Steelers vs. Cowboys: The best team won

Ronald Martinez

A bedraggled squad whose season seemed over just three weeks ago is looking like - if you can believe it - a playoff caliber team.

Wow.

When sports is at its entertaining best, that is what you feel like after a tremendous game, particularly one that has come out well for your favorite team.

Just wow.

The Cowboys looked better than they have since the season opening win against the Giants as they beat the Steelers 27-24. Although the game went to overtime, for most of the day the Cowboys looked to be the better team on the field. Dallas manged to reverse some things that have been holding it back, although a few things that have plagued the team all season long still lingered.

Getting off to a fast start

All year, the Cowboys have been having to fight from behind for most, if not all, of their games. Against the Bengals last week, Dallas led for 8:19 and trailed the rest of the game, scoring the winning points as time ran out. This week, they got the first ten points of the game and were tied at halftime. They only trailed for a grand total of 5:28 in the entire game. The Steelers were the team that had to play from behind for much of the day.

Winning the turnover battle

It was only by a margin of one - but of course, that last one was a really big one. Dallas lost one fumble (and an almost certain three points) on DeMarco Murray's fumble in the red zone, but they got ten points off two Pittsburgh turnovers - and the last three won the game.

Penalties still kill the Cowboys

Dallas had eight penalties. Pittsburgh had none. (There was one flag thrown on a Steeler, but it was an offsetting situation with both offensive and defensive holding going on and neither flag wound up counting.) And the worst part was when the Cowboys strung multiple penalties together, and nearly lost the game as a result.

Let me expand on that. In the second quarter, with a 10-3 lead and about six minutes left until halftime, the Cowboys needed to keep the ball and clock down, hopefully also getting at least a field goal. Instead, there were penalties on three consecutive plays (false start, offensive holding, delay of game) that took them from a third and ten to a third and thirty. Dallas wound up punting with 2:11 left, which wound up being more than enough time for the Steelers to tie the game.

DeMarco Murray is huge for this team

He only had 85 yards rushing. But he averaged 5.8 yards a carry, and only got stopped in one crucial situation, a third and one. Once again, his threat made the play-action pass effective.

Tony Romo and the Cowboys are winning in December

The team is guaranteed to have a winning month, with three wins in a row (the longest winning streak of the year). Romo is playing lights out. The team has won five of the last six. Suddenly, they look like a winner. And, by the way, Jason Garrett is also guaranteed to have a winning record for his career at the end of this season. That is something I was certainly doubting could happen right after the Thanksgiving loss to the Washington Redskins.

The Cowboys defense got to the quarterback at the right time

The most frustrating thing of the entire game was watching Ben Roethlisberger drop back, order pizza, complain it took longer than thirty minutes to be delivered, and then complete a pass. During the CBS broadcast, they put a timer on him for the touchdown pass to Heath Miller at the end of the first half, and he had 8.9 seconds to complete that pass. In the NFL, if you give a competent quarterback and a set of competent receivers that much time, somebody will be open, no matter how good the coverage is. And the Steelers' passing game is more than just competent.

Then, as the game wore on, the Dallas defense started finding its way to the passer. They wound up with four sacks. All were in the second half. Three were in the fourth quarter. Two were back-to-back on the last real Pittsburgh drive of regulation to push the Steelers back and keep them out of field goal range and make sure the game went into overtime. That is what you call maximizing things.

The Dallas offensive line had a strong day

Except for a few of the penalties and a couple of running plays that got broken up, the much maligned Dallas offensive line had a very good game. Tony Romo only got sacked once, and not during the crucial drives late in the game, and more importantly was only shown as taking a couple of hits outside of that. Roethlisberger was sacked and hit four times as much. Kudos to the guys who have been vilified for much of the season for a job well done.

Many players came up big

The list can go on and on. Tony Romo. Miles Austin. DeMarco Murray. Jason Witten. Dez Bryant. DeMarcus Ware. Anthony Spencer. Brandon Carr. Dan Bailey. And a lot of lesser known names. James Hanna. Sean Lissemore. Cole Beasley.

Those are some of the players who had big moments, but this was above all a team effort. It was a game that could have gone either way (imagine for a moment if Victor Butler did not strip the ball from Antonio Brown on that punt return). But for sixty-one minutes and twenty-four seconds, until Bailey kicked the game-winner in overtime, all eleven Cowboys players on the field went at it hard, and most of the game they were the superior team. Fortunately, in the end, the final score reflected that.

Dallas is now smack in the middle of the playoff hunt, and can win the NFC East by winning the last two games. It won't be easy. But you better not count these Cowboys out.

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