Desperate Cowboys win close calls, enter critical stretch

The Dallas Cowboys have no interest in aesthetics at this point.

Call Sunday's 19-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers whatever you want.

Point out the conservative play-calling that had them settling for a go-ahead 28-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 3:25 left in the game.

Talk about the questionable calls that went against the Panthers.

There was a no-call on early contact by cornerback Morris Claiborne on a fourth-down incompletion to Louis Murphy on the ensuing possession.

There was a phantom horse-collar flag on linebacker James Anderson against running back Phillip Tanner when the Panthers were trying to get the ball back, ultimately setting up a 38-yard field goal by Bailey, who made four in the game.

And never mind that the offense continued to struggle, scoring just one touchdown against an injury-depleted Panthers defense.

Just mark it down as a season-saving win for a desperate Cowboys team, which snapped a two-game losing streak.

How desperate?

Owner Jerry Jones had former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs give the team a pep talk the night before the game.

They are 3-3 and give themselves an opportunity to head into their toughest stretch of the season with something meaningful left to play for, starting Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (5-2) at home before back-to-back road games at the undefeated Atlanta Falcons (6-0) and Philadelphia Eagles (3-3).

It left Jones, who refuses to back off his championship dreams, calling the win both beautiful and satisfying in the postgame locker room.

"This is very satisfying to come here and win under these circumstances," a smiling Jones said. "If you look at where everybody else is around the league, we're not digging out of anything. We've got a chance to improve and build on where we are. We've got a big-time game coming up here against the Giants. We know what that game means. We do a good job against the Giants and come out of there with the win, what is everybody going to be saying? It's amazing what eight days could do."

Beating Carolina gives the Cowboys confidence heading to the showdown against the Giants, who have never lost at Cowboys Stadium.

For coach Jason Garrett, getting the win was all that mattered, and he made no apologies for how the Cowboys did it, or the so-called conservative play-calling late in the game.

He was ultimately putting the game in the hands of a Cowboys defense that had given up a 75-yard touchdown drive earlier in the fourth quarter, putting Carolina ahead 14-13.

A dropped touchdown pass by receiver Dez Bryant set up a third-and-9 at the Carolina 15-yard line at the 3:39 mark. The Cowboys called timeout and decided to run Phillip Tanner up the middle. He gained 5 yards.

Romo, who was an efficient 24 of 34 for 227 yards with a touchdown, wanted to throw. Romo threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin in the third quarter while snapping a six-game interception streak dating back to last season.

Garrett wanted to preserve the opportunity for the go-ahead field goal and not risk a turnover.

"I thought Tony handled that well. It's one of those plays you can hit, you see it every week in the National Football League, you get in there and if you get it blocked right and get it to the second level it really gives you a chance to score. I wanted to preserve the opportunity there and kick that field goal and make it a two-point game. I thought our guys handled it well," Garrett said.

Jones called it conservative.

"I thought that was a conservative way [to go]," Jones said. "But the big thing is, should we be having a conservative call? And I can make you a good case in point that it called for that. We certainly wanted points. That's for sure. Had to have it."

They got it with the help of a few questionable calls late.

Before the fourth down incompletion to Murphy, the Panthers ran a play and got the first down.

But the officials made them do it over after granting the desperate Cowboys a time out just before the snap to change personnel.

Then the rookie Claiborne, who got his first career interception earlier in the game, the first for the Cowboys since the season opener, stepped up and knocked the ball away from Murphy.

Contact, what contact?

“I feel like I was in good coverage,” Claiborne said. “I was blessed to make the play.”

Blessed are the Cowboys, thanks to an ugly, season-saving victory.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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