Owens hauled in a couple of touchdown passes, leading the Dallas Cowboys to a playoff-bolstering 38-28 victory over Atlanta and getting back at Falcons nemesis DeAngelo Hall along the way Saturday night.
But, T.O. being T.O., there had to be some controversy, too.
Afterward, Hall said that Owens spit in his face when the Falcons’ cornerback came out jawing on the very first play.
“I lost all respect for the guy,” Hall said. “We were kind of walking face to face, walking back to the huddle, and he just hauled off and spit in my face.”
It was that kind of night for the Falcons. While Michael Vick and Morten Andersen set NFL records, their team took a devastating loss in NFC wild-card race after two straight wins and overcoming an early 14-0 deficit to the Cowboys.
Dallas (9-5) bounced back from a 42-17 home loss to New Orleans and protected its NFC East lead.
“It was as big a game as we’ve had this year,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “I think we are trailing everybody when it comes to tiebreakers. We knew the importance of this one coming in.”
Marion Barber clinched it for the Cowboys, scoring on two punishing runs after the Falcons went ahead.
Owens, who was kept out of the end zone by Hall when the two faced off in Week 1 of the 2005 season, took care of that blemish. Owens made a 7-yard touchdown reception with a brilliant one-handed catch, then blew past Hall to haul in a 51-yarder.
T.O. toasted both scores with the same gesture. He faced the crowd with his arms outstretched—that’s the `T’—then clasped his hands in a circle above his head—that’s an `O.’
But what about spitting at Hall?
“I got frustrated and I apologize for that,” Owens told the NFL Network. “It was a situation where he kept bugging me and getting in my face. He just kept getting in my face.”
Vick tied a career high with four touchdown passes and eclipsed Bobby Douglass’ 34-year-old record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. He has 990 yards, breaking Douglass’ mark of 968 with the 1972 Chicago Bears.
“It means a lot. It’s s everything I’ve worked for in my career,” Vick said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the win, but it’s a milestone.”
Andersen, meanwhile, became the leading scorer in NFL history. The 46-year-old kicker booted four extra points, giving him 2,437 points for his career and breaking Gary Anderson’s mark of 2,434.
It wasn’t enough to hold off the Cowboys. Barber put them ahead for good on a 9-yard run with 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, leaving Chris Crocker sprawled on the turf.
Barber added a 3-yard TD run with 2:18 remaining to clinch the victory.
“We had to regroup,” Owens said. “We showed some character when we came back.”
Romo, coming off his worst game since taking over the starting job, completed 22 of 29 for 278 yards. He spread it around—Terry Glenn had five receptions for 96 yards, Owens caught five for 69 yards and Jason Witten pulled in five passes for 56 yards.
Vick had one horrible pass, which was intercepted by DeMarcus Ware and returned 41 yards for a touchdown on the first play of a wild second quarter. Otherwise, the Atlanta quarterback played well, completing 16 of 24 for 237 yards and running eight times for 56 yards.
Also, he didn’t have any obscene gestures for the home crowd. He was fined $10,000 and donated $10,000 to charity after making such a gesture in Atlanta’s last game at the Georgia Dome.
The four touchdown passes tied Vick’s personal best from an overtime tie with Pittsburgh in 2002, his first year as a starter.
“We let it slip away,” said Vick, who went out late in the game with a groin injury, casting doubt on his status for next week’s game against Carolina. “I don’t know how, but we let it slip away.”
Still smarting from their blowout loss to New Orleans, the Cowboys started this one like they wanted to do the same thing to the Falcons.
Dallas jumped ahead on Romo’s first TD pass to Owens, who pulled the ball in with his right arm before falling out of bounds with Hall all over him. Then it was Ware’s turn for an even more spectacular play.
Vick, under pressure from Chris Canty as he dropped back to throw, managed to flip a pass over the defensive end—and right into the arms of Ware, lurking behind his teammate. He took off the other way, breaking a feeble attempt at a tackle by Vick on the way to giving the Cowboys a 14-0 lead.
The Falcons didn’t fold, however, getting back in the game after a big play by their defense.
Just three plays after an interception by Lawyer Milloy was wiped out by a penalty, Romo had a pass tipped at the line by Rod Coleman. The fluttering ball fell into the arms of Atlanta linebacker Michael Boley, who returned it 40 yards to the Dallas 12.
Vick ripped off an 11-yard run, then flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Griffith to pull the Falcons to 14-7.
The Atlanta offense did all the work on its next possession, driving 63 yards in five plays for the tying touchdown. Vick threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins, left all alone in the left side of the end zone.
After that touchdown, Andersen punched through the extra point that broke Anderson’s career scoring record. The 46-year-old kicker threw up his arms and leaped into the arms of holder Matt Schaub before being mobbed by his teammates.
“It’s tough to talk about individual records when you lose a football game,” Andersen said. “It’s bittersweet for me.”
Romo went deep to Owens to put Dallas back ahead. The receiver cut to the inside and ran right past Hall, catching the ball in stride for a 51-yard touchdown.
Vick capped off the 35-point quarter with his third TD pass, this one with just 11 seconds remaining in the half.
After an illegal formation penalty negated a scoring pass to Griffith, Vick fired a blistering pass to Ashley Lelie for an 8-yard touchdown, the ball seeming to go right through the hands of defender Roy Williams.
Vick put the Falcons ahead for the first time on the first series of the second half. He hooked up for the second time with Griffith, who again managed to get all alone for a 5-yard TD catch.
It was all Dallas from there. Martin Gramatica connected on a 48-yard field goal, and Barber did the rest.
The Falcons have lost three straight home games. … Barber rushed 69 yards on 11 carries. … Before the game, Atlanta coach Jim Mora addressed his team about comments he made on a Seattle radio station expressing his desire to coach at the University of Washington, his alma mater. Mora issued an apology on Friday, saying he was merely kidding.