It should have never been this close.
As the old saying goes, those who win the turnover battle win the game, so the Dallas Cowboys should be grateful they escaped with a 20-17 overtime victory in front of 91,159 fans, a crowd that seemed nearly split down the middle in their affiliation for the either Cowboys or Texans.
Three times Dallas turned the ball over on the day, including twice in the red zone that killed potential point-producing drives. Overall, the Cowboys held the edge on the stat sheet, putting up 456 total yards to 330 for Houston while also earning more first downs (24 to 15) and winning the time of possession (36:07 to 31:08).
But the team’s early mistakes nearly cost them in the end as they allowed the Texans to hang around long enough to eventually force the game into the extra quarter.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have Dan Bailey in their back pocket. And although he missed a 53-yarder at the end of regulation, breaking a string of 30 straight made, the kicker split the uprights on the game-winner from 49 yards out.
Doing so for the fifth straight game was DeMarco Murray topping 100 yards, this time reaching 136, while Tony Romo provided balance with 324 yards passing with two touchdown tosses. Six different receivers caught at least two balls with Dez Bryant leading the way with two catches for 85 yards and a score. Terrance Williams added another 71 yards on two grabs, one of which was a 43-yard touchdown.
For all the excitement at the end, the first quarter didn’t amount to much as the only threats either side made were soon quashed by turnovers. On their second possession of the game, the Texans crossed midfield to the Dallas 40, but when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a stop route, only to have his intended target, running back Arian Foster, run a go, cornerback Orlando Scandrick took advantage with his first interception of the year.
With that gift, the Cowboys marched back the other way, and got as close as the Houston 12-yard line. Unfortunately, there is where Murray continued his troubling fumble trend, coughing up his fourth of the year to end what seemed like sure points.
Quarter No. 2 wasn’t much better with the Cowboys’ punt return unit continuing what would be a brutal half. After penalties on two previous returns, which gave the Cowboys starting field position at their own 10- and 7-yard lines, Dwayne Harris fumbled on his next return attempt, the ball recovered by Houston at the Dallas 43. And there was even a penalty called on the Cowboys on that play, although it was declined.
After the Texans could again do nothing on offense, Dallas finally got a bit of a drive going. Starting at his 20, Romo worked the team all the way down to the Houston 13-yard line. But after a false start penalty, the drive stalled, leaving Bailey to come in for a 33-yard field goal to send the Cowboys into halftime with a 3-0 advantage.
Things got more interesting after the break. On their first possession of the third quarter, with their passing attack doing nothing – Fitzpatrick had a 21.1 passer rating in the first half – the Texans took a page out of the Cowboys’ playbook and turned to their Pro Bowl running back. Foster carried the ball five times for 59 yards, capping off the series with a 15-yard rumble into the end zone to put the visitors on top, 7-3.
The lead was short-lived, however. In the first two quarters, Dallas produced three drives of 11 plays, but only had those three points to show for it. This time around, they needed just four to finally reach the end zone.
It was vintage Romo. On second-and-15 at the Dallas 17, the quarterback stepped up and found a streaking Jason Witten running down the seam, hitting the tight end perfectly for a big 34-yard gain. Then two plays later, he spun out of what looked a sure sack by all-world defensive end J.J. Watt and then threw a 43-yard bomb to Terrance Williams in the end zone to go back up 10-7.
The score was a team-high fifth of the season in five games for Williams, equaling his total from all of last year.
Now with the Houston defense appearing to wear down, Dallas drove down to the Texans 20-yard line on its next possession before a Romo pass intended for Bryant was picked off by safety Kendrick Lewis, again ruining what should have been points on the board.
But after the Texans could do nothing with the ball, the beleaguered punt return until finally came through, Harris getting around the right corner and sprinting 38 yards to the Houston 30.
Set up nicely to start the series, three Murray runs moved them to the 2-yard line before Romo hit Bryant on the left side of the end zone for the score, the game now seemingly well in hand. 17-7.
Yeah, not so much.
The Texans came back and made it a one-possession game, knocking in a field goal from 29 yards out. But in picking up the three points, they did themselves no favors by eating up 7:17 of game clock, leaving only 2:27 remaining.
Still, it didn’t matter. Much to the angst of the Cowboys faithful, the Cowboys couldn’t move the chains themselves, and after the ensuing punt was returned 14 yards to the Dallas 45-yard line, Houston got the ball back with exactly two minutes left in the game.
That was more than enough time as a 20-yard pass to Andre Johnson and a 19-yarder to DeAndre Hopkins was followed two plays later by a 1-yard plunge from Foster, the score now tied 17-17.
Dallas had one last gasp in regulation. Taking possession with 36 seconds left, Romo moved his team to the Houston 35-yard line, but there Bailey, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, pulled his attempt wide left, the two teams heading to overtime.
After Houston failed to make any progress on its opening possession of the extra frame, Dallas was struggling to gain any ground as well. That’s when Dez Bryant does what Dez Bryant does.
Romo basically threw the ball up for grabs while spinning to the ground to avoid an oncoming rusher. But 37 yards downfield, Bryant out-jumped the Texans defender to haul in a juggling catch at the Houston 31-yard line.
After two runs netted zero yards, head coach Jason Garrett then put his trust in his kicker, bringing out Bailey on third down for the 49-yard attempt. This time he was good, the ball splitting the uprights to give Dallas the
With the win, Dallas improved to 4-1 on the season to stay in a tie for first place in the NFC East. They’ll now head to Seattle for a tough tilt against the Seahawks before coming back to Dallas for three consecutive home games.
FIRST TAKE – INSTANT ANALYSIS: Cowboys 20-17 OT win over Texans
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys had to rally in overtime to knock off the in-state rivals, but the Cowboys still improved to 4-1 after a 20-17 overtime win over the Texans. Most of the writers picked Dallas to win this game. Here’s the instant reaction after the game …
Helman: There’s no way it should have been that dramatic, but a win is a win and the Cowboys are in rare territory – multiple games above that familiar .500 line. This wasn’t a statement win, and I’m not sure the Texans are going to be a team that will stand out on the final resume. But the Cowboys had to have this, simply because it was a home game against a beatable team. You’ve got to feel so much better about 4-1 than 3-2, considering the trip to play the defending champions that’s looming next week. The thing I think I’ll remember most is that the Cowboys got signature plays from all their signature guys. DeMarco Murray continued to shoulder the load, Tony Romo’s Houdini escape from J.J. Watt and touchdown to Terrance Williams was classic. And of course, Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey did what they’re famous for to win the game in overtime. It didn’t need to be that dramatic, but I don’t think anyone will complain that it was.
Broaddus: As the week went along and the more that I studied the Texans I really thought their offensive line was the weakness of their squad. I especially thought the guards Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks were the ones that needed to be attacked throughout this game. Early in the contest Henry Melton was able to cause some problems for them as did Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford. My gut feeling was that Melton would be able to use his quickness to take advantage of how slow footed these Texans guards were. Melton was active but he didn’t get the two sacks in the game that I thought he might. I believe that some of that had to do with Bill O’Brien protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick from making game changing mistakes. I still believe that Melton will have that big game sack wise that we all know he is capable of.
Kavner: The Texans’ first three wins may not have been against top-notch competition, but with a stout defense, they’ve shown they can keep games close. I thought it would be a close, low-scoring contest the Cowboys would win by less than a touchdown, and that’s what happened. The Texans made it closer than the Cowboys would have liked with 10 points in the fourth quarter to send it to overtime, but Dan Bailey wasn’t going to miss a chance to win twice. The look of the defense without Rolando McClain is major, and his loss was depleting when he went out late. But the Cowboys’ defense did enough throughout and in overtime to give the offense a chance. DeMarco Murray once again went over 100 yards, and he’ll continue to be expected to do just that until someone can slow him down. So far, no one’s been able to, and the offensive line’s display is tremendous to watch. This win was huge to give the Cowboys a cushion before heading to Seattle next week.
Eatman: Had it been for Dez Bryant, I would’ve had a rough afternoon. Yes, I saw the Cowboys winning this game but not as close as it turned out to be. The Texans did a great job of hanging in there and Ryan Fitzpatrick was one of the reasons. Houston didn’t put the game in his hands that often but they made sure Arian Foster did the work. Still, the Cowboys were able to win this one because the defense stepped up in overtime. And, the only thing I got right, I did have Dez doing “Dez-like things” and that turned out to be the difference in the game. Sometimes, just having the best player on the field can prove to be a good thing. It was in this case and that’s why the Cowboys are 4-1.
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IRVING, Texas – Asked if his confidence in Dan Bailey had waivered, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gave a long, quizzical look – an incredulous look, in fact.
“Have you watched our football team for the last few years? The guy’s pretty damn good,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys showed no hesitancy to let Bailey prove just that in overtime on Sunday afternoon. Facing third down from the Houston 31 – a kicking distance of 49 yards – Garrett called Bailey onto the field a play early to give the Cowboys a 20-17 win.
“This guy’s as locked in and focused an individual as I’ve ever been around, and he’s just unbelievable at what he does,” Garrett said. “Obviously we didn’t waver at all.”
The circumstances that put Bailey in position for the game-winner were straight out of a movie script. The fourth-year kicker was riding a franchise record streak of 30-straight makes when the Cowboys called him out at the end of regulation.
From a distance of 53 yards, he whiffed wide left, giving the Texans a chance to win a game they had trailed, 17-7, with 10 minutes remaining.
“Today, what was really positive was that it wasn’t perfect by any means,” Garrett said. “There were some things that we didn’t do as well as we needed to do as a football team, but guys kept fighting, guys kept battling.”
In battling back from the setback, the Cowboys gave Bailey his shot at redemption. After the Dallas defense, which limited the Texans to 330 total yards, forced a stop in overtime, it took the Cowboys a miracle play to even put Bailey in position.
Facing a third-and-8 from his own 32, Tony Romo tossed up a prayer to Dez Bryant, who hauled in the 37-yard reception despite blanket coverage.
“You know it was a make-or-break, and I knew it as well,” Bryant said. “We had to have each other’s back and that’s exactly what we did.”
It all combined to provide a nail-biter ending to a game the Cowboys seemed to have in the bag. When Romo connected with Dez for a two-yard touchdown on one of the pair’s patented fade routes, the Cowboys were up 17-7 with 9:50 to play. The deficit itself wasn’t unbelievable, but the Dallas defense had stymied the Houston offense to that point – Ryan Fitzpatrick finished the day with just 154 passing yards, and the Texans were just four-of-13 on third down.
“The one thing I do like about this team, though, is that they never give up. They fight until the bitter end,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien.
They certainly did, riding a 157-yard rushing effort from Arian Foster – who rushed for 87 of those yards and two touchdowns after halftime. The Texans scored the final 10 points of regulation, making the Cowboys regret not one, but two red zone turnovers earlier in the game – another DeMarco Murray fumble and a Romo interception.
“It shows you what can happen if you’re not right, if you’re not on the screws every snap, you’re going to get hurt in this league,” Garrett said.
That the Cowboys were in control with just 17 points is a testament to the physical nature of the game. Bailey’s first field goal of the day sent Dallas to halftime with a 3-0 lead, as the teams’ two defenses traded blows for a large portion of the afternoon.
“That was an outstanding unit that we went up against today – probably the best I have seen this year,” Romo said. “We were going to expose them a little bit down the field, but we just did not have time during the game to get to that. The one that we did, I had to make someone miss to have the ability to get them in that one-on-one situation.”
Romo’s description doesn’t do justice to what was probably the play of the game, if not for Bryant’s overtime grab. Trailing 7-3 in the third quarter, Romo spun to dodge a certain sack from Houston All-Pro J.J. Watt. Having secured himself time, he delivered a 43-yard touchdown strike to Terrance Williams.
“From what I could see, maybe it ranks up there with some of the great ones he’s made,” Garrett said. “They’ve got some great defensive linemen, and it looked like he just kind of shirked him off.”
The score gave the Cowboys a lead they didn’t relinquish – they only trailed for 2:41 in the entire game. Though that stat is a bit disingenuous, given the way it played out.
“That was a tough, hard fought game,” Romo said. “This is how it goes in the NFL.”
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TURNING POINT: Winning one like this is more telling than the record
ARLINGTON, Texas – If any of the Cowboys’ players want to eat their lunch during the week, they must leave the locker room at Valley Ranch and walk a few steps to a kitchen area.
In doing so, their eyes cannot avoid a wall-sized motivational sign that reads “FIND A WAY TO WIN.”
That’s all the Cowboys did here Sunday against the Texans, grinding out a hard-fought 20-17 win that needed more than your regular 60 minutes of action.
Call it an ugly win. Call the Cowboys lucky to survive. Or you can call it a team that is slowly but surely showing us how much better it is. The Cowboys are just a better football team than we’ve seen in recent years, and it goes much further than their 4-1 record.
Say what you want about this game, but to me, this one was more eye-raising than last week’s 21-point win over the Saints.
Last week, the Cowboys whipped New Orleans from start to finish. They won all three phases of the game and it was reflective on the scoreboard at the end.
This week, the Cowboys really didn’t out-play the Texans at all. They lost the turnover battle. They wasted opportunities in the red zone. They gave up 10 points in the final three minutes of the game. They missed a chance to win the game in regulation – proving to us all that maybe, just maybe Dan Bailey is part-human. They even lost the coin toss in overtime and let the Texans drive to midfield.
Add all of those things up and NFL teams usually lose. The Cowboys just wouldn’t fold.
At some point, we’re going to start calling this a pretty good defense. I know about last year – this team isn’t far removed from being the worst in the NFL and the worst in franchise history. But this is a new defense, just like it’s looking to be a new team.
The defense gets pushed on, but they’re starting to push back.
Case in point was overtime, when the Texans had all the momentum and were driving to either a game-winning touchdown or a field goal to give them an important lead.
Earlier in the game, linebacker Justin Durant was beaten by running back Arian Foster on a third-down pass. This time, on third-and-2 at the Cowboys’ 48-yard line, Durant stuck with Foster long enough and Ryan Fitzpatrick was blasted by Jeremy Mincey for an incomplete throw. The Cowboys got the ball back and then marched down for a game-winning field goal.
Last year’s defense doesn’t fight back right there. Well, last year’s defense doesn’t hold the Texans to 17 points in regulation and certainly wouldn’t pitch a first-half shutout for the second straight game.
This defense is growing up and doing so without the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee. Guys like Rolando McClain make a huge difference. He not only has instincts at the MIKE spot that are uncanny, but when he hits you, it’s a punishing tackle. Mincey has been better than we thought. Durant is playing better than we’ve seen since he’s been with the Cowboys, and Tyrone Crawford is starting to come on strong to meet those preseason expectations.
Rod Marinelli has patched it together despite losing a starting linebacker for three out of four games, despite losing Orlando Scandrick for two games, and despite losing the third cornerback in Mo Claiborne, who is out for the season.
Sunday was an example of what this defense has become. Mincey said the Cowboys have a “no retreat, no surrender mentality” and that was on display against the Texans.
Without the defense, the Dallas Cowboys probably don’t win this game.
Tony Romo was pretty good for most of the day, but threw a costly red-zone interception.
Dez Bryant wasn’t a huge factor until the end when he became beastly.
Terrance Williams scored a touchdown, but had a drop that likely took away another score.
Dan Bailey won the game, but his end-of-regulation miss could’ve been costly.
The offensive line paved the way for 456 total yards, but they had trouble with the Texans’ front-line all day, hurrying Romo and his throws.
DeMarco Murray had his fifth straight 100-yard game, but not without another lost fumble in the red zone.
Dwayne Harris had a 38-yard punt return that led to a score, but also had a lost fumble.
Even the crowd at AT&T Stadium was loud at times, but not always for the Cowboys. Jason Witten and Tony Romo seemed pretty upset with having to go with a silent-count at home because of the raucous Texans fans.
In more ways than one, the Cowboys were far from perfect Sunday against Houston. Yet, they still managed to follow the sign and “found a way to win.”
That, more than anything we’ve seen in the first five weeks of the season, could be the most telling sign of all.