A Look Back at The Cowboys/49ers OT Classic in 2011: And Sunday’s Matchup

jesse-holley-203x300A look back the last time these two teams met back in September 2011 that provided an exciting game that was decided in overtime. And a comparison to the matchup to be played on Sunday the first game of their season.

In 2011, QB Tony Romo hit wide receiver Jesse Holley for the winning score in overtime. Jesse Holley was the survivor of Michael “Play Maker” Irvin’s reality show “4th and long” and that’s how he got an opportunity with the team after playing football and basketball at UNC. Holley was a member of the basketball team that won the National Championship in 2005. Prior to appearing on “4th and Long” Holley was selling cell phones back in NC.

In OT, Dallas faked a run to the right and Romo pulled up and hit a wide open Holley who had slipped behind the defense completely undetected. He was chased down and tackled at the one setting up the game winning field goal 27-24.

Romo Gutsy Perfromance:
It had been a 49er type game that was plenty physical in fact Romo was hit by CB Carlos Rogers after a pass that cracked Romo’s ribs and even punctured his lung. After making a few painful pass attempts that looked off target, Romo left the game and backup QB Jon Kitna took over eventually throwing two interceptions.

In a display of courage, Romo returned to the game with Dallas trailing by 14 points. As far as I’m concerned, this was the most gutsy performance in Romo’s career and ranks high among all NFL QB gutsy performances for that matter.

He led Dallas back to a win including that strike to Holley. Romo passed for 345 yards and two TDs that day and that was after throwing a late interception the previous week against the Jets that resulted in a loss. It is the familiar roller coaster ride that Cowboy fans experience with Romo as QB. He makes a late game blunder one week and then provides the winning pass the next.

Romo 2014:
Romo’s ribs are OK now, but this time Romo faces the 49ers after back surgery so another gutsy performance will no doubt be required to survive 4 quarters against the 49er defense. In preseason, Romo has looked fine passing for the most part but perhaps not as mobile as fans are use to seeing. The highly regarded offensive line will need to be on top of their game. Romo took some hits with 3 sacks against the Dolphins and while he missed some practice, he appears ready to go.

WR Jesse Holley No Longer in NFL:
In 2011, WR Dez Bryant missed the game with injury and Miles had gone out with a hamstring injury (sound familiar?) which provided Holley an opportunity for heroics. Austin injured his hamstring on an odd play call that had him line up in the backfield and run a toss sweep. Holley was a solid special teams contributor for Dallas who made a big play when his team needed him.

2014: With Holley gone, does Dallas have a guy who can make a big play Sunday? Yes I believe Dwayne Harris can make a game changing play on kick returns and/or as a backup wide receiver. He is the type that may be overlooked but comes up big in the game Sunday.

WR Miles Austin now on Browns Roster:
In 2011, Holley may have had the big catch but it was Miles Austin who had a HUGE game against the 49ers. He scored three TDs and caught a total of 9 passes for 143 yards. Most of the damage came with Austin lined up as the slot receiver.

2014: Austin moved on to Cleveland so does Dallas have a receiving threat in the slot on their roster? Yes I think Cole Beasley can be difference maker for Dallas coming out of the slot. While matching Austin’s performance will be challenging, I do think Beasley who will start for the first time this season, could be a player that finds the open spots in the secondary on Sunday. Defenses will game plan for a beast like Dez if they are wise, but it could be Beasley that benefits from that attention.

Dallas with Five Sacks in 2011:
In 2011 against the 49ers, the Dallas defense managed to sack QB Alex Smith five times. Ware and Hatcher had two sacks each and Ratliff had one. All three of those guys are absent from the Cowboys roster in 2014.

2014: With those three defensive linemen gone, does Dallas have guys who can step up and fill their shoes? This is an area of major concern because answers on the defensive line have yet to emerge. They signed DT Henry Melton in the off season and hope he can replace a guy like Hatcher. At DE, Dallas has had to scramble to find healthy bodies. Selvie is injured and Lawrence will be out for several weeks.

Alex Smith wasn’t much of a threat to run for a first down in 2011, but in 2014 QB Kolin Kaepernick has the ability to beat you when he runs. He provides an even bigger challenge for a defense that struggled last season and has a lot of question marks. On Sunday, Dallas will need a defensive lineman or two to step up and make a play.

Dallas goes into the game Sunday with a defensive line that pales in comparison to that line in 2011 that sacked Smith five times.

Final Wrap:
Dallas has offensive weapons that can keep them in the game with a tough 49er defense. Similar to 2011, the Cowboys will need another gutsy performance from Romo and some new faces will need to step up.

While the Dallas defense faces a 49er offense that has struggled some recently, they come into the game with enormous question marks on their defense particularly on the defensive line. I think they must come up with a couple turnovers to hang in this game to have a chance for another exciting finish like in 2011. And perhaps a heroic play from an obscure player like Holley provided.