Champ Bailey played an outsize role in Sunday's 17-10 Broncos victory, but his work in knocking away the final two Cowboys passes paled in comparison to his interception early in the third quarter. It killed a Cowboy drive inside the red zone, costing them a chance to put points on the board and made sure that the Broncos would be in a position to win with one big play. The damndest thing about it is that it didn't need to happen.
The first Broncos play of the third quarter was a run by Knowshon Moreno. DeMarcus Ware, so quiet this season, finally made a game-changing play by forcing a fumble which Bradie James hopped on at the 27-yard-line. The Cowboys were in business with a chance to get some much needed points early in the second half of a defensive slugfest, but it would go sour thanks to the playcalling issues that have drawn so much focus in the last 15 hours.
Things started okay with a run by Marion Barber and a short pass to Jason Witten for 11 yards. That put the ball inside the red zone, well within Nick Folk's field goal range, and should have changed the thought process to guaranteeing that the Cowboys finished the drive with more points on the board. Jason Garrett wasn't having any of that, though. He called a run to Tashard Choice and then a pass to Roy Williams which left the Cowboys with a third-and-11 and, seemingly, an easy choice about what to do next.
The biggest problem with the Cowboys offense right now is its absolute refusal to accept what they have to work with. An erratic quarterback, wide receivers who haven't shown the ability to consistently make plays down the field and a stellar running game. Even with the Broncos doing a great job at stuffing the run, the Cowboys were all too willing to go away from it and put the game back into Romo's hands.
Which, disturbingly, is what they wound up doing on third down, even after taking a timeout to talk things over. It's here where you wonder what role Wade Phillips plays in anything going on with the team's offense. Phillips is a defensive guy and his defense was doing a great job when they weren't put in difficult situations thanks to Romo's turnovers. But he was either in the bathroom, looking at a puffy cloud or enjoying the work of the Broncos cheerleaders because Garrett sent Romo out with a pass that risked a sack or turnover that would cost them a chance at three points.
And, worst of all, the pass play was designed to challenge Bailey, the best defensive back that Denver had to offer. The pass to Miles Austin may have been awry because of miscommunication, but Romo gets no benefit of the doubt when it comes to reading plays any more. Bailey may have made a spectacular play to grab the ball, but that's why you don't continually challenge one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. All of it illustrates why you don't take unnecessary risks with an offense designed for simpler things. Taking what was there would have meant three points and a very different second half.
It was one of 16 times that the Cowboys challenged Bailey on the afternoon, a strategy that never paid off and wound up killing their chances as surely as Brandon Marshall's brilliant catch and run and Flozell Adams's inability to block opposing pass rushers.