ARLINGTON -- It wasn’t pretty.
In fact, it was downright ugly at times.
Yet, there is something sweet and satisfying about getting a win when you are not at your best, which is what the Cowboys did Monday night to create a three-way tie for first place early in the season.
A Cowboys team that finished tied for last in the NFC East in 2010 is 2-1 along with Washington and the New York Giants following an 18-16 victory against the Redskins at Cowboys Stadium.
Rookie kicker Dan Bailey capped a perfect night with his sixth field goal of the game — a 40-yarder with 1 minute, 47 seconds left on the clock.
And when the Cowboys’ defense made it hold up with a sack and forced fumble by linebacker Anthony Spencer, the 91,017 fans in attendance and the entire Cowboys sideline went into a frenzy, led by fist-pumping head coach Jason Garrett.
“Bailey did a really good job of going out and doing his job,” Garrett said. “The field goals were the difference in the game. It wasn’t a perfect performance. It was enough to win the game. The biggest thing we did was keep playing. You have to play through adversity. You have to keep plugging away.”
Bailey said he had no doubt about the game-winner.
“When you can string two, three, four kicks together — it’s rare to have that many attempts, but when you string that many together it kind of gives you the confidence to go out and make it,” he said.
Considering the four errant shotgun snaps by center Phil Costa, two turnovers, the poor play in the red zone and a number of untimely penalties — as well as quarterback Tony Romo playing with a fractured rib — the Cowboys’ win was a testament to the direction the team has taken since Garrett took over as head coach midway through last season.
The Cowboys are 7-4 since he replaced Wade Phillips in 2010 — 5-3 to end 2010 and 2-1 to start 2011.
Garrett’s leadership through adversity was not lost on giddy owner Jerry Jones in the locker room after the game.
“It’s a credit to our team and a credit to Jason Garrett that we got our act together and won this game,” Jones said.
Garrett, however, preferred to credit his players, starting with Bailey, but also Romo for his guts and the defense for its outstanding effort in the keeping the Cowboys in the game despite the repeated struggles on offense.
“I thought Tony did a great job,” Garrett said. “He was certainly banged up. He fought through it. We got bogged down in the red zone over and over again. We took the points. The defense made stops. It’s a tribute to [Romo] and the unit to keep playing.”
Romo wasn’t quite the hero as he was a week ago when he had a nearly flawless performance in the fourth quarter and overtime after coming back from a cracked rib and punctured lung to the lead the Cowboys to victory against the San Francisco 49ers.
He took two pain-killing injections before Monday’s game and wore a protective vest. But he was sacked only once.
He completed 22 of 36 passes for 255 yards with one interception while keeping the Cowboys in the game by battling through his own adversity.
It certainly didn’t look good when the Cowboys got the ball back for the final time in the fourth quarter, trailing 16-15.
Dallas faced a second-and-21 play at their own 21 following the fourth bad shotgun snap from Costa.
Romo yelled at Costa. Tight end Jason Witten yelled at Costa. This was after Dez Bryant yelled on the sideline on the field series before.
An incomplete pass made it third and 21.
But that’s when Romo rolled left in the face of an all-out blitz and lofted a sandlot pass to Bryant.
A 15-yard penalty was tacked on to the 30-yard connection, setting up the game-winning field goal.
“It was a good job by Dez to play on,” Romo said. “He did a great job to get the ball. It was a major play in the game. We got to get to get the snap thing worked out. But it was example of the guys to keep going and keep playing. We had a lot mistakes. But I’m proud of the guys for keep coming back.”
Said Bryant, who played despite a deep thigh bruise that kept him out of last week’s game: “Tony inspired me to play. He’s a warrior. He’s leading us. We’re all behind him, because he’s going to lead us in the right direction.”
As Garrett said, it was the Cowboys defense that kept them in the game and then finished the Redskins off at the end.
The Cowboys held the Redskins to 65 yards rushing and then turned up the heat on mistake-prone quarterback Rex Grossman with three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
It was fitting that linebacker Sean Lee pounced on the ball to end the game as he finished with eight tackles, two pass deflections, an interception and the final fumble recovery.