Cowboys 19, Browns 12
The Dallas Cowboys needed two things to avert an 0-2 start: defensive grit and the coaching of Bill Parcells.
The Cowboys got both, using a return to form by their defense to beat the Cleveland Browns 19-12 Sunday -- with some vintage Parcells moments thrown in.
He ordered a flea-flicker that set up a touchdown and a fake punt that led to a field goal. He bellowed at wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson on the sidelines.
"We can't continue to do these things and expect to win," Parcells said. "But we won this one."
Cleveland's may have lost more than just a game. Prized rookie tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. left with a leg injury and a team report indicated he may have suffered a broken right fibula. He will have an MRI on Monday.
The Cowboys rebounded from a lopsided loss at Minnesota in their opener and are 1-1 entering next Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Against Cleveland, the Dallas defense resembled the unit that ranked first in the NFL last season rather than the one that was shredded for five touchdown passes by Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. The Browns (1-1) managed only four field goals by Phil Dawson and quarterback Jeff Garcia completed only 8 of 27 passes for 71 yards, with three interceptions and a passer rating of zero. Winslow had only one catch before getting hurt.
"They did a great job defensively and we just didn't execute well," Garcia said.
Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde provided some anxious moments for Parcells and the Texas Stadium crowd of 63,119 by throwing interceptions on three straight second-half possessions. But those led to only one field goal and Garcia twice gave the ball right back with interceptions.
"We all believe in what we can do as a defense," Cowboys middle linebacker Dat Nguyen said. "We were very disturbed by what happened last week."
Even Johnson helped on defense. The receiver played deep safety and batted down the last-gasp desperation heave of Cleveland rookie quarterback Luke McCown, who replaced Garcia for the Hail Mary attempt. That came after the Browns recovered an onside kick that followed a safety they surrendered with eight seconds left for a holding penalty in their end zone.
Testaverde had a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Robinson as part of a 23-for-35, 322-yard performance. Tailback Eddie George ran for 62 yards, three of them on a third-quarter touchdown.
"Well, it's a win," Testaverde said. "Obviously I have to play better. The second half was a poor performance by me. All I can do right now is thank the defense."
Testaverde threw 50 passes in the loss to the Vikings and came out firing Sunday with a 20-yard completion to tight end Jason Witten on Dallas's first offensive play.
The Cowboys moved downfield easily, with George finding running room. On first down from the Cleveland 37, he took a handoff from Testaverde and flipped the ball back to the quarterback, who hit Johnson for a 36-yard gain to the Browns 1.
After a play-action fake, Testaverde lobbed a pass to Robinson, who caught it for his third touchdown in three career catches for the Cowboys.
The Browns were going nowhere, as the offense went three plays and out on its first two possessions. But a roughing-the-passer penalty on Cowboys linebacker Bradie James helped the Browns to Dawson's first field goal, a 45-yarder to open the second quarter.
Cleveland got to the Cowboys 4 on its next possession but could manage only another field goal.
Parcells ordered a direct snap to Dexter Coakley out of punt formation on fourth and inches from the Dallas 36, and the linebacker sprinted for 33 yards.
"I'm trying to give my impetus, but those are gambles," Parcells said. "They're not going to work all the time. That's not smart football, to me. . . . We got away with it . . . . I could be sitting here 0-2 and looking at a Monday night game on the road . . . . Hey, the dice came up seven for us today."
A third-and-20 completion from Testaverde to wideout Terry Glenn got the Cowboys 18 yards, and they would have had a first down when Browns safety Earl Little jumped on Glenn late for a personal foul. But Johnson was called for taunting for kicking Little in the pileup. The penalties offset, and Dallas had to settle for a field goal. Johnson was jawing about the call when he returned to the sideline, and Parcells could be seen telling him to shut up.
"I just talked to him about it," Parcells said later.
Dawson's 49-yard field goal as time expired in the first half got Cleveland to within 10-9, and Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff hit the right upright with a 49-yard try early in the third quarter. But, with the Browns in position for another field goal attempt to Dawson, Garcia made a poor throw while looking for Winslow on a third-down play and the ball was intercepted by Nguyen. The Cowboys took advantage, with a juggling catch by wide receiver Antonio Bryant setting up George's first touchdown as a Cowboy.
The Browns took over at the Dallas 22 late in the third quarter after an interception and 51-yard return by cornerback Anthony Henry. They got to the 5 but yet again had to summon Dawson, whose 22-yarder made it 17-12.
Testaverde was intercepted on Dallas's first two possessions of the fourth quarter, but Garcia returned the favor each time.