Cowboys vs. Steelers: Dallas' Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
Dallas skated to an early lead of 10-0, but Pittsburgh was able to come back and take the lead in the third quarter by a score of 17-10. That's when the game got really interesting as both teams traded blows and scores up until about seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray tied the game at 24 apiece after scoring from just three yards out with 6:58 remaining.
Before heading into overtime, both teams had a chance to score before the last quarter ended. The Steelers squandered an opportunity as they were driving, crossed midfield, but their momentum was negated after consecutive sacks by the Cowboys, one coming from Anthony Spencer.
When the Steelers were forced to punt, Cowboys return man/receiver Dwayne Harris took the punt for a gain of 39 yards up to Dallas' 49-yard line. But Dallas couldn't capitalize and ended up having to punt.
The Steelers chose to run out the clock and go into overtime where they won the coin toss. As they received the ball on their own 20, Ben Roethlisberger went to work, finding his favorite target, tight end Heath Miller, on a curl route for a 7-yard gain.
On the game's very next play, Big Ben found another receiver, but he played for the opposing team. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr picked off Roethlisberger, returning it to the Cowboys goal line for a 36-yard gain.
That is where the action stopped as the Cowboys ended the game on a 21-yard field goal from kicker Dan Bailey to win it all.
All of that action happened in the last two quarters, so just imagine what went on in the quarters prior to the fourth and overtime?
It was the game of the year for the Cowboys, and they played that way. As we get ready to judge the winners and losers of this epic contest, remember that the Cowboys control their own destiny. If they win out, they are in the playoffs.
It's looking like the last game of the year between the Redskins and Cowboys will be for the NFC East title and a spot in the playoffs.
Now, here are the game's biggest winners and losers.
WINNER: Brandon Carr, CB
It's only right to start with the guy who ended it all for the Steelers, right? Carr has a pretty strong stat line on the night, four tackles and three passes defensed.
But his game, and season-saving play for that matter, came at the most crucial point for both teams. He picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in overtime, returning the ball 39 yards down the Cowboys goal line, giving Dallas a shot at victory.
I think for anyone who may have criticized the Cowboys for signing Carr to an offseason deal worth $50 million, and for team owner Jerry Jones saying that they overpaid for him, may have to eat their words now.
Carr's payoff has been enormous for Dallas as he won a game for them in overtime on his third interception of the season.
LOSER: Kevin Ogletree, WR
With Dez Bryant hampered by a broken finger, this was Ogletree's chance to shine. Though Bryant had a decent game, it didn't take away from the opportunities on the field for Ogletree.
He didn't deliver, catching just one pass for nine yards. Then again, he was just targeted one time, but he's been non-existent for the better part of 2012 with his lone "big" game coming in the first game of the season.
WINNER: Tony Romo, QB
For all of the talk of Romo’s December struggles, he played November-ready on this Sunday.
Romo’s final stat line for the night was 30-of-42, 341 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 111.3.
He was mistake-free and had one bad pass that I can remember. It was a 3rd-and-6 pass to receiver Dwayne Harris that went for just five yards.
Over the past three weeks, Romo has thrown six touchdowns and passed for 912 yards. He’s on a roll and will need to continue that hot streak if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs.
LOSER: Felix Jones, RB
Jones was just about an afterthought in this game. He rushed just three times for 10 yards and had no catches.
He was brought in after Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray fumbled the ball in the red zone, but he wasn't seen much after that.
I still believe the Cowboys will let Jones go after the season, but knowing how fragile the running back position has been for the Cowboys, it may be wise to keep him.
WINNER: DeMarco Murray, RB
Murray's stat line glistened a little on Sunday. He had 81 yards on just 14 carries and one touchdown. But it was a little inflated due to Murray's 28-yard gain earlier in the game.
Garrett largely stayed away from rushing the ball as evidenced by Murray's run total and Romo's 43 pass attempts.
But his 3-yard touchdown with 6:58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter was just as big of a game-saver as Brandon Carr's overtime interception.
The Cowboys offense seems to "pop" with Murray in the lineup compared to Felix Jones. He has better vision, is stronger and is just a plain better running back. He knows how to catch, doesn't give up when he's first hit and continues to drive his legs.
Hopefully for the Cowboys, Murray will remain healthy for the rest of the season. If he does, I believe the Cowboys will make the playoffs.
LOSER: Cowboys Penalties
Dallas logged eight penalties on the day for 61 yards. On one drive in the second quarter, the Cowboys had three penalties alone. They faced a very long 3rd-and-30 and were forced to punt the ball.
At this point, the yellow flag situation in Dallas will not change. It is one of the most penalized teams in the league, hosting the league's most-penalized player in tackle Doug Free.
But the Cowboys can at least work to make the situation better. Moving forward and toward the last couple of games, the Cowboys cannot afford to have a yellow flag derail their season.
WINNER: Anthony Spencer, LB
This guy has been a beast all season for the Cowboys. He had a 1.5 sacks against the Steelers and came up with the game's best defensive play in regulation.
He sacked Roethlisberger late in the fourth quarter, forcing the Steelers to punt. That sack not only stopped the Steelers momentum, but also it helped to end their drive.
Spencer has logged 10 sacks this year, a career high. Some of them have been middle-of-the-game sacks, but some have been game-ending ones. He's done a great job this year and is well deserving of that long-term deal he so covets.
LOSER: Doug Free, T
Free was once again switched in and out with tackle Jermey Parnell throughout the game. It's obvious that Jason Garrett has lost faith and trust in his right tackle, and for good reason.
Free's technique has been criticized, his footwork broken apart and his contract even dissected. Not really sure if things will change for Free moving forward, but as he continues to play the right tackle shuffle, the Cowboys offensive line will suffer because of it.
They can't jell, and there can't be cohesiveness with so many moving parts.
WINNER: Miles Austin, WR
Bryant's finger was the talk of the broadcast on CBS, but that should have quickly shifted to receiver Miles Austin.
For the game, Austin caught seven balls for 79 yards. He etched closer to another 1,000-yard season and did a great job of picking up any slack with Bryant's "absence."
WINNER: Dez Bryant, WR
Bryant won in the eyes of many by just showing up. He has a broken left index finger and should have surgery to repair it. Instead, he chose to play through the pain, and he did just that.
Bryant caught four balls for 59 yards and one touchdown. That finger may have caused an early ball to slide through his hands, but it did nothing to derail his drive and attitude.
Even with Bryant's bum finger, Garrett still placed his trust in his ability to make plays. Before Murray scored from three yards out in the fourth quarter, Garrett called for two back shoulder fade routes on first and second down near the goal line.
Both plays fell incomplete, but it shows that his finger wasn’t an issue for Bryant or Garrett.
WINNER: Dan Bailey, K
Well, he did kick the game-winning field goal. He scored nine points on the day with field goals and extra points, but it was his 21-yard field goal in overtime that brought the victory.
For the year, Bailey is 27-of-29, hitting 92 percent of his attempts. I think the Cowboys have found a field-goal kicker.
WINNER: Cowboys Playoff Chances
All the Cowboys have to do is win out and they are good money. Beat the Saints next week and defeat the Redskins in the season's final game, and Dallas is in.
It's not likely they will catch the Seahawks or that Seattle will lose out—they put up 50 points on the Bills this week and 58 on the Cardinals last week—so winning the division is the Cowboys' easiest path to the playoffs.