be expected when he wasn’t able to practice more than three days in a row in training camp because he’s coming off back surgery (a procedure last December to repair a herniated disk in his back). From my vantage point on the sideline, his passes didn’t have their usual “zip”. I’m not convinced he’s 100% physically. But the interceptions were more mental mistakes (throwing into coverage).
5. I still don’t have a good idea about how well the Cowboys defense will play this season. The 49ers put up 28 points in the first half, but most of those points came on a short field after a turnover. Yes, the Cowboys defense did not give up any points in the second half, but the 49ers had it in “cruise control” after building a big lead. And I’m worried about linebacker Justin Durant suffering a groin injury in the 3rd quarter. He’s not only versatile (can play all 3 linebacker positions), but he’s a veteran leader. If he misses a couple of games, it could really hurt this defense.