This past Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys bested the Pittsburgh Steelers by three points in overtime. With the win, the team improved to 8-6, keeping pace with the Washington Redskins and New York Giants for the lead in the NFC East and a possible playoff berth.
In their game against the Steelers, the Cowboys jumped out to a quick 10-point lead early in the first quarter, but it was rapidly erased as the Steelers were able to tie it up at halftime.
Once the second half began, both teams traded scores and took a 24-point tie into overtime. The Steelers received the ball first, but the Cowboys doused any hopes of a victory after cornerback Brandon Carr picked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and returned it back to the Steelers goal line.
Once the Cowboys were back on offense, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett trotted kicker Dan Bailey out on the field for a 20-yard game-winning field goal to seal the victory.
Even with that win by the skin of their teeth, can the Cowboys honestly say that they are improving by the week or that luck is being a lady for them? Let's take a peek at their last two games, including Sunday's matchup with Pittsburgh, to see where the Cowboys could have gone wrong
Just as easily as Dallas improved to 8-6, they could easily stand with a record of 6-8.
Before delving into games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers, the Cowboys played a very crucial game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13. In the fourth quarter of that game, the Eagles took a three-point lead after Philly kicker Alex Henery booted a 43-yard field goal with about 10 minutes left in the final period.
The Cowboys responded with a seven-play, 86-yard drive, capped off with a six-yard touchdown from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant. With the touchdown, the Cowboys recaptured the lead and held a four-point lead until about four minutes left in the game.
That's when cornerback Morris Claiborne recovered an Eagles fumble and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. From that point on, the Cowboys broke the game open and never looked back.
But going back to that fumble recovery, was it luck or skill that led to the fumble, recovery and touchdown? This one, I say, was skill.
On the play, Eagles running back Bryce Brown was being tackled by Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent. During the play, Brent stuck his large arm and paw into Brown's arm to poke the ball loose.
Brent was aware enough to try to cause the turnover, giving Dallas another opportunity to end the game. This was the case of two guys being playmakers, Brent causing the fumble and Claiborne being aware enough to pick up the ball and return it for a touchdown.
Cowboys vs. Bengals
This one is a little tough because of what the Cowboys had to go through that Sunday. The Saturday prior, Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown passed away while riding in a car with Dallas nose tackle Josh Brent.
The Cowboys' grief is nothing compared to what Brown’s family is feeling, but having to play a football game less than eight hours after learning of the death of a teammate is nothing short of tough.
Dallas played with hearts full of grief and emotion, but they were able to honor their fallen teammate with a win.
But even with the emotion and sadness surrounding the game, the Cowboys were lucky that they emerged with a victory. Here are a few reasons why.
Bengals Receiver A.J. Green's Dropped Touchdown Pass
To start the third quarter, the Bengals received the ball on their own 23-yard line and drove all the way down to the Cowboys' 7-yard line in 11 plays.
Cincy was up by three points, 13-10, and had the opportunity to extend its lead to 10 points. On 3rd-and-7, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton operated from the shotgun, looking for his favorite target, A.J. Green.
As soon as the play is called, he finds Green on a slant toward the end zone. He fires the ball directly in Green's direction, but he drops the ball. If he would have caught it, Green would have walked into the end zone. The Bengals have to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
The score swing is just three points, giving the Bengals a lead of 16-10 instead of 20-10.
On the Bengals' next scoring drive, Green dropped another crucial pass. With just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Bengals started another drive at their own 48-yard line.
They were able to drive it down to the Cowboys' 34, where they faced another 3rd-and-7. Again, the Bengals decided to try for the sure hands of Green to convert a third down.
Again, Green dropped the ball, forcing the Bengals to try for a 52-yard field goal. With this drive, there was no guarantee of a touchdown as it was with Cincy's last drive when Green dropped the ball. Even with a first-down conversion, the Bengals may have had trouble scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal.
But if Green would have held on to the ball on their last drive, Cincinnati would have held a lead of at least 23-10 after Brown's field goal.
Bengals kicker Josh Brown's 52-yard field goal was Cincy's last points of the game. If the Cowboys would have held steady by scoring 10 fourth-quarter points and holding the Bengals to none, it wouldn't have been enough to win the game.
Cowboys vs. Steelers
One of the funniest, yet normal things to happen on a Sunday while looking at Twitter during a Cowboys game, is a tweet coming from a disgruntled Cowboys fan.
When the game was late in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found receiver Antonio Brown for an 11-yard gain to the Steelers' 31 for a first down. As soon as Brown caught the ball for the first down, a firing off of "game over" tweets were sent from Cowboys fans across the country.
This was a movie that was seen far too many times for Cowboys fans; plus, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, pushing the Steelers to their 46-yard line.
Good thing for the Cowboys is that they were able to end the Steelers' drive with two sacks, one coming from defensive lineman Sean Lissemore and the other form linebacker Anthony Spencer.
Antonio Brown's Fourth-Quarter Fumble
Call Brandon Carr or Anthony Spencer the defensive heroes of Sunday's game, but Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler may really be the savior. He's the one who caused Brown's fumble that led to the ball being recovered by tight end John Phillips in the fourth quarter.
As Brown is making his way up the field, Butler looks as if he's simply trying to slow Brown's momentum by trying to one-arm tackle him. Instead, he jars the ball loose, causing the game's biggest turnover in regulation.
The Cowboys were able to score a touchdown on that turnover drive with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
Neither team would score for the remainder of the game, sending it into overtime.
But with Brown's fumble, was that luck or skill? In this case, I would have to say it was luck. From the looks of the tape, Butler did not try to cause a turnover.
Brown fielded the punt around his own 15-yard line and returned it close to the 40 before the ball was poked loose.
For the sake of the argument, let's just say that Brown is tackled at the 40 and the Steelers start their drive there. There is no reason to believe that their drive wouldn't have resulted in a score.
Pittsburgh scored on their previous drive and would have had the chance to do the same if Brown would have held on to the ball.
This caused a serious swing in momentum and led to a touchdown by the Cowboys.
Steelers Fail To Use Heath Miller In Second Half
This one falls on the Steelers, but it was to the Cowboys' good fortune that it happened. After Sunday’s loss, Ben Roethlisberger insinuated that the Steelers' play-calling left a lot to be desired.
In the first half of Sunday’s game, Miller caught six balls for 85 yards and one touchdown. As most teams struggle to keep up with Jason Witten for the Cowboys, Dallas had no answer for Miller in the game’s first two quarters.
In his postgame comments, Roethlisberger let his feelings go about not having Miller around in the third and fourth quarter.
I don’t think we called the right plays to get him the ball… There were a couple of times where we called plays and just didn’t execute correctly.
As Bleacher Report’s Featured Columnist Andrea Hangst points out in her article about Roethlisberger’s gripe, Miller was used to pass protect in the second half due to the Cowboys constant pressure on Big Ben.
So is that luck or skill for the Cowboys? This one is all skill.
In the first half, Miller chewed up the Cowboys secondary in the middle and Roethlisberger was not touched.
Coming out of halftime with a few serious defensive adjustments, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan ratcheted up the pressure on Roethlisberger, forcing the Steelers to use Miller in pass protection.
So, yeah, the Cowboys sit at 8-6 because of luck, but a lot of skill is involved as well. For the last two games of the season, they will need a lot of both to stop the New Orleans Saints offense and the legs of Robert Griffin III.