ARLINGTON — After Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys were 5-6 and an afterthought in the playoff picture. Three games later, they're right back in the thick of things, and Jason Garrett's process has gone from "myth" to "possibility."
Dallas beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 behind a huge day from Tony Romo (30 for 42, 341 yards, 2 TDs) and a solid all-around defensive effort. The team seemed in command for much of the game, but several huge plays made it close throughout.
A Brandon Carr overtime interception returned to the 1-yard line brought the win to the Cowboys' doorstep.
The Cowboys completely outplayed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first quarter of Sunday's game, but only had a 3-0 lead to show for it.
Dallas looked to put their second score on the board when running back DeMarco Murray had the ball stripped by James Harrison, and the Steelers recovered inside their own 10 yard line, snuffing out the threat.
The Cowboys averaged 8 yards a play on their 16 first quarter offensive snaps, racking up 128 yards, but they had to settle for a field goal on their first drive. The Steelers' offense, meanwhile, managed to produce just 49 total yards in the quarter.
The first quarter was played at a snail's pace, thanks in part to three blown calls by the refs. A Steelers fumble, a Miles Austin reception, and a Mike Wallace reception were all reversed on replay during the first 15 minutes.
Not a lot changed for most of the second half -- the Cowboys outplayed the Steelers for all but about the last three minutes. But it stands to figure that those three minutes turned out to be very important. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger used his elusiveness to even the score just before the half.
Roethlisberger made several moves to elude the Cowboys rush with just over 30 seconds left, and found a wide open Heath Miller to tie the game at 10. The play covered 30 yards.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sparked his team's first touchdown drive by employing both of his tight ends. James Hanna made a pair of grabs, the first for 16 yards and the second for 29, setting up the Cowboys with a first down at the Steelers' 17.
Then Romo faked a handoff and found a wide-open Jason Witten for the game's first touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
The Cowboys broke a 10-10 tie when Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant deep down the left sideline. Bryant, playing with a broken left index finger, showed he was just fine, pulling in his 10th touchdown catch of the season.
The Cowboys overcame a second-and-23 situation on the drive thanks to an 18-yard catch-and-run from Dwayne Harris. Then -- on a crucial third-and-5 -- Romo found Little Elm's Cole Beasley for a first down. One play later, Romo surveyed the field and found Bryant in the front corner of the end zone for a 17-10 lead.
The Steelers used a big play strike to respond. Ben Roethlisberger utilized play action, then a pump fake and had all day to hit Mike Wallace down the middle of the field. Cowboys safetys Danny McCray and Gerald Sensabaugh had some kind of miscommunication on the play, allowing Wallace to run free deep.
Jonathan Dwyer scored on a one-yard plunge to tie the game at 17.
The Steelers took the ball over again at the end of the third and consecutive 20-plus-yard plays took them into Cowboys territory. Another long play, a 21-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerrico Cotchery, got them closer, and a 7-yard pass to Antonio Brown put the Steelers on top, 24-17.
The Cowboys got the ball back and mounted an ineffective drive. Brian Moorman punted -- but Victor Butler swatted the ball from Antonio Brown as he ran, John Phillips recovered, and the Cowboys had new life.
The Cowboys moved down the field on a couple of Romo passes and had a 3rd-and goal at the 3-yard line. At that point, Jason Garrett made a gutsy call: He ran the draw play, having Tony Romo take the handoff, fake a pass, then quickly hand the ball off to DeMarco Murray. The Steelers bit on the deception, and Murray dashed in untouched to even the score at 24-24.
The Steelers punted on their next possession, and Dwayne Harris returned the ball 39 yards to the Pittsburgh 49. But Miles Austin and Jason Witten both failed to catch passes from Romo, and the Cowboys had to punt. The game moved to overtime.
Overtime didn't take long.
Roethlisberger completed his first pass to Heath Miller for seven yards. He completed the second pass, too -- to the Cowboys' Brandon Carr, who stepped in front of Mike Wallace and ran 36 yards to the goal line.
Dan Bailey was handed a 21-yard field goal attempt, and the Cowboys' kicker didn't waste it. His boot sailed through the upright, and the Cowboys came up with a huge December win over a tough Pittsburgh team.
Head Coach Jason Garrett knows this one was a hotly-contested struggle, and he praised his team profusely.
'I'm just proud to be a part of it. The way our players, coaches, staff members just keep battling... it's fun to be part of this group," he said. "There's a relentlessness to this group, there's an undeniable will to the group, and those are very important traits to have. It's never perfect, it's never pretty.... but guys kept battling and picking each other up, and it just was impressive."
The 8-6 Cowboys are now in a three-way tie with the Redskins and Giants for the NFC East lead.