The NFL could have chosen any game to start the 2012 season — it didn’t have to be the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants against one of the two most hated teams in professional football, the Dallas Cowboys (the other most hated team is the Giants).
They didn’t have to pick that game for Wednesday night, to give us just a small taste of what’s coming on Sunday, but it was the right move and it paid off with some highlight-reel plays and an upset win for the underdog Cowboys. I would have been satisfied with a Cleveland-Indianapolis season opener, but instead we got to see the Giants taken down a peg. But the outcome doesn’t mean the Cowboys are a better team than the Giants, at least in my mind. Dallas may have been better prepared, and probably felt like they had more riding on the game than the Giants did, but it’s still important to remember that the first game of the season is a lot like preseason games — they’re played on a national scale to celebrate that football is back, but don’t have any real significance other than that.
The quality of play from both New York and Dallas wasn’t all that impressive either. Neither team had a running game, in the first half in particular, but Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s offensive line protected him better than the Giants’ did for Eli Manning and the Dallas defense locked down Ahmad Bradshaw and New York’s wide receivers. That was no small task for Dallas, especially given the strength of New York’s defense, but how things truly stand will be revealed in late October, when the teams meet at Cowboys Stadium.
That second game is more than eight weeks away. The season will be running hot at that point, and hopefully we won’t have to hear any more about how Jason Witten’s lacerated spleen gave the Cowboys the motivation they needed to take a win from the reigning world champions. If Witten had a more impressive sounding injury, like a cracked skull or something like that, the Cowboys rallying behind him would be respectable. A lacerated spleen is serious, maybe, but professional football players have been in games with much more severe injuries without the level of attention Witten was the recipient of.
It feels good to write those things because it means now I have something to do on Sundays until February.
Michael Gebelein is sports editor of the Lincoln Times-News.