For a moment in Sunday's game, it looked like the same old Dallas Cowboys football team. The team that could lose in excruciating fashion forcing their fanbase to question their allegiance to this sport called football. Admit it, when the Cowboys executed what may go down in history as one of the worst examples ever of what is supposed to be a time-killing drive that preserves a lead and wins a game, you thought here we go again. A game that had victory written all over it, a season that had so much hope, was going to turn into another 8-8 fiasco and the 2014 Dallas Cowboys would go the way of their recent predecessors.
The Cowboys were sitting on a 17-10 lead with roughly two and a half minutes left on the clock. They then proceeded to run all of 28 seconds off the clock, had a delay of game penalty after a timeout, stopped the clock on an incomplete pass and suffered and intentional grounding penalty. You can't do much worse than that without turning the ball over. The punt that followed set the Texans up in great field position and they promptly scored in four plays. This was the defense's one awful moment in the game. To top off the frustration Dan Bailey finally missed a field goal and the Cowboys were unable to win in regulation.
Last year, or the year before, or the year before, that sounds exactly like a recipe for a loss. But this year, the Cowboys won. Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey combined to make sure the Cowboys won. But the real turning points in the game were turned in by a Cowboys defense that has somehow defied all expectations that they would be miserable, an anchor around the team's neck.
As OCC noted earlier, the Cowboys did something on Sunday they rarely do - win with a minus two turnover margin.
The last time the Cowboys won a game with a -2 turnover margin was in 2009 (versus Kansas City). Before that, the Cowboys last managed that feat in 2004 and 2002. Prior to yesterday's game, the Cowboys' record since 2000 in such games was 3-21.
How did they manage to pull off the trick? Defense. The Cowboys had three turnovers on the day. The Texans scored zero points as a result of the turnovers. Not even a field goal made. Granted, two of the turnovers came deep in Texans territory, but you still have to credit a Cowboys defense that kept the team in the game while the offense was overcoming their own mistakes. Like turnovers, dropped passes and basically not taking advantage of what was presented to them.
The Cowboys defense stopped the Texans after the DeMarco Murray fumble, forcing Houston to punt from their own 45-yard line. In the fourth quarter, when Tony Romo threw an interception that the Texans returned to their own 8-yard line, the defense didn't even give up a first down forcing a punt from the Texans' 15-yard line. Because of the field position provided by the defense on that stop, the Cowboys were set up with a short field and scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive.
In their biggest stop of the night after a turnover, the Cowboys stuffed the Texans offense after Dwayne Harris fumbled a punt early in the second quarter. The Texans took over on the Dallas 43-yard line. Surely they would get a field goal out of it and take the lead, perhaps even a touchdown and grab real momentum. Instead, the Cowboys defense limited the Texans to two yards before they punted it back to the Cowboys. That was big. Stopping the Texans offense cold after three turnovers is even bigger. The Cowboys defense held the offense in the game until they started to get things right.
Then they had the biggest stop of the night.
When the game went to overtime and the Texans had all the momentum and won the coin toss, this looked for sure like another heart-breaking loss. Seeing how the Texans carved up the Cowboys defense late in the game once Rolando McClain went out with injury surely meant an easy Texans' touchdown and victory before the Cowboys even saw the ball. The Cowboys defense didn't see it that way. On a third and two at the Dallas 48-yard line, the Cowboys forced an incomplete pass with Jeremy Mincey providing pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Dan Bailey, and the Cowboys, were on their way to redemption.
For a unit that was supposed to be a total liability, the Cowboys defense is becoming reliable.