Cowboys 21, Colts 14

Sunday, November 19th 2006, 7:10 pm
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) The Indianapolis Colts are perfect no more. And as flawed as the Dallas Cowboys are, they're starting to look like contenders again.

Tony Romo managed an efficient game in his first career start at home, Marion Barber III ran for 2 4th-quarter touchdowns and the Cowboys handed Peyton Manning and the Colts their first loss of the season 21-14 Sunday.

A week after becoming the first team to start 9-0 in consecutive seasons, Indianapolis fell shy in its bid to match last year's 13-0 run, much less the perfect season by the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

The Colts had escaped close calls all season, like two 1-point wins over bad teams at home and five other wins by less than a touchdown,but couldn't overcome 4 turnovers, their most in a regular season game since November 25, 2001.

For the Cowboys, this easily goes down as their most impressive win in coach Bill Parcells' four seasons.

Dallas (6-4) is two games over .500 for the first time all season. With four of the remaining six games at home and with the rest of the division ailing, the Cowboys are in prime position to make a run at the division title.

It's a stunning turnaround considering how badly they looked in their last home game, a lopsided loss to the New York Giants. But a halftime quarterback change that game, from Drew Bledsoe to Romo, has transformed the club. The Cowboys have won two in a row and three of four.

With Manning playing in Texas Stadium for the first time, he and the Colts were off-kilter from the start. Marvin Harrison lost his first fumble since 2004 on Indianapolis' first series, then Manning lost his first fumble of the year on the next drive.

Manning was sacked twice that possession, which is a lot for a guy who'd been sacked only 10 times all year. He wound up with his first 2-interception game of the season (he had only three coming in) and threw his most incompletions of the season; he was 20-39 for 254 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Romo, coming off a performance that earned him the NFC offensive player of the week award, was 19-23 for 226 yards with an interception. He was at his best on the final three drives, taking Dallas on drives of 68 yards to tie it, 80 yards to go ahead, and making enough 1st downs to burn the final 2:59 without letting Indianapolis get another snap.

``Thank goodness the ball didn't get back in Peyton Manning's hands,'' Parcells said. ``I told the team, that ought to tell them something about what they're capable of doing. ... If we keep playing like this, we have a chance to do something.''

Like the Colts, the Cowboys weren't always crisp.

Romo lost a fumble on a sack by Dwight Freeney on the opening drive, then threw an interception soon after. He didn't get the Dallas offense inside the Indianapolis 20 until the final 30 seconds of the 3rd quarter. And Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed two 1st-half field goals against his former team.

Manning put Indianapolis ahead 7-0 on a long drive just before halftime, then his second pass of the second half popped free and was picked off by Dallas linebacker Kevin Burnett, who returned it 39 yards for a tying touchdown.

Soon after, Manning and Romo started looking like the two top-rated quarterbacks in the NFL, like they were ranked coming into the game.

Manning drove the Colts 80 yards in 10 plays, then Romo answered with a 68-yard drive that milked 8:33 off the clock. Maybe it made Manning rusty again because Indianapolis went 3 & out after that, with a deep ball on 3rd & 1 nearly being intercepted before falling incomplete.

Romo answered with his best drive, a 7-play, 80-yarder that started with completions of 19 and 33 yards to Terry Glenn and was capped by a 1-yard run by Barber. He scored from the 5 on the previous drive.

After going down 21-14, Manning drove to the Dallas 8, with a 38-yard pass to Harrison getting Indianapolis most of the way. But he overthrew Ben Utecht on 3rd & 2 and heaved it out of the end zone on 4th & 2, never to get the ball back again.

Romo took over at the 2 and quickly got the Cowboys across midfield. The victory was sealed with a 3rd down conversion to Glenn with 2:09 left.

Parcells patted linebacker DeMarcus Ware on the cheek, then hugged several players. When time expired, he trotted across the field to shake hands with Indianapolis' Tony Dungy, while Romo kept the game ball and patted Manning on the head when they met at midfield.