Browns vs. Cowboys: Dallas More Than Alive with Win, but Lots of Work to Do

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 18, 2012

Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) is sacked in the fourth quarter by Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (92) at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

At some point, the Dallas Cowboys are going to have to stop treading water and instead start swimming forward, but all that matters right now to the Cowboys is that they've won back-to-back games for the first time since November 2011.

They escaped the Cleveland Browns just like they survived against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10, overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit for the second time in as many weeks. That's obviously an indication that the team's survival skills are stronger than they've been in years past, but it probably can't afford to keep cutting it so close each week.

Dallas hasn't dominated an opponent this season. The Cowboys have only won once by more than a score, but that 38-23 final tally in Philadelphia last week is misleading. 

The schedule might be very weak, but they won't beat Washington and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and New Orleans if they play the way they did on offense during the first three quarters of each of the last two games. 

Against the Browns, they converted just one third down prior to the midway point of the fourth quarter. For the third straight week, they couldn't blame turnovers. They simply didn't wake up until it was almost too late. 

But the one turnover that they did commit—a near-backbreaking fourth-quarter fumble from Tony Romo—was what they've become famous for this season. It's astonishing Romo didn't lose the ball more because you got the feeling something bad was destined to happen every time he dropped back to pass in the fourth quarter and overtime. 

It didn't help that his blind-side-protecting left tackle, Tyron Smith, left the game with an ankle injury, leaving an already weak and depleted offensive line even weaker and more depleted. It'll be much harder for the 'Boys to survive against upcoming opponents like Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh if Jermey Parnell and Doug Free are the starting tackles. 

The Cowboys deserve some credit for getting it done when it mattered. They did play well in the game's most important quarter, and Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten continue to make big plays when needed.

The Browns gave Dallas too much help. They out-penalized the the league's second-most penalized team. Cleveland surrendered 57 yards' worth of pass-interference penalties in the game's final 16 minutes, with all three of those flags coming on separate scoring drives. 

That was probably the difference. And considering that Dallas was supposed to be capable of beating a two-win team at home simply by showing up, that's concerning. 

The Cowboys have four days to get things right, because the desperate and barely-alive Redskins won't likely be as forgiving on Thanksgiving Thursday.