Confident Cowboys Deliver Billion-Dollar Performance Against Atlanta
"I thought to myself, 'So, this is what a billion dollars looks like,' " Coleman said. "And once the bus rolled inside of it we just kept riding and riding. Usually inside of a stadium, the bus stops pretty quickly.''
Not this time. No nasty halt for the Falcons. No rubber burned.
And the Falcons kept it going that way, opening like they were cozily at home, taking the game's first possession, keeping the ball for more than 8 minutes, and building a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
But then the stadium's walls seemed to close in on the Falcons. Or, at least, the Cowboys certainly began to constrict Atlanta.
Funky things started happening: a 59-yard pass for a Cowboys touchdown; a 73-yard Dallas punt return for another score; two Matt Ryan interceptions and one Ryan fumble, resulting in three Atlanta turnovers.
That 7-0 Falcons lead vanished into a 37-21 Dallas rout.
"We got 37 points, we got them in a lot of ways, so I think that means a lot against what people want to call a quality team,'' said Cowboys receiver/returner Patrick Crayton, who scored on the long punt return.
Both teams are now 4-2. But it was the Falcons who entered Sunday with more respect -- they had more victories against quality opponents, the Cowboys players heard. Dallas wanted a piece of that respect, and believed toppling Atlanta would get it.
It sounded a little silly, a little hyped, until you heard Dallas owner Jerrry Jones say, when asked about the margin of his team's victory in this game: "It really was the statement we were trying to make.''
OK, statement made. Right now, the Cowboys are better than the Falcons.
The Cowboys still have a chance to become an elite team, and they will get every shot they desire to earn the type of respect they seek. They even think that they may see the Falcons again, right here in the playoffs, with Sunday's victory paying off by helping to give Dallas the home-field edge in a potential rematch.
To get that far, though, the Cowboys will need a lot more efforts like they had Sunday, when they got it done on both sides of the ball.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo played a more seasoned game than Atlanta's Matt Ryan.
As Romo comfortably hit on 21-of-29 pass attempts, the Cowboys' pass rush made Ryan antsy. Several of his timing routes to his receivers, that were clicking early, became robot-like throws to the same spots, even though the defense had responded and the passing lanes were closing. Little wonder that Ryan finished with 16 incompletions.
The Dallas secondary made the biggest strides in this game, stepping more boldly in front of passes as the game wore on, jumping routes, jumping receivers, mauling them in their tackling. Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman led this wave.
"Yes, I felt like we started to do that across the board but especially in the secondary,'' Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. "I was concerned about the fact that we had the bye week and we were starting slowly. I thought maybe it would take us some time to really get going. Too much time. But our guys responded.''
It is always about that with the Cowboys. Responding.
With the billion-dollar building come the billion-dollar questions -- not to mention heightened expectations. Romo feels them. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett feels them.
Garrett was told in the locker room, after his offense had rolled up 414 yards, four touchdowns and three field goals, that some believed Dallas could not win this game if it was forced to score more than 24 points.
"Well, we live for another day, huh?'' Garrett said. "Maybe we silenced some of that for one day. Our receivers and tight ends got us into some one-on-one situations where they were able to execute. We had to win some battles and make some plays and we did that. It was good to see us show that kind of versatility.''
Dallas receiver Miles Austin showed it, scoring on catches of 59 and 22 yards. Austin finished with 6 catches for 171 yards. He has become a big player for Dallas who is making big plays.
The Cowboys and Garrett used Austin beautifully on the 22-yard-passing score. Austin was lined wide right in man coverage against Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes -- Austin is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds; Grimes 5-foot-10, 185. It made sense that, if the Cowboys could get Austin in open space near the end zone against Grimes, his size advantage could prove decisive.
Zip, zap. Austin catches the ball near the Atlanta 10-yard-line and Grimes flies past trying to tackle him. Touchdown.
All over the field, Dallas began to win the matchups. That Austin scoring grab made it 24-14 late in the third quarter. The Cowboys added 13 more points in the fourth.
"I looked back some there, took the wrong angle, he competed and he got away,'' Grimes said. "We missed too many tackles as a group all night.''
Coleman explained about the Falcons defense: "Sometimes we were getting caught up in things. We'd blitz and it didn't work, and we'd be in trouble downfield. Or sometimes it was something else unpredictable.''
"Uncharacteristic" is the word Falcons coach Mike Smith used to describe his team's disjointed effort.
"I think,'' Cowboys guard Leonard Davis said, "we started out a little too fast and ahead of ourselves and literally had to slow down and then increase the speed of the game from there. You know what I mean?''
Believe so. Davis is saying that the Cowboys enjoyed this battle against the Falcons. That they used the bye week to study this opponent intensely and knew them well. That they reveled in taking some of the Falcons' luster and slapping it on their own blue stars.
This victory makes Dallas interesting and relevant in the NFC once again.
"At the end of most days, I think we're pretty good,'' Romo said as he walked to his car after his steady, impressive day of work. "They started so fast, but you just can't let that affect your emotions or your plan for four quarters. Every NFL game has five or six different levels of playing, of how the games go.
"You have to keep grounded and going through the things you believe in. We did that. We're OK. We'll be all right. We've got a chance.''