The Dallas Cowboys seemingly had a fourth straight win locked up, but defensive breakdowns late allowed the Houston Texans to roar back and force overtime. The Cowboys remained cool, however. Tony Romo hooked up with Dez Bryant for a spectacular pitch-and-catch after the Texans punted to open OT, setting up Dallas within scoring range. Dan Bailey booted a 49-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 20-17 win.
Dallas was down 7-3 in the third quarter when J.J. Watt exploded off the line and looked to have Tony Romo dead to rights. The defensive end couldn't quite wrap up with a bum elbow, however, and Romo remained poised as he shed the potential NFL MVP. He hopped into the pocket and found Terrance Williams at the end of a 43-yard rainbow that gave the Cowboys a 10-7 lead to seemingly swing momentum.
The Cowboys went up 17-7 on a short drive and easy pitch to Dez Bryant. But what had been a stout Cowboys defense broke late. Ryan Fitzpatrick had struggled all game, but was able to engineer a 76-yard field goal drive followed by a 45-yard touchdown drive that tied the game, 17-17, with less than a minute to play.
Romo nearly led the Cowboys to a win in regulation. The Cowboys took possession with 36 seconds to play and drove 48 yards to the Texans' 35-yard line, but Bailey's potential 53-yard game-winner fell wide left.
Among the Cowboys' four wins, Sunday's was the most complete. The defense held the Texans to 330 total yards (177 before the 76-yard field goal drive late in the fourth quarter), and executed in every phase on offense against a stout defensive front. The offensive line bought time for a sturdy performance from Romo (28-for-41 passing for 324 yards, two touchdowns and a pick) and paved the way for yet another huge game out of DeMarco Murray (192 total yards).
Arian Foster had perhaps his best game of the season, picking up 157 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, and the defense made plays late to give the Texans a chance in the fourth quarter. The one thing they didn't have was much competency under center. Ryan Fitzpatrick finished the game with 154 yards and an interception on 16-for-25 passing. He had just 64 yards early in the fourth.
Three things we learned:
1) Tony Romo is still capable of greatness
Just look at this:
J.J. Watt screams off the edge. That Romo got out of the defensive end's arms is a miracle enough, but to throw a strike right afterward borders on wizardry. (And yeah, Romo threw a bad interception not long after, but still.)
And then this in overtime:
Romo's arm didn't look right to start the season, but it's clear he's feeling much better now. If Romo plays every week like he did against the Texans, the Cowboys should be considered legitimate championship contenders.
2) The Texans desperately need a quarterback
Not exactly revelatory, but Sunday's game exemplified just how limited Houston is without a consistent passer. The pieces are in place to be good RIGHT NOW. The defensive performance was adequate, and probably would have looked better if the offense hadn't been churning out punts (seven on the day). The defensive front has perhaps the best player in the NFL on its side, and the offense has playmakers young and old.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was the clear outlier in what was a competitive game. The Texans will need to do everything they can to get a competent passer in the offseason, or resign themselves to the land of also-rans.
3) The Cowboys may or may not be for real
The Cowboys have won four straight games. That's great! But here were their opponents: the Titans (1-4), Rams (1-3), Saints (2-3) and Texans (now 3-2). The slate wasn't exactly murderous, with the best win coming against a Texans team hamstrung with Fitzpatrick.
By all means, be excited about this Cowboys team, but don't anoint them yet, especially with a full division slate still to play. And -- oh look! -- they visit the Seattle Seahawks next week.