The Dallas Cowboys just refuse to lose now. Faced with another Sunday of dire circumstances, the Cowboys played another nail-biting extravaganza and once again escaped victorious. This version was a 27-24 overtime thriller over the long-time rival Pittsburgh Steelers, in front of a divided crowd in their home stadium. Well, all those Steelers fans that "travel well" will have a long solemn flight back to their points of origin after Dan "Split'Em" Bailey nailed his seventh game winning kick of his young career to send Dallas to an 8-6 record with two games to go.
The crucial play of the game, well, the final crucial play of the game was made by Dallas' $50 million man Brandon Carr. In overtime, the Steelers chose to run a no huddle offense getting the ball first. After a quick gain, Ben Roethlisberger threw to Mike Wallace on the sideline for what appeared to be a first down. That is, until Carr jumped the route and made a beautiful pick as he fell to the ground. Wallace was slow to react and Carr capitalized, throwing it into drive and racing down the sideline down to the half-yard line. The Cowboys ran a play to center the ball and then Bailey came on for his usual end-game heroics. The Cowboys end the year 3-1 against the AFC North, with each game being decided by a last-second Dan Bailey field goal (loss to Baltimore, wins against Cleveland, Cincy and now Pittsburgh).
Tony Romo was dealing again, going over 300 yards for the fourth time in five games, passing the 4,000 yard mark for the fourth time in his career. The offense utilized the play action pass to perfection, scoring a first half touchdown on a play action fake to DeMarco Murray than an over the top pass to Jason Witten who was being checked by Lawrence Timmons. They returned to the play action for a touchdown to Dez Bryant in the second half. Bryant's touchdown was his 10th of the season, as he was playing with a fractured left index finger that clearly hampered him for most of the game.
They weren't the only offensive stars. Miles Austin picked up the early slack for Dez by torching backup corner turned starter Josh Victorian repeatedly. He ended up with seven catches for 79 yards. DeMarco Murray overcame a costly first half fumble to gain over 100 total yards and score the game tying touchdown. The offensive line, much malinged for most of the season, played more than admirably against the league's number one ranked defense. There were a couple breakdowns and stretches of bad play, but they game Romo plenty of time on most plays and opened up running lanes for Murray to dart through.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dallas appeared to be wilting in the fourth quarter as Pittsburgh scored quickly after Dallas took a 17-10 lead. Big Ben found Mike Wallace who had raced past Cover 2 coverage for a 60 yard completion. Jonathan Dwyer punched it in a play later. They then marched down the field on the Cowboys defense, seemingly solving the Dallas defense that was even more shorthanded after Ernie Sims, starting at ILB after being signed off the street earlier in the season, left the game with concussions. That drive ended with an Antonio Brown touchdown that put Pittsburgh up 24-17.
All appeared lost when Dallas couldn't sustain a drive and had to punt the ball back to Pittsburgh. Antonio Brown started on his second consecutive big punt return but was foiled by Victor Butler punching the ball out to be recovered by John Phillips. The Cowboys were able to tie the game on the Murray touchdown.
Things got sticky down the stretch and Jason Garrett had to make several calls that held the game in the balance. Dallas had the ball at their 12 with a couple minutes remaining but a third down pass to Dwayne Harris, who was huge all game long, came up a yard short. Dallas trusted their defense and punted the ball to Big Ben with two minutes and two timeouts remaining. The defense held and after Harris raced to the opposite side of the field on the punt return to get to midfield, Dallas was stalled again. Garrett could have elected for a 61 yard Bailey field goal attempt but chose to punt and go to overtime. Pittsburgh won the toss, elected to receive and went to work. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they had their hard hats on and turned the Steelers over to win the game soonafter.
Dallas improves to 8-6 and now is in a first place tie with the Washington Redskins (who won) and the New York Giants (who were destroyed). They are also tied with Minnesota and Chicago for the final wild card spot. The team has won five of it's last six games and despite a mountain of injuries has given themselves and their fans plenty of hope as a team that never gives up on themselves.
Next week is New Orleans and their potent offense, but it will be just another game for the Cardiac Cowboys.