The Dallas Cowboys were able to exorcise one demon in their first game of the 2012 season. They'll now have a chance to put behind a haunting moment from years past in their second outing.
When the Cowboys take on the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday, it'll be the first time the team invades CenturyLink Field since January of 2007, when the two opponents engaged in an NFC First-Round Playoff matchup that yielded an unforgettable finish.
Dallas trailed the Seahawks by a point late in that contest before driving deep into enemy territory to set up a go-ahead field goal attempt with 1:19 left. However, quarterback Tony Romo -- then also serving as the Cowboys' holder -- mishandled the snap from center and kicker Martin Gramatica was never able to get an attempt off as Seattle escaped with a narrow 21-20 win.
Romo bounced back strongly from that embarrassing episode the following year, throwing a career-best 36 touchdown passes to lead Dallas to a 13-3 record and the NFC's top playoff seed in 2007. And the highly scrutinized signal-caller's outstanding play last week helped his team overcome another painful period -- a pair of late-season losses to the rival New York Giants this past winter that spoiled the Cowboys' bid for a division title.
Romo was on top of his game in Dallas' season-opening grudge match against the Giants, completing a crisp 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns with one interception to propel the Cowboys to an uplifting 24-17 road victory over the defending Super Bowl champs and give the club an early leg up on one of the biggest threats to its goal of capturing the NFC East.
"I do think his mindset of taking the next step -- we really saw him elevate his game the next year and put himself in a category of elite quarterback -- that's when it started," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said of Romo when recalling the 2006 playoff defeat. "Finishing that (2006 season) that way really fueled him. I think we've seen how he's handled it and pushed himself. I think he remembers those adverse situations."
Romo didn't do it alone in last week's big win. Reserve wide receiver Kevin Ogletree hauled in two of the quarterback's touchdown throws while posting career bests for catches (8) and receiving yards (114), emerging star running back DeMarco Murray contributed 131 rushing yards, while a made-over defense headed up by new cornerbacks Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne kept New York's dangerous passing game under wraps throughout the night.
The Seahawks enter Sunday's showdown as the ones attempting to shake off a tough result to take after being edged by fellow NFC West member Arizona last Sunday in the regular-season debut of Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Head coach Pete Carroll's young charges were in position to pull out what would have been an advantageous win in the closing stages, but failed to score a touchdown in four plays inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line and were saddled with a 20-16 setback.
Seattle rallied from a 13-3 third-quarter deficit by netting 13 consecutive points, with return specialist Leon Washington setting up a pair of scores with two long runbacks, but a defense that held Arizona in check for most of the afternoon allowed backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to engineer an 80-yard touchdown drive that put the Cardinals ahead with less than five minutes left.
"I felt great about the opportunities that we had," said Wilson, who finished with 153 yards and a touchdown with one interception on 18-of-34 passing in his first career effort. We put ourselves in a good position. We just fell short, and that's going to happen sometimes.
"The defense did a great job. Special teams did a great job helping us out as well. We just fell short."
Seattle also came up short in a 23-13 loss to Dallas at Cowboys Stadium last November, with Murray churning out 135 yards and a touchdown in that tilt and the Cowboys intercepting the since-departed Tarvaris Jackson three times.
Cowboys lead 9-4
Streak: Cowboys have won last three meetings Last Meeting: Cowboys 23, Seahawks 13 (Nov. 6, 2011 at Dallas) Last Regular-Season Meeting at Site: Seahawks 13, Cowboys 10 (Oct. 23, 2005)
Cowboys HC Jason Garrett vs. Seahawks: 1-0 Seahawks HC Pete Carroll vs. Cowboys: 1-1 overall, 0-1 with Seattle Garrett vs. Carroll Head-to-Head: Garrett leads, 1-0
Notes: Cowboys making first appearance at Qwest Field since memorable 21-20 loss to Seahawks in opening round of 2006 NFC Playoffs and are 1-2 all-time at CenturyLink Field, posting a 43-39 shootout win there on Dec. 6, 2004. Seattle's last regular-season victory in the series took place at home in 2005. Carroll's only triumph over Dallas as a head coach occurred while at the helm of New England in 1999.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Dallas: 3rd overall (433.0 ypg), 7th rushing (143.0 ypg), 10th passing (290.0 ypg), tied 14th scoring (24.0 ppg)
Seattle: 29th overall (254.0 ypg), 13th rushing (115.0 ypg), 30th passing (139.0 ypg), tied 25th scoring (16.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Dallas: 7th overall (269.0 ypg), 12th rushing (82.0 ypg), 5th passing (187.0 ypg), tied 9th scoring (17.0 ppg)
Seattle: 3rd overall (253.0 ypg), 5th rushing (43.0 ypg), 11th passing (210.0 ypg), tied 6th scoring (16.0 ppg)
Dallas: Even (1 takeaway, 1 giveaway) Seattle: Even (2 takeaways, 2 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Dallas: 66.7 percent (3 possessions, 2 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 7th overall Seattle: 25.0 percent (4 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- 26th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Dallas: 66.7 percent (3 possessions, 2 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 24th overall Seattle: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 11th overall
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Dallas' offense was operating at near full efficiency in an impressive opener, with Romo (307 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT last week) getting solid protection from his front line and firing accurate passes to a deep wide receiver corps that got a huge boost from the previously underachieving Ogletree (8 receptions, 114 yards, 2 TD) alongside mainstays Dez Bryant (4 receptions, 85 yards) and Miles Austin (4 receptions, 73 yards). The trio accounted for all but 35 of Romo's 307 passing yards and should present a challenge for Seattle's talented secondary this week. Murray will be a handful as well, as the Seahawks found out when the standout young running back amassed 186 yards from scrimmage (139 rushing, 47 receiving) in last season's meeting, and the Cowboys are awfully tough to slow down when he's being fed the ball. In six career games in which Murray has had at least 20 touches, as was the case last week, Dallas is 6-0. Romo was still able to shred an injury-riddled Giants secondary despite favored target Witten being a relative non-factor, with the veteran tight end managing just 10 yards on two catches while making an unexpected and gutsy return from a lacerated spleen suffered in the preseason. He'll have 11 days to heal up for Sunday's clash, however, and provides another quality weapon to an offense that rolled up 433 yards on New York if at or near 100 percent.
It'll be strength-on-strength when Dallas has the ball, as an athletic Seattle defense has the speed and skill to give Romo and his mates a far tougher test than the depleted Giants did in Week 1. Though the Seahawks weren't able to stop Murray from running wild last season, they completely shut down Arizona's ground game last Sunday, with beefy linemen Brandon Mebane (4 tackles, 2 PD) and Red Bryant (3 tackles, 1 PD) effectively clogging gaps and rangy outside linebackers K.J. Wright (9 tackles) and Leroy Hill (3 tackles) covering plenty of ground with support from physical strong safety Kam Chancellor (5 tackles, 1 PD). As a result, the Cardinals mustered a paltry 43 rushing yards on 20 attempts. The pass defense was very good as well, with second-year cornerback Richard Sherman (4 tackles, 1 PD) doing an excellent job against All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald and coming up with a key interception that helped spark Seattle's second-half rally. He and the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner (4 tackles) form an imposing outside tandem, though declining veteran Marcus Trufant might be able to be exploited by Austin when deployed in the slot in nickel packages. Getting steady pressure from sources such as top pass rusher Chris Clemons (1 sack) and situational tackle Jason Jones, something Seattle wasn't able to do in last year's bout with the Cowboys, would aid the cause as well.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
While the defense and a raucous home crowd should give a reasonable chance to avoid an 0-2 start, the offense will have to produce more than the 254 total yards it did a week ago and execute better within the red zone -- where Seattle scored just one touchdown in four trips against Arizona -- to make that scenario a possibility. With Wilson (153 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) still feeling his way around, expect the Seahawks to ride running back Marshawn Lynch (85 rushing yards, 2 receptions) extensively in this game. The 2011 Pro Bowl selection was a force in last November's encounter with the Cowboys, gaining 135 yards and a touchdown on 23 totes even with Dallas stacking the box for much of the action. Wilson will need to show some improvement in his second start as well, as the 2012 third-round pick struggled with his accuracy and averaged a subpar 4.5 yards per pass attempt in Week 1. Most of his throws were short deliveries to wide receivers Braylon Edwards (5 receptions), Sidney Rice (4 receptions) and Doug Baldwin (2 receptions), and the Seahawks had just one passing play over 16 yards in the loss. A shaky offensive line had some trouble handling the Cardinals' pass rushers to boot and will be making one lineup change for this game, with 2011 third-rounder John Moffitt replacing overmatched rookie J.R. Sweezy at right guard. Left tackle Russell Okung is expected to play despite incurring a bone bruise in his left knee last Sunday, which is good news with Dallas possessing the prolific DeMarcus Ware on the opposite side.
With Seattle lacking much of a vertical threat, expect the Cowboys to place most of their defensive focus on Lynch. Though the team will likely be without Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) for a second straight week, replacement Josh Brent did an adequate job of tying up blockers against the Giants and freeing inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter (5 tackles) to make plays. Lee was all over the field in the opener, racking up 12 tackles (10 solo) and forcing a key fumble in a stellar performance. Carr, a marquee free-agent pickup during the offseason, and first-round choice Claiborne (4 tackles) also held their own last week, holding New York's accomplished wide receiver combo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to a relatively harmless 96 yards on 10 catches with their aggressive press styles. Ware (5 tackles) was his usual disruptive self as well in recording a pair of sacks of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and his presence must be accounted for by the Seahawks in order to prevent another pedestrian passing day from Wilson. All told, it will be quite an early test for Seattle's promising young field general.
This has the potential of being a difficult matchup for a Dallas team that faces the prospect of coming out a bit flat off a win in a game it had circled on the calendar ever since the schedule was released. The Seattle defense is very good, and the excessively loud atmosphere of CenturyLink Field can create nightmares for enemy quarterbacks and should have an impact on Dallas' execution to at least some extent. However, the Seahawks are going to knock off a more experienced and skilled opponent unless Wilson makes some significant strides in throwing the football, and that won't be an easy task against a Cowboys secondary that looks much improved from last year's porous group and with Ware and his compatriots continually breathing down the rookie's neck.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 17, Seahawks 13