On the surface, the Dallas Cowboys’ 20-17 overtime win against the Houston Texans would qualify as a Texas classic.
Dan Bailey’s 49-yard field goal sent the Cowboys and their fans into delirium while the hordes of Texans fans who made the trip up Interstate 45, making up roughly half the crowd of 91,159 at AT&T Stadium, were sent home disappointed.
If truth be told, this performance was far from a Cowboys work of art.
Other than the final kick, the final score and a couple of amazing passes by quarterback Tony Romo — a 43-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams in the third quarter and a 37-yard jump ball to Dez Bryant in overtime to set up the game-winning kick —there was little pretty about the Cowboys.
They had two turnovers in the red zone, a fumble on a punt return and a dropped pass in the red zone that would have given them a first down on the 1. They blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead and Bailey missed a 53-yard game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation.
But this game and this season is not about aesthetics for a Cowboys team searching for relevancy and looking to put years of 8-8 misery in the past.
While it took longer than expected, the Cowboys got the job done with a dirty victory, dirty runs from DeMarco Murray and gritty play on defense, sending them to their fourth consecutive win and a 4-1 mark for the first time since 2008.
Bailey’s miss ended a franchise-record streak of 30 consecutive field goals.
“What was really positive about today was that it wasn’t perfect by any means,” coach Jason Garrett said.
“But guys kept fighting and battling. We didn’t waver at all. The big play from Tony to Dez gave us a chance. And Dan was money at the end.”
And that in itself speaks volumes about the growth of this team and its hopes for a meaningful season in 2014.
It was certainly an arguable trap game for the surging Cowboys, who are coming off last week’s emotional win against New Orleans and before next Sunday’s trip to Seattle to face the defending Super Bowl Champion.
They survived a motivated opponent, whose fan base traveled in droves for what they termed as their Super Bowl against their in-state rivals.
“We have been through a lot here,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We have been blown out. We have blown leads.
“We have lost leads. We would have lost this game last year. You have to learn how to win. You win ugly. You win pretty. You win whatever. You just win.”
Credit goes to a defense that was dominant for 3 1/2 quarters.
And even though the Cowboys gave up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, thanks to the amazing play of Texans running Arian Foster, who had 157 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, the defense made a stop in overtime after the Texans won the coin toss.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed just 16 passes in the game for 154 yards.
Offensively, the Cowboys did what they do best and leaned on another strong game by Murray and the league’s best rushing attack.
Murray, who overcame a first-quarter fumble for the fourth time this season, rushed for 136 yards on a career-high 31 carries. He became the third back in NFL history to open the season with five 100-yard games, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson.
“It’s obviously not the kind of rhythm we want,” Garrett said. “Turn the ball over in the red zone and come back from that. We’ve talked about that too much. But he’s such a damn good football player. He made some big runs, made some little runs. You know the dirty runs that nobody is going to talk about. He did a lot of good things for us.”
With Murray’s running, the Cowboys were able to hit the big pass from Romo to Bryant in overtime when they were finally able to take advantage of one-on-one coverage on the outside.
Romo’s ability to avoid Texans defensive end J.J. Watt before throwing the 43-yard touchdown pass to Williams in the third quarter might go down as one of the most memorable plays of his career.
But the overtime throw and Bryant’s amazing catch proved to be the difference in the game.
“He did a great job,” said Romo who completed 28 of 41 passes for 324 yards with two touchdowns an interception. “He went up and made a great play on the ball. I tried to give him a chance. He was in one-on-one. We were waiting to get this exact kind of play. It was a big factor in winning the game.”
Owner Jerry Jones called it one of the greatest regular-season plays in Cowboys history. It certainly has the Cowboys confident heading into another measuring-stick game against Seattle (3-1).
“We’re a team that’s trying to really get our feet up under us,” Jones said. “We’re trying to build and it would have been a setback to lose the game today, for us, after having that big effort last week.
“The [Seattle game] is really an opportunity just as that Saints game was an opportunity. You go up there and if we could have a win and come out of Seattle when no one is expecting it, we can build off it, and it gives us a little bit of a cushion as we look toward the rest of the season.”
But Sunday was a dirty victory and a stop in the process. And that’s classic enough.