Game Preview: Patriots vs Cowboys

Patriots - Cowboys (Getty)

Week 6: Dallas Cowboys (2-2) vs New England Patriots (4-1). Game scouting look at each team's camps, news, notes and injury updates.

Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at New England Patriots (4-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/16/11
VENUE: Gillette Stadium
SURFACE: FieldTurf
WEATHER: Foxboro, Mass
TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver

PREDICTION:
Patriots 34-26

KEYS TO THE GAME:
The end game has been critical for the Cowboys. They've blown double-digit leads in losses to the Jets and Lions and survived a slow start for a rally at San Francisco. But the bye week bought Dallas recovery time and WR Miles Austin and RB Felix Jones should be at full strength for a potential shootout. The Patriots' once-rigid defense ranks last in the league, but Tom Brady and the NFL's top-ranked offense has mostly masked the flaw. Brady, who had five touchdown passes in his last start vs. Dallas, and WR Wes Welker, whose 740 receiving yards through five games set an NFL record, face nothing close to a shutdown corner this week. However, the Cowboys do own the league's stingiest run defense and will try to bring the heat on long passing downs.

FAST FACTS:
Only Reggie White (105) had more sacks in his first 100 games than Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware (85). ... The Patriots have won 19 straight home games.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

COWBOYS
   Tony Romo is getting better health-wise. His fractured rib has healed significantly and he is feeling better.

   He will still continue to wear a protective Kevlar vest and take a pain-killing injection before the game on Sunday against the Patriots.

   "I'm feeling better," Romo said. "Every week that goes by gets better and better. Hopefully in about a couple of weeks it'll be back to normal. Until then we have to do some little things to get over it."

   What Romo can't get over is the constant criticism about his game and his penchant for seemingly making crucial mistakes in crunch time.

   Former Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders said he has seen all he wants to see of Romo after the three-interception meltdown against the Lions before the bye, saying he will never win a Super Bowl.

   Romo responded on Wednesday with a guarantee that the Cowboys will win a Super Bowl at some point before his career is over.

   "Every once in a while you definitely hear things," Romo said. "That's not something you search out. Deion is welcomed to his own opinion about stuff. Deion is Deion. He is what he is. We're going to go out here and we're going to play good football. This team is going to win a Super Bowl at some point.

   "It's going to be exciting when that time comes. And when we look back, we'll know who was on what side of the fence during those tough moments. That's exciting for us as competitors knowing that we get a chance to go out there and have a chance to win."

PATRIOTS
   As expected, the Patriots placed Mike Wright on injured reserve due to concussion symptoms, a move that scrambles their plans along the defensive line.

   Myron Pryor is out, too, so there will be more pressure on a younger player such as Jermaine Cunningham to step up and fill the void.

   Cunningham, a linebacker by trade, hasn't played much this year, nor has he made a major impact, but he figures to see a significant increase in playing time as the season goes on because he's younger and fresher than some of New England's veteran alternatives.

   A second-round draft pick in 2010, Cunningham suffered an injury during training camp that limited his progress, plus the lockout arguably had more of an adverse effect on younger players like him than it did on the veterans who already knew the system.

   "I think one of the things that Jermaine has had to work through is the time that he missed in training camp and the preseason games at the end of preseason -- for a second-year player, especially," coach Bill Belichick said. "With him last year really playing outside linebacker and ... this year we transitioned into a little bit more of a multiple defensive front, it's been a little bit of an adjustment for him. Missing that time didn't help him any."

   Cunningham is still learning how to play with a hand on the ground as opposed to being a strict pass-rusher as an outside linebacker. He may need more time, but the Patriots are hopeful he can be a significant contributor by the end of the season.

   "He's worked hard, and he's done a good job to get back on the field and get rehabbed and get back out there," Belichick said. "He's improving; he's gotten a little better each week. I think he's definitely on the upswing here and a guy that we hope will be able to contribute for us."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

COWBOYS
   --OG Kyle Kosier was limited in practice for the second straight day with a foot injury. He is expected to play against the Patriots.
   --K David Buehler was again limited in practice with a groin injury and is likely to miss his third straight game as the kickoff specialist.
   --RB Felix Jones has been impressive so far as the team's primary runner. It's his first time handling the role dating back to high school. He has answered some questions about his durability and toughness by playing the last two games with a dislocated shoulder.
   --FB Tony Fiammetta did not practice Thursday with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Lions game before the bye. He is expected to miss his second straight game on Sunday.

PATRIOTS
   --DL Albert Haynesworth is still limited in practice due to a back injury, and he probably will be a game-time decision Sunday afternoon.
   --CB Leigh Bodden is limited in practice due to a chest injury, but he should be ready to play against the Cowboys.
   --DL Kyle Love was limited in Thursday's practice after participating for the entire session Wednesday. Love is listed with a back injury.
   --OL Sebastian Vollmer was limited in practice Thursday due to a back injury, though it appears his lack of participation is more precautionary at this point, which means he should be ready for Sunday.
   --CB Ras-I Dowling is suffering from a hip injury that has limited his participation in practice this week. He'll likely be a game-time decision Sunday.
   --DB Phillip Adams, waived by the Patriots on Monday, re-signed with the team Thursday when New England placed DL Mike Wright on injured reserve. Adams was active for two games earlier this season.

OTHER GAMES:
Sunday
San Francisco 49ers (4-1) at Detroit Lions (5-0)
Buffalo Bills (4-1) at New York Giants (3-2)
Carolina Panthers (1-4) at Atlanta Falcons (2-3)
Indianapolis Colts (0-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2)
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
Philadelphia Eagles (1-4) at Washington Redskins (3-1)
St. Louis Rams (0-4) at Green Bay Packers (5-0)
Houston Texans (3-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
Cleveland Browns (2-2) at Oakland Raiders (3-2)
New Orleans Saints (4-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2)
Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at New England Patriots (4-1)
Minnesota Vikings (1-4) at Chicago Bears (2-3)

Monday
Miami Dolphins (0-4) at New York Jets (2-3)


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