NFL Preview - Dallas (0-1) at Tennessee (1-0)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Tony Romo threw more than one interception just twice last season. He had three in a Week 1 loss to San Francisco.
Romo and the Dallas Cowboys will try to avoid an 0-2 hole when they visit the Tennessee Titans Sunday LP Field.
The Cowboys looked horrible in a 28-17 loss to the 49ers and were down 28-3 at halftime in front of their home crowd. Even though the Cowboys outscored San Francisco, 14-0, in the second half, they struggled in the red zone and Romo put the defense in awkward situations.
Romo's three interceptions came in the first half and two of them resulted in San Francisco touchdowns. His third INT occurred when he missed a wide open Dwayne Harris and instead looked for his favorite target in tight end Jason Witten, who was covered.
The 49ers got the scoring started by returning a DeMarco Murray fumble 35 yards for a touchdown just a minute into the game.
"Those are the difference-making plays in the game right from the outset. They forced us to dig out of a hole the rest of the game," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
Turning the ball over four times usually leads to a loss.
"The biggest issue in this game, simple game, you can't give a team like that four opportunities by giving the ball away," Garrett added. "Obviously, one of them resulted in a touchdown."
Garrett did give Romo credit for taking care of the football in recent years, but this time the quarterback is responsible for his own decisions. Romo has always been a lightning to criticism whether it's from his own fanbase or the national media, and does have the ability to throw the Cowboys to victory. He has proven that over the past several years.
He finished the afternoon 23-of-37 passing for 281 yards and a touchdown to go along with those three INTs. Romo threw just 10 picks all of last season and did enter Sunday's season opener after undergoing offseason back surgery. He didn't show any signs of fatigue on Sunday, just poor decision making.
"Anytime your team plays against a good football team, you've got to manage the mistakes," Romo said. "I didn't do a good enough job of that in this game. I think our team played well enough to have a chance to win.
"I've got to play at a higher level, and I'll do that going forward. I didn't perform well enough, not up to my standard tonight, and that is disappointing."
Dez Bryant had 55 yards on four catches and appeared to have been bothered by dehydration issues in the game. He is expected to play Sunday and has 11 touchdown receptions and 773 yards in previous eight games against the AFC.
Dallas will play its next two games on the road and is scheduled to visit St. Louis on Sept. 21. The Cowboys, who were 3-5 as the visitor last season, have lost four of five games dating back to last season and last started 0-2 back in 2010.
The Titans got the Ken Whisenhunt era off to a promising start with Sunday's 26-10 road victory over Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs.
Tennessee held the Chiefs to 245 yards and running back Jamaal Charles was limited to 19 on seven carries. Charles, of course, was pegged to be a beast this season, but it wasn't to be at least in Week 1. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith, fresh off singing a new deal, threw for 202 yards and three INTs.
Titans cornerback Jason McCourty had two interceptions for a defense that notched four sacks and gave up only one third-down conversion on 12 tries.
"In order to be a great defense you have to win the third down battle," Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. "Today we did that. We had a hard time with that in the preseason, but we showed today that we can go out there and be the great defense that we know we can be."
All news wasn't good for the Titans, as they learned linebacker Zach Brown will be out for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. He sustained the injury Sunday and totaled 91 tackles, four sacks and one interception in 16 games (13 starts) last season for Tennessee.
Tennessee recorded the 400th victory in franchise history against Kansas City and has won three in a row dating back to last season. The Titans were 3-5 at home last season and previously started 2-0 in 2008, when they opened the campaign with 10 straight victories.
The Cowboys lead the all-time series with the Titans, 7-6, but Tennessee won the previous meeting on Oct. 10, 2010 by a 34-27 score in Texas. Romo passed for 406 yards and three TDs in that one. In his five games against AFC foes, Romo owns 1,616 passing yards and 11 TD strikes to just one INT.
Dallas destroyed the Titans in its last visit to Nashville, posting a 45-14 win. Tennessee has defeated Dallas three times in the last five meetings.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Murray got his 2014 campaign off to promising start even though he coughed up the ball to put his team behind early. Murray's fumble, coupled with Romo's three interceptions, made it difficult to overcome.
"We definitely left some opportunities," Murray said. "It's a learning experience. We've got to watch film and see what we did badly and get it corrected.
"There were some glimpses of some good things we did, but like I said, we've got to get better. Got to learn from what we did wrong and we'll get things corrected next week."
Murray, who ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, is facing a defense that held the Chiefs to 67 yards on the ground. If the Titans can solve Charles, then Murray is in for a long afternoon.
Casey talked about stopping Charles and KC's ground attack.
"It was a great challenge for us. We knew they were going to come out and run the ball pretty well," Casey said. "Our heart was to stop the run. Our coaches talked about it all week. It was going to be down to us up front to be out there and win this game for us. We held him to under 100 yards and that's what we had our mindset on when we came into this game. I thought we did a great job up front getting it done."
Titans quarterback Jake Locker threw for 266 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and no interceptions on Sunday. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers, but was sacked four times. Locker's passer rating was 111.4 -- the third-highest of his career.
Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter had the lone sack of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick last week, so the Cowboys need a stronger push up front in Tennessee.
Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain was a late-game scratch versus San Francisco because of a high-ankle sprain and appears ready to go. He is expected to play sparingly, mostly on passing downs.
"I'm so ready to get out there," McClain said Tuesday. "I was ready last week, but I'm looking forward to it. It's been a long time for me."
George Selvie, who is bothered by a shoulder issue, is looking forward to have McClain on the line next to him.
"He's another body, he's a great player. I played with him in college, so I know what he can do," Selvie said. "He's going to really help our defensive line. He can get penetration, get upfield, make some plays. That's what you need. You need some disruption. I think he can bring that to us."
Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant sustained a groin injury on Sunday and was replaced by newcomer Rolando McCalin. Kyle Wilber and Anthony Hitchens saw action with Durant on the sideline. Safety C.J. Spillman also suffered a groin injury and, along with Durant, will be evaluated this week.
This a make-or-break year for Locker, who is bidding for a new contract. He will make even more strides with a win over the Cowboys in Tennessee's home opener. It will help Locker if the Titans run for more than 100 yards like they did against Kansas City, and backs Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and rookie Bishop Sankey form a solid trio. Dallas gave up 127 yards on the ground to San Francisco, but its problem was turning the ball over. If Romo keeps it in the hands of the guys wearing stars on their helmet, then the Cowboys have a shot. But playing on the road against a confident Tennessee squad will be too much to overcome and Garrett will start feeling the heat from upstairs.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Titans 23, Cowboys 21
09/11 14:08:19 ET