It was a star-studded night in Dallas, where the Cowboys were ready to mark the final game in Texas Stadium with a victory.
Cameras flashed from the packed stands, as former Cowboys in attendance were regularly brought out onto the field to be honored. Various celebrities, such as Texas native Owen Wilson, mingled on the sidelines. And, a special ceremony was planned after what everyone donning the blue and white star expected to be a win.
The Ravens had other plans.
With a stout defense, just enough from quarterback Joe Flacco and a few big bursts from the running game, Baltimore spoiled the party with a 33-24 victory, maintaining their claim on the last AFC playoff spot.
The tone of the game was set in the first quarter, as field position became critical early.
On the fourth snap of the night, Dallas signal-caller Tony Romo was intercepted on a 40-yard bomb by safety Ed Reed. Baltimore took possession on its own 8-yard line.
Three plays later, Flacco was sacked by defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and the Cowboys recovered on the Ravens’ 4.
Three snaps after that, and rookie running back Tashard Choice bulled his way across the goal line.
The Ravens were able to answer with a Matt Stover 26-yard field goal on the following series, a 64-yard march that was helped by a 21-yard pass interference call on Dallas safety Keith Davis.
Field position again came into play in the second quarter, when Jim Leonhard took a Cowboys punt 18 yards to midfield. The Ravens were able to then drive all the way to the Dallas 5 before Stover split the uprights again – this time from 29 yards – to close the margin to 7-6.
Then, just before halftime, Reed again played the field position game with his second interception, running under a Romo deep ball to wideout Terrell Owens and returning it to the Ravens’ 49-yard line with 27 seconds on the clock.
At the two-second mark, Stover booted a 37-yarder through, as Baltimore took its only lead – one they never relinquished.
The Ravens finally scored a touchdown in the third quarter. Following a 23-yard punt return to Dallas’ 37 from Leonhard, Baltimore looked like they would stall at the 22. But then, holder Sam Koch ran 9 yards for a fake field goal, setting up Flacco’s 13-yard pass to Derrick Mason, who was wide open in the end zone.
Playing the game with a severely injured left shoulder, Mason could barely raise his arms in celebration. Mason led all receivers with 6 catches for 66 yards.
Both teams traded field goals before the final whistle and Dallas reduced the Baltimore lead to 2 on a touchdown pass from Romo to Terrell Owens. In just one play, the Ravens answered back when the offensive line opened up a hole for RB Willis McGahee and he took the ball 77 yards to paydirt. Dallas added a late score when TE Jason Witten caught a TD pass with 1:36 left to play, but FB Le'Ron McClain put the contest out of reach when he scampered 82 yards to the end zone for the longest run by a living back in Texas Stadium history. As the Ravens moved to 10-5, they notched the fifth 10-win season in franchise history and continue to control their playoff destiny.
And, they put a slight tarnish on what was supposed to be a gleaming night for Texas Stadium.