With two and a half minutes to play on Sunday in New England, the Cowboys had a 16-13 lead and all the momentum.
And then Tom Brady went to work.
Brady engineered an outstanding two-minute drive, marching the Patriots 80 yards in 10 plays and culminating with a touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez to give the Patriots a 20-16 win. With the victory, Brady and Bill Belichick have tied Dan Marino and Don Shula for the most wins by a quarterback-head coach combination in NFL history. It was the 116th game Brady and Belichick have won together.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said last week that he was afraid to say anything that Patriots receiver Wes Welker could use as bulletin-board material. But while Ryan was refusing to speak up publicly, whatever he said to his players privately worked: Dallas held Welker to six catches for 45 yards and a touchdown — not a bad day, but by far the best any defense has done against Welker this season.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, holding the Patriots’ passing game in check for 58 minutes wasn’t enough, and Brady rallied the troops in those final two minutes.
And while the Cowboys’ defensive effort against Welker was impressive, the Patriots’ defense shouldn’t be overlooked. Although Tony Romo had a 317-yard game, the Patriots’ defense stiffened in the red zone, with the Cowboys settling for 22- and 26-yard field goals. And the running game was all but nonexistent for Dallas: Cowboys running back Felix Jones had just eight carries for 14 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
It was a hugely disappointing loss for the Cowboys, who drop to 2-3. And it was another reminder that even if you can shut down the passing game for most of the day, the 5-1 Patriots are a tough team to beat.