Cowboys use secret weapon to do what they couldn't do last season -- beat the Giants

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For most of this summer the Dallas Cowboys insisted they had the wide receiver to complement Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and the wide receiver to replace Laurent Robinson.

And now they've proven it.

Introducing Kevin Ogletree, and if the name sounds familiar it should. He's been kicking the tires around Dallas for three years, without much luck. In fact, until Wednesday's 24-17 defeat of the New York Giants, Ogletree never had a 100-yard receiving game, never had more than three receptions in any contest and never scored a touchdown.

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Well, now he has.

It was Ogletree who produced the Cowboys' first two scores. It was Ogletree who led the team in catches (8) and yards (114). And it was Ogletree who closed out the defending Super Bowl champions with a first-down reception on a critical third-and 10 with just over two minutes left.

"My biggest grab of the night," Ogletree said of his 13-yard catch. "It was important to get that first down. We got it done when it counted."

And that, folks, is why Ogletree's performance is so significant. Because it was only last season that the Cowboys couldn't get it done when it counted.

I take you back to Dec. 11, 2011, when Dallas met the Giants, held a five-point lead and had a critical third down late in the fourth quarter. It was the first meeting between the two, and the Cowboys could've clinched the victory with a conversion.

But they failed, and they failed when Tony Romo overthrew a wide-open Austin. I don't know who was to blame -- Romo for overshooting his target or Austin, bothered by a bad hamstring, for not extending for the football. All I know is that it didn't happen, and the Cowboys missed the playoffs by one victory.

Now, fast forward to Wednesday night, and in a similar situation against the same opponent Romo delivered -- only this time it's not to Austin or Bryant. It's to Ogletree, the third wide receiver Dallas was supposed to miss with the absence of Robinson.

Only maybe it won't.

Because where Robinson led the team with 11 touchdown catches a year ago, Ogletree leads it with two now. OK, so I don't expect that to continue --not with Austin and Bryant and tight end Jason Witten on this team -- but I didn't expect him to lead the club to victory against the Giants, either.

Yet he did, narrowly missing a third TD when Romo threw a pass behind him.

"He had some opportunities," said coach Jason Garrett, "and won on some underneath routes, did a really good job at winning on releases on slants and had a number of big plays in the ballgame -- converting third-down situations into first downs.

"He just had a good feel for playing. I thought he played very comfortably and really followed what he's been doing all offseason. He came back determined to show us the kind of player he really is."

And that player could determine how far these Cowboys go because if Wednesday is a barometer, the Cowboys' pass defense not only looks improved; it looks dramatically improved. This is the unit, after all, that surrendered 37 and 31 points last season to the Giants, with the secondary victimized by five Eli Manning touchdown passes.

So the defense had to improve, and it did. Manning had one touchdown pass. But the offense improved, too, with the hole created by Robinson's departure a glaring need. Dwayne Harris was supposed to be a candidate. So was Andre Holmes. Even rookie Cole Beasley got a mention. In the end, however, it was Ogletree who won the job, and now we know why.

"Is it too soon to say you've found a third wideout?" I asked Romo.

"I thought Kevin did a good job today," he said. "He's going to be fine."

Dallas might, too. The Cowboys generally are regarded as the third-best team in the NFC East, behind the Giants and Philadelphia, but we may have to reassess them after what happened here. It's not just that they beat the defending Super Bowl champions on opening night; it's that they beat them at home with an unexpected weapon.

That's not supposed to happen. It did.

"This is a great way to start," Ogletree said.

Amen.

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