New England's defense continued to trend in the right direction during Sunday's 20-16 victory against the Cowboys. While it was hardly perfect — there was a huge lapse in the second half, and the tackling was subpar throughout the game — the execution of the game plan was pretty strong.
Defensive end Andre Carter had a pair of sacks, and the Patriots hit Romo four times. They blitzed more often than usual, and Romo seemed to get caught staring at the pass rush more than his receivers, which threw off his rhythm.
Aside from that, the Patriots didn't show any new looks, but they acknowledged their communication was much better. As such, they executed at a higher level.
"I just think overall we played Patriot defense, the defense that I've heard about so many times as far as just being physical, getting after your opponent," Carter said. "That's what I've been hearing, that's been the history from years ago from players who have been here."
Another key to disrupting Romo came at the line of scrimmage, where the Patriots often tried to manhandle tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Dez Bryant and wide receiver Miles Austin. Some players said they tried to identify Romo's first and second reads on the play and then jam them up at the line of scrimmage.
Then, it's possible that the Patriots' ability to confuse Romo caused head coach Jason Garrett to call three consecutive running plays while the Cowboys failed to wipe out the clock in the final four minutes of regulation. Dallas owner Jerry Jones even second-guessed that decision, which resulted in the Cowboys failing to gain a yard and only erasing 65 seconds before Tom Brady and the Patriots took over.
While it came down to a three-down game for the defense, the work they did in the first 56 minutes played a role in the stop, too.
"We practice that a lot," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said of that final situation. "That's been something that we've done from day one of training camp, four-minute [defense], trying to get the ball back to the offense. Basically, it worked out for us because we work out so much at it."