Labriola on loss to Dallas

ARLINGTON, Texas – There was a symmetry to these teams meeting at this stage of their respective seasons, because  the game had a chance to define them, just as so many of their previous meetings over the past 50-plus years have done.

Pittsburgh vs. Dallas was the gem of the NFL's 15th regular season weekend, partly because 7-6 teams are fighting for their playoff lives come mid-December, which described both the Steelers and Cowboys at kickoff, but also because of their shared history.

The first NFL game in the history of the Cowboys was a loss to the Steelers, and the franchise's first-ever regular season victory was over the Steelers. In between those franchise firsts and last Sunday, these teams played for a Lombardi Trophy three times, and there have been a number of other occasions when the outcome of Steelers-Cowboys told a story about one, or both, of those teams.

As recently as 2008, for example, the Steelers showed themselves to be special with a come-from-behind victory over the Cowboys that included a late interception return for a touchdown, and they finished that season with the sixth championship in their history.

The 27-24 overtime final fit with the symmetry theme in that the Cowboys clinched it with an interception, just as was done unto them in the previous meeting, and the loss also was a reflection of many of the things that have ailed these Steelers throughout the season.

Still, for these Steelers it will come down to this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Because of the manner in which the NFL utilizes its tiebreakers to determine the playoff qualifiers, what happened in Dallas is more of an indicator than a determiner.

When looking at a scenario where it's Steelers vs. Bengals for all the marbles, and that's what it really is because for the winner it's a short, direct path into the playoffs, and for the loser it's a near-certain spot on the couch, the natural inclination is to give the edge to the Steelers. But that comes from the lessons history taught us, and there is no historian on this planet who can keep Geno Atkins out of the backfield, to say nothing of helping to cover A.J. Green.

As improbable as it might seem, the Steelers still have a chance to win the AFC North, but in the wake of four losses in their previous five games that chance seems to be nothing more than mathematical.

Winning at this point in a regular season requires a consistency of performance the Steelers haven't been able to muster, and expecting such consistency to appear out of the rubble of this overtime loss to the Cowboys that came after a stinker of a showing against San Diego seems to be delusional.

It's a shame, really, because the Steelers are talented and the AFC is wide open, but they are running out of opportunities because they have squandered too many already.

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