By Chris Cluff
The last time the Dallas Cowboys came to Seattle, they blew a chance to win a playoff game when Tony Romo botched the hold on a potential go-ahead field goal. Of course, that was eons ago in football years — January 2007.
Romo and the Cowboys have been a team of high expectations ever since, and yet they have fallen short every single year. In fact, they have been no better than the Seahawks the past couple of years, with the same 14-18 record. But while the Seahawks have been known underdogs, the Cowboys have been major underachievers.
As Dallas prepared for the opener in New York against the NFC East rival Giants, they looked like a ragged, beat-up crew that was going to get blown out. But, led by the gutsy return of tight end Jason Witten from a spleen injury, the Boys summoned the wherewithal to pull off the upset, 24-17.
Now, everyone wonders: Will they have a letdown way up in Seattle?
Pass-rush stud DeMarcus Ware told reporters after the win over the Giants, “This is how we need to play the whole season. It lets us know what we can do. It’s good to get over the hump. But now that we are over the hump, are we going to keep working or go back down?”
The Cowboys have dominated the Seahawks in recent years, winning the last three games by a combined margin of 95-39 (23-13 in 2011, 38-17 in 2009, 34-9 in 2008).
Last season, then-Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw interceptions on consecutive plays and the Cowboys scored 10 points off them to turn a 13-6 lead into a runaway. Romo threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns, and he has completed 61.4 percent of his passes (62 of 101) for 866 yards (289 per game), eight touchdowns and one interception in that three-game winning streak.
Of course, all of those games were in Dallas. This one is in Seattle, where the crowd will be very loud, as always.
Romo started very well this season, hitting 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns in the win over New York. And DeMarco Murray, who ran for 139 yards on 22 attempts (6.3 per carry) vs. the Hawks last season, went off for 131 yards on 20 carries against the Giants. He figures to be a load again.
The Seahawks’ defense will face a much stiffer challenge than it had against Arizona, which was held to 210 passing yards (20-of-36 passing) and just 43 rushing, but managed to win on an 80-yard drive by Kevin Kolb and a goal-line stand at the very end.
Seattle’s offense had a terrible time against an aggressive Arizona defense, and Dallas is likely to try to apply the same pressure on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Cowboys remade their secondary in the offseason, signing big-money cornerback Brandon Carr and drafting Morris Claiborne to start opposite him. They played well against the Giants, helping hold Eli Manning to 213 passing yards and just one touchdown (to the tight end).
The Cowboys could get a huge lift if Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff is able to return from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the Giants game. They also are rather weak at safety, with Gerald Sensabaugh trying to come back from a concussion suffered against New York and his backup, Danny McCray, coming back from a neck injury.
The key for the Cowboys will be to stop Seattle’s running game, which looked awesome in the preseason, but was inconsistent against Arizona.
And then, of course, Dallas has to hope it doesn’t come down to a field goal — again.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.