There is nothing more cathartic than a perfect final drive, setting up a game-winning field goal as time as expires.
When Dan Bailey’s 35-yard field goal split the uprights on a bitterly cold Sunday at MetLife Stadium, sending the Dallas Cowboys off the field with a 24-21 victory over the New York Giants, the joy that they felt was balanced by a sense of peace and satisfaction.
Gone was the bitter taste of the 49-17 blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints before the bye two weeks ago.
Forgotten was the ugly play of more than three quarters and a few mental lapses that saw the Cowboys blow a 21-6 lead which nearly cost them the game.
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The up-and-down Cowboys, particularly quarterback Tony Romo, were great when it mattered most.
Romo, who passed for 250 yards and two touchdowns on the day, drove 64 yards in 14 plays, converting three third downs, to set up the game-winning kick.
“It’s the thing we preach more than any thing as a coaching staff: be your best regardless of circumstance,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You hear me say that 8,000 times a day. Up 21 or down 21. They score and convert a two-point conversion … Go play. When you have leaders you can do that. Romo’s demeanor in the huddle at the end of the game was fantastic. I thought it was a great drive. That’s when you separate yourself as a quarterback and as an offensive football team.”
On the game-winning drive, Romo completed 6 of 9, including the critical third-down plays.
Receiver Dez Bryant caught two third-down passes and receiver Cole Beasley had the other. Bryant finished the game with nine catches for 102 yards.
The Cowboys moved to 6-5 and back in a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East. The Giants, who came in with a four-game winning streak, fell to 4-7 and are likely out of the playoff race.
Thanks to a 4-0 record in the division, the Cowboys control their own destiny for the NFC East title and the playoffs with five games to go.
None of this was lost on Romo, who admitted that the Cowboys felt their season was on the line in the game and compared the atmosphere on Sunday to the win-or-go-home game they played here for the playoffs and the division title in the season finale two years ago.
The Cowboys lost that game 31-14. Romo wouldn’t let them lose Sunday, despite their well-chronicled history of playing poorly in big moments and the trash talk from the Giants all week.
“It’s a tough environment against a team who is ready to go,” said Romo, who was limping after the game. “They felt like their season was on the line in this game. It was a playoff-like game. It was a very similar feeling to the win or go home from a couple of years ago. I think we had to find a way to win. Throughout all the talk and everything, we’ve played in games where stuff like that happens and you’ve just got to go play. The better team will win. That’s what usually happens in the NFL.”
The question is, can the Cowboys use this victory and build some momentum for a playoff run, starting with a quick turnaround in the Thanksgiving Day battle against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday?
The Cowboys certainly feel good about their chances because of how they have continued to battle through adversity all season and refused to lose on Sunday.
When the Cowboys took a 21-6 lead in the third quarter on a 2-yard pass from Romo to tight end Jason Witten, the game appeared to be over. The touchdown pass was Romo’s 200th of his career. The touchdown catch was Witten’s 50th of his career.
But that’s when the Cowboys melted down.
The Giants made it 21-13 on the ensuing drive. The touchdown came on a fourth-and-3 play at the Cowboys’ 27 when quarterback Eli Manning completed a pass to tight end Brandon Myers, who fell down at the 9. Neither linebacker Bruce Carter, who was covering on the play, nor Heath touched Myers down, and the tight end got up and ran into the end zone for the touchdown to make it 21-13 with 4:33 left in the third quarter.
The Giants then tied the game late in the fourth when Manning tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to receiver Louis Murphy Jr. Running back Andre Brown ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 21-21 with 4:45 left in the game.
But that’s when Romo and the Cowboys took back control of the game and their season.
Owner Jerry Jones — who gave Garrett a vote of confidence during the week and said that his confidence in the Cowboys was rooted in his belief in Romo — couldn’t have been more satisfied or relieved.
“The need to win this game was pretty obvious to everyone, so it was a big game,” Jones said. “I’ll tell you this right now, we didn’t need to lose that football game. With all due respect that we have for the Giants and everybody else, the Dallas Cowboys needed to win that football game.”
“What’s coming out of here is we’re 6-5 and we beat a division opponent and we beat one that was hot, on a run, getting better. Boy, you can’t get much more out of a win than you’re going to get out of this one.”