ARLINGTON — The Dallas Cowboys still aren’t a pretty football team.
They remain injury-riddled and mistake-prone at times.
But they have proven to have a persevering spirit that has been tested on and off the field through triumph and tragedy.
Now — after the Cowboys rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 in overtime before 95,595 fans at Cowboys Stadium — they might be destined as well.
Cornerback Brandon Carr’s interception off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and 36-yard return two plays into overtime set up Dan Bailey’s game-winning kick from 21 yards out.
It was the Cowboys’ third consecutive win — the second since practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident and nose tackle Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter. Dallas also beat Cincinnati on a last-second kick by Bailey less than 24 hours after learning about the tragedy.
It was the fifth win in their past six games for the Cowboys, once a disappointing mess at 3-5 but now in a first-place tie in the NFC East and in control of their playoff destiny.
The Cowboys (8-6) are tied atop the division with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. They would win the NFC East title if they win their remaining two games against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday and at the Redskins in the season finale Dec. 30.
"Again, this bunch wouldn’t, just would not quit," an ecstatic owner Jerry Jones said about his Cowboys, who won on a fourth-quarter or overtime comeback for the fifth time season — a complete opposite of last year, when they lost five games after blowing fourth-quarter leads.
"I’m just impressed," Jones said. "On top of that, dealing with the with the kinds of things we’ve been dealing with, I give them [credit], but I also give [coach] Jason [Garrett] a lot of credit in keeping everybody’s eye on the ball and at the same time understanding what the important thing is, and that’s to honor Jerry Brown’s life and support each other during this tough time."
The Cowboys got the win with Brent on their sideline. He is out on bail while awaiting his trial. Garrett said the Cowboys asked Brent to be there and they followed the lead of Brown’s mother, who pleaded with them to continue to support him.
It’s that same support that the Cowboys have shown for each other during adverse times since the beginning of the season that has sparked the recent winning streak. It continued to play a huge role on Sunday when the Steelers took a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter, much to the delight of a large, boisterous clan of Steelers fans at Cowboys Stadium.
A Cowboys team playing without seven defensive regulars, including six starters, because of injury, refused to lose.
A potentially back-breaking 22-yard punt return by Steelers receiver Antonio Brown early in the fourth quarter became a Cowboys break when linebacker Victor Butler forced a fumble and tight end John Phillips recovered at the Steelers’ 44.
Quarterback Tony Romo started off with a 13-yard pass to receiver Dez Bryant, who played with a fractured index finger and scored in the third quarter. He then found tight end Jason Witten for 9 yards and receiver Dwayne Harris for 17, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray.
The Cowboys’ defense sacked Roethlisberger three times in the fourth quarter, with 1 1/2 by Anthony Spencer, setting up Carr’s final heroics.
"It was just reaction and instinct," said Carr, who also keyed the win last week at Cincinnati with an interception. "That’s how the whole season has been. We just keep fighting."