Cowboys' Opening Statement

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008

CLEVELAND, Sept. 7 -- The Dallas Cowboys entered this season as a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC, and they looked the part in their opener Sunday. Quarterback Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Terrell Owens, tailback Marion Barber ran for two more touchdowns and the Cowboys eased to a 28-10 triumph over the outmanned Cleveland Browns.

"We're ready," Owens said. "Training camp and all, that is over. This is what we prepare ourselves for. The season is here, and this was a great start for us."

The Cowboys ended last season with a meek and embarrassing exit in the second round of the playoffs, losing at home to the New York Giants. Romo was ridiculed for his part in the dud of a performance just after being spotted vacationing in Mexico with famous girlfriend Jessica Simpson, and Owens tearfully defended his quarterback. So much more had been expected after the Cowboys had rolled to the NFC East title during the regular season.

The real tests for this team will come in the postseason, but first the Cowboys have to get there. They took an impressive first step. Romo completed 24 of 32 passes for 320 yards. Owens caught a 35-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The only blemish for Romo was an interception by Cleveland cornerback Eric Wright while aiming for a second touchdown pass to Owens, but the outcome wasn't in doubt by then.

"We gave away one at the goal line," said Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips. "Other than that, we were pretty efficient. I felt like we were clicking on all cylinders."

Barber, taking over as the starter at tailback following the offseason exit of Julius Jones, ran for 80 yards on 16 carries before exiting the game with a rib injury. That was the only sour note for the Cowboys. Phillips said the Cowboys didn't know yet whether the injury was serious and would cause Barber to be sidelined for an extended period. Barber had a pair of one-yard touchdowns in the first half. His new backup, rookie Felix Jones, added a touchdown run in the third quarter.

"We're excited," said Romo, who indicated he probably would get some stitches after finishing the game with his chin bandaged. "That's a good football team over there, and we came out and played pretty well. It's exciting to see what kind of football team we can be when we put things together."

The Browns, with high expectations after their 10-win showing last season, offered surprisingly little resistance. Quarterback Derek Anderson threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow. But that was about it for a Cleveland offense operating against a Dallas defense that included cornerback Adam Jones, subbing for the injured Terence Newman in the starting lineup. Anderson connected on 11 of 24 passes for 114 yards.

"We weren't ready," Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. "We came out and put one good drive together, and that was about it. We weren't on the same page today."

The Browns fell to 1-9 in season-opening games since the franchise came back to Cleveland, with all 10 games coming at home.

"We lose opening games," Edwards said. "It [stinks], but that's the way it goes. The last time I looked, we still have 15 games to go. We have a lot of time to get better."

Romo was sharp from the outset, completing his first nine passes. The Cowboys drove for a touchdown the first time they had the ball. Romo found tight end Jason Witten three times on the drive, with the third of those completions giving the Cowboys a first down at the Cleveland 1-yard line. Barber dove over the pile into the end zone on the next play.

But the Dallas defense committed three penalties to keep the Browns' next drive going, and Cleveland got even. Anderson rolled to his right and flipped a two-yard touchdown throw to Winslow shortly after a pass interference penalty on Adam Jones, who pulled down Edwards in the end zone, had given the Browns a first down at the 1.

No matter. The Cowboys struck back quickly. On second down from the Cleveland 35, Owens dashed past cornerback Brandon McDonald to get open, and Romo delivered an on-target throw for the touchdown. Owens drew a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty for putting the ball on the ground, dropping into a sprinter's stance and then pretending to rise and start running.

"I'm just having fun," Owens said. "They said I touched the ground. I mean, we run on it. What else can you do? You can't have fun. You can't do anything."

The Cowboys added to their lead in the final minute of the first half. A third-down connection from Romo to Owens got the Cowboys to the 1, and Barber eased into the end zone on first down behind the left side of the Dallas offensive line. Romo threw for 175 yards in the first half alone, and Barber ran for 64 yards.

Romo took a few moments to pull himself off the turf after being leveled by three Browns defenders as he delivered a third-quarter incompletion. He had his chin bandaged soon after. But if he was shaken up, it didn't last for long. He teamed with Witten for a 19-yard completion on the following play, putting the Cowboys on their way to Felix Jones's 11-yard touchdown sprint that stretched the lead to 28-7.

"Just the way we executed on offense," Owens said, "it'll look easy if we're doing the things we need to do. . . . Offensively we're on the right track."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company