Dallas Cowboys Have Finally Figured out How to Win

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 28, 2013

Nov 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) pumps his fist as he walks off the field against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Raiders 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a long time since a lack of talent was the problem in Dallas. The problem with the Cowboys these last few years has simply been their inability to win. 

I know, it's a big problem. 

But in each of the last two weeks, this banged-up Dallas team has indicated that it does, in fact, have some winning bones in its body. Twice in a five-day span, the 'Boys were tied 21-21 in the fourth quarter, and in both cases they found a way to get the W. 

While they've made plenty of fourth-quarter comebacks over the years, these victories felt different. 

For starters, the Cowboys very rarely win back-to-back games, period, let alone in such gritty fashion. 

But more precisely, it looked as though the sky was falling Sunday in New York, as well as against the Oakland Raiders Thursday at AT&T Stadium. 

In the first example, they blew a 15-point second-half lead before Tony Romo led the offense on an efficient, methodical drive to set up a walk-off field goal from Dan Bailey. Romo was nearly perfect on that drive as the 'Boys kicked their third-down bugaboo out the window. 

In Thursday's instance, they fell behind, 7-0, 12 seconds into the game despite the fact they received the opening kickoff. Critics and supporters alike were already bracing for a doom-and-gloom scenario, and it only got worse from there. The 'Boys fell behind, 21-7, late in the second quarter. 

Up until that point, Oakland had out-gained Dallas, 185-53. Beyond that point, Dallas out-gained Oakland, 300-120, scoring 24 unanswered points before the Raiders kicked a semi-garbage-time field goal in the final moments. 

The key was once again one final offensive series to set up a game-clinching Bailey field goal. The Cowboys killed nearly seven minutes' worth of clock while forcing Oakland to take two timeouts on that drive, with Romo completing all three of his passes. Ultimately, the league's all-time highest-rated fourth-quarter passer was a perfect 12-of-12 in the second half. 

Raiders vs. Cowboys
Before 2-min warning in first half185 yards, 21 points52 yards, 7 points
After 2-min warning in first half120 yards, 3 points300 yards, 24 points

All in all, that marked the third consecutive time in which Dallas won despite being tied in the fourth quarter. 

This team isn't just fighting through adversity, a slew of injuries and jersey-color-related curses, but it is at its best when the moment demands it.

Nov 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) throws in the pocket against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Raiders 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It's not just Romo, either. That much-maligned running game was actually the bread and butter on Thanksgiving Day, with DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar combining for 145 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. 

And the defense takes a lot of heat as well. Some of it is deserved, because it entered this week ranked dead last in terms of total yards allowed. But Jason Garrett's team wouldn't have fought back Thursday without a crucial fumble recovery in the first half, and it might not have hung on without a clutch end-zone interception from Brandon Carr in the fourth quarter. 

Monte Kiffin's D might not be sexy, but it has 25 takeaways this season, ranking second in the NFL. We hear time and again how important the turnover margin is, and this defense is a major reason why Dallas is now plus-12 in that metric, ranking second in the NFL. 

Most Defensive Takeaways (2013)
1. Seattle Seahawks2610-1
2. Dallas Cowboys257-5
3. Kansas City Chiefs249-2
Pro Football Reference

That's why this team has the winning formula for the first time in years. Romo is on top of his game in his prime, his receiving corps is deep, it's finally gaining balance and it's finally winning the turnover battle on a consistent basis. 

Some of those criteria existed in past years, but it all appears to be coming together right now. Romo was good in 2012, but Murray wasn't around much, the pass protection was worse and the defense forced only 16 turnovers all season. The year before, it wasn't consistent. In 2010, Romo missed 63 percent of the season. 

Tony Romo in the Second Half (Last Two Weeks)
Vs. Giants/Raiders77.1206.4112.1

It was in that 2011 season when Dallas lost four of its last five games to blow a firm November NFC East lead. Two of those losses were embarrassing choke-jobs against the Cardinals and Giants

Last year, on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys failed to show up against Washington, and that was eventually the difference between a playoff berth and elimination. Later that season, they squandered another crucial home game against a Saints team that had been left for dead.

This team has traditionally found ways to lose, but suddenly it's doing the opposite. And considering how close it may have been to triggering a complete overhaul, that development has probably come just in the nick of time.