Tom Brady and Tony Romo had uncannily similar performances; both completing 27 of 41 pass attempts on the day, and the NFL's leading receiver Wes Welker was held to 45 yards on six catches.
In case you couldn't tell by the score, the story of the much-hyped matchup at Gillette on Sunday was, in a shocking turn of events, very much a defensive one.
The Patriots led the surprisingly low scoring game 13-10 at the half, but had just allowed Romo to lead his team 93 yards on 11 plays for a one yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten. It was the Cowboys' best offensive series of the game, and Witten's first reception of the game.
But until that point, the Patriots defense had stifled the Cowboys offense, keeping them under 100 total yards and forcing two turnovers; one a Kyle Arrington interception and one a Gerard Warren fumble recovery. Before the last drive it was certainly the best defensive showing the Patriots had made all season. Unfortunately Dallas was playing similarly on the other side of the ball, matching the Patriots takeaways with a Terence Newman interception on a tipped pass from Brady and a recovery of a Matthew Slater special teams fumble on a punt return.
For most of the first half it was the Patriots defense that kept them from falling behind, as Brady and his offense struggled to find rhythm. They twice had to settle for Stephen Gostkowski field goals before Brady finally found Welker for a 5 yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter.
New England started the second half with the ball, but it was anything but productive. The ugly showing by the home team started with a punt from their own 32 yard line after a few incomplete Brady passes and a second DeMarcus Ware sack. Romo proceeded to drive his offense 77 yards down the field, and although a big Andre Carter sack took away 11 yards and prevented the touchdown, Dallas tied it up 13-13 on a field goal from Dan Bailey.
The Patriots next possession in the quarter was sloppy at best. Brady failed to convert on a third down pass to Hernandez in Dallas territory and they were forced to punt, but caught a major break with a running into the kicker penalty after Anthony Spencer ran into Zoltan Mesko after his punt. Brady completely two first downs on their way into the red zone, but the second was fumbled by Hernandez and recovered by Newman for the Patriots third turnover of the day.
Yet miraculously, after the defense successfully stifled another Cowboys possession at the start of the fourth quarter, the light of hope still shined dimly upon the abysmal Pats offense. The game was still tied at 13-13. A fabulous 3rd and 9 patented Tom Brady conversion to Deion Branch looked like it might be the catalyst for a fourth quarter touchdown drive. Soon after though, as he was chased and hurried out of the pocket, Brady lobbed a ridiculous pass right into the hands of Dallas linebacker Sean Lee.
(Side note: somewhere in there, Chad Ochocinco ran the wrong route... again. The sight of the ball soaring into the empty space where he should have been has become a disgustingly familiar sight for Patriots fans.)
The Cowboys once again got themselves to Patriots territory but couldn't reach the end zone. After an easy Bailey 26 yard field goal, they were up 16-13. The Patriots with what looked like their final chance had got the ball back with just over five minutes on the clock, and went three and out. Their hope-light now dimmed to a barely visible glimmer, they punted it off to the away team with 3:36 to go.
But in perhaps the most notable 54 seconds of their 2011 season, the Patriots defense stepped up big. Dallas' first two conversion attempts combined for a 3 yard loss, and an 8 yard run by Tashard Choice wasn't enough for the first down.
The Patriots got the ball back one more time, drove 80 yards in 2:09, and scored on a perfectly placed Tom Brady touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez. The final :22 was not enough for the Cowboys, and the Patriots' were able to steal the game.
Check in tomorrow to read more about the game and the new things we learned from this match up and about the Patriots as they head into their bye week.