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NFL Preview - Oakland (4-7) at Dallas (6-5)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Families come together on Thanksgiving to share turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all sorts of delicious treats. They also have the luxury of digesting their bloated carcases by watching football.
The Dallas Cowboys have been a fixture on Thanksgiving since the 1960s and are 28-16-1 on the holiday. They will welcome the Oakland Raiders to AT&T Stadium Thursday for a matchup between two of the NFL's classic organizations.
Dallas is 5-2 in the last seven on Thanksgiving and was defeated by the rival Washington Redskins, 38-31, in last year's event. Tony Romo threw for 441 yards with three touchdown passes and two interceptions, while Robert Griffin III had four TD passes to just one interception.
In what could be described as an ugly display of defense that day, the Cowboys were able to make it interesting through their passing game. Dez Bryant caught eight passes for 145 yards and two scores for Dallas, which has hosted the annual contest in 45 of the previous 47 years.
The Cowboys got back into first place in the NFC East with Sunday's 24-21 road victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. A few Giants players got the trash talking started early and were unable to back up their words, as Romo orchestrated some nice drives to paydirt. He completed 23 of his 38 attempts for 250 yards, two scores and was intercepted once.
Romo engineered the late scoring drive on Sunday, culminating in Dan Bailey's 34-yard field goal as time expired. He also threw a pair of touchdown passes to tight end and close buddy Jason Witten earlier in the contest.
His best work, however, came after taking over at his own 20 with 4:45 left to play and the Giants having scored 15 straight points to forge a 21-21 tie.
Romo and Dez Bryant teamed up for a pair of critical third-down conversions on the game-winning possession, a 19-yard connection early on and an 8-yarder just prior to the two-minute warning.
He later found Miles Austin for a 17-yard gain that got the Cowboys in Bailey's range, then came up with yet another big completion -- a 13-yard strike to Cole Beasley on 3rd-and-10 that enabled Dallas to run down the clock before Bailey split the uprights.
"Everyone understood how important the game was for both teams," said Romo. "(The Giants) had won four in a row to put themselves back into position. They had a home game. I could tell by their words leading up to it that they were confident. That's what makes the game great."
New York may have been tasting themselves leading up to the game, but it was the Cowboys who had the last laugh. Defensive end Jason Hatcher had two sacks and didn't hesitate to rub it in afterward.
"I just finished eating a Giant. They said blood would be shed, right? It's Giant's blood, from the Giants," Hatcher said. "I don't know which one it is, but I ate him ... it was all of them."
"We just got disrespected. We didn't talk all week ... we let them do the talking," Hatcher said. "Revenge is a dish best served cold, and it was cold out there tonight. The way we did it ... we was cold. We came up here and took it."
Dallas limited Giants quarterback Eli Manning to 174 yards, but he managed to throw a pair of touchdown passes to get the hosts back into the game. Cowboys safety Jeff Heath returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring, while fellow safety Barry Church and linebacker Ernie Sims finished with 13 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, considered over the hill for his position, created a disruptive scheme to allow his unit to make plays. Church and Sims were flying around for the Cowboys, who struggled against the run and watched Giants running back Andre Brown go for 127 yards on 21 carries. So there's some work there to be done with Oakland's Rashad Jennings coming to town.
Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick ended with two tackles, a forced fumble and a tipped pass, and played well against Giants salsa-dancing wide receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz was held to two catches for 27 yards. Scandrick talked about what motivated him for Sunday's game, arguably his best of the season.
"He said the Cowboys don't have a guy on defense that can stop Victor Cruz," Scandrick said of ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. "I just said 'alright then.' Coming from a guy who traded away his whole draft class for one player and got fired. But that got me going. He talked about Victor Cruz's stats and probably just sees our ranking. But I took that personal."
The added motivation helped spur the Cowboys to their fourth win in six tries and back on top in the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles are also 6-5, but Dallas holds the tiebreaker because of a 17-3 win back on Oct. 20 and a 4-0 record in division play.
Oakland currently occupies the basement in an AFC West led by the 9-2 Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, and suffered a 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans at the Coliseum.
Raiders rookie quarterback Matt McGloin, filling in for an injured Terrelle Pryor (knee), had a shaky afternoon with 260 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception. It was one week after McGloin completed 18-of-32 passes for 197 yards and three scores in a win at Houston. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was asked is McGloin played well enough to earn another start.
"Yeah, I thought Matt played well. And for him to lead us back when we needed a touchdown, he got us the touchdown we needed to give us the lead; we just couldn't hold it defensively," Allen said. "So yeah, I thought Matt played well."
It's uncertain when Pryor will be able to return and he is questionable for Sunday's game. So are wide receiver Denarius Moore (shoulder) and running back Darren McFadden. McFadden is third on the team in rushing with 352 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He hasn't played since Nov. 3 versus Philadelphia.
Jennings (553 yards, 2 TD) and Pryor (504 yards, 2 TD) form a nice one-two combo. With Jennings taking the bulk of the snaps lately and a possible return of McFadden on Thursday, the Raiders could have a formidable ground attack brewing. Meanwhile, wide receiver Rod Streater had a team-high 93 yards on five receptions and running back Marcel Reece caught McGloin's only TD pass. McGloin talked about who will start at QB on Thanksgiving.
"That's really not my decision, the same as it was last week," the former Penn State standout said. "I'll be ready when and if called upon."
Oakland lost its last meeting with Dallas, 24-7, on Nov. 26, 2009, as Romo threw for 309 yards and a pair of scores to stop a three-game slide in this all-time series. The Raiders have a 6-4 lead in the all-time regular season series against Dallas and are 3-1 in road games with the Cowboys all-time.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Bryant is always one to keep an eye out for because of his playmaking ability and sporadic behavior. One game after finishing with one catch for 44 yards in a blowout loss to New Orleans, Bryant came back in Sunday's win at New York with nine receptions for 102 yards. He still hasn't scored since Oct. 27.
Bryant can confuse defenses even when he doesn't have the ball. He has to be accounted for at all times and it makes even harder for a defense to do that with Austin back in the mix. It's bad enough that Bryant and Witten are dangerous, but so is Austin when he's healthy.
Austin had one big catch for 17 yards in a limited role against the Giants.
As for Dallas' defense, linebacker Sean Lee is hoping to make a return from a hamstring injury and last played Nov. 10 against the Saints. Lee leads the Cowboys with four interceptions and is the defensive play-caller. Those duties belong to weak side linebacker Bruce Carter when Lee is sidelined. Sims replaced Lee in the middle and played well Sunday.
The Raiders were set for another win Sunday until a late touchdown drive by Tennessee spoiled the party. Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 10- yard scoring strike to Kendall Wright with 10 seconds left to cap an 80-yard drive and put Oakland's playoff picture in malaise.
"Yeah, we think about that, but at the same time, we can't get to that level unless we take care of what's right now," Raiders CB Tracy Porter said about playoff possibilities. "That's a long term goal; we have a bunch of short term goals that we have to accomplish, like winning back-to-back games. Once we get a better understanding of taking care of what's in front of us right now and taking it one day at a time, those little goals will add up to the big goal that we want."
Allen talked about Tennessee's ability to march down the field at the end.
"When you've got a lead, we believe it's our responsibility defensively to go out there and protect the lead and hold them. We weren't able to do that so we'll learn from it. We'll continue to work."
Playing Dallas on the road Thanksgiving day may not be the right time to make adjustments since the Raiders aren't favored to win this one. Stranger things have occurred and it could work in Oakland's favor if running threats McFadden and Pryor return to action.
Jennings has surpassed 100 all-purpose yards in four straight games.
Porter and veteran defensive back Charles Woodson will be responsible for limiting Dallas' big plays. The Raiders are tied for fifth in the NFL with only four touchdowns allowed in the first quarter and have outscored their opponent, 79-34, after 15 minutes of play.
The NFC East is ripe for the picking and the Cowboys are an arm's length away from grabbing it. With Philadelphia and New York (barely) still in the mix, every game from here on out should have a playoff atmosphere. One slip and it could hinder any chance of reaching the playoffs.
Dallas is just hoping the Eagles and Giants stumble down the stretch so there's not too much pressure on bringing a division title home. A lopsided victory over the Raiders on Thanksgiving will move the 'Boys that much closer.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 36, Raiders 20
11/26 15:54:26 ET