COWBOYS 27, STEELERS 24, OTSteelers' record:7-7 **One year ago:10-4 Series record (including playoffs): Cowboys lead, 16-15
STORYLINEThree of their previous meetings had determined a Super Bowl champion, but this 31st game between these teams was more about which of them was going to get themselves into the postseason to compete to be this year's version. Tiebreakers kept this from being do-or-die for the Steelers, but in the wake of the loss to San Diego, quality of performance was an issue. They had to start playing better.
Mike Tomlin always talks about finishing the first half on a positive note, and Ben Roethlisberger gave him what he wanted. After converting a third-and-4 with a pass to Heath Miller, Roethlisberger passed for 18 yards to Antonio Brown and then 30 more to Miller for the touchdown that tied the game, 10-10. From that point, it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
The Cowboys announced that there were 95,595 tickets distributed to the game against the Steelers.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT II
The touchdown pass to Heath Miller was his eighth of the season, which set a new single-season career-high for him.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Steelers dodged a couple of bullets early, first when Anthony Spencer dropped a potential interception on a ball deflected into the air by CB Brandon Carr on an attempt at a quick slant to Antonio Brown, and then on the next play when a replay review changed the call from a fumble by Emmanuel Sanders to an incomplete pass over the middle.
Situational football. It was third-and-8 at the Steelers 32-yard line, and the play turned into the difference between continuing to drive for a touchdown and having to settle for a field goal attempt. Under pressure from Larry Foote, Tony Romo tried to get the ball downfield to Dez Bryant, but Keenan Lewis was right there to break up the play.
Another situational win for the Steelers defense on the second Dallas series. On second-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 7-yard line, James Harrison punched the ball out of DeMarco Murray's hand and Brett Keisel recovered at the 8-yard line. Dallas had seven first downs and 128 net yards of offense in the first quarter but only a 3-0 lead.
Vintage Ben being Ben. On the first half possession that tied the game 10-10, Ben Roethlisberger made two plays that went a long way toward erasing an otherwise lackluster first half. On the first of the two critical plays, he avoided LB Alex Bright, who came free on a blitz, to complete an 18-yard pass to Antonio Brown that put the ball at the Dallas 30-yard line. Then two plays later, Roethlisberger avoided DT Jason Hatcher and then NT Sean Lissemore during a sequence in which he also re-loaded three different times before getting the ball to Heath Miller down the right sideline for a 30-yard catch-and-run.
The defense recorded its first three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half. Lawrence Timmons made the decisive play by stopping DeMarco Murray for no gain on third-and-1.
Answering a touchdown with a touchdown is the hallmark of a good offense. And the Steelers did it quickly, too. It took just three plays for the Steelers to tie the game, 17-17, and one of the plays was a sack by DT Marcus Spears for a 2-yard loss. Ben Roethlisberger erased that with a 60-yard completion to Mike Wallace to the Dallas 2-yard line. After a 12-men-on-the-field penalty moved the ball forward 1 yard, Jonathan Dwyer busted across the goal line for the touchdown.
Short-yardage was a problem for the Dallas offense in the second half. On a third-and-short near midfield late in the third quarter, the Cowboys went to their big-boy personnel group, but Tony Romo faked the handoff to DeMarco Murray and tried to get out around the left side, but James Harrison was there to wrap up Romo for a loss and force a punt.
WHAT WENT WRONG
An already thin cornerback position got even thinner, and quickly, when DeMarcus Van Dyke injured his right shoulder covering the Steelers' first punt of the game. He did make a nice play, though, on returner Dwayne Harris, and the Cowboys began their first offensive possession at their own 12-yard line.
The Steelers defense spent most of the game's first 19 minutes on the field, and the Cowboys converted their third possession into the touchdown that gave them a 10-0 lead. The touchdown came off play-action that brought FS Ryan Clark toward the line of scrimmage and allowed TE Jason Witten to get behind ILB Lawrence Timmons into an open area for Tony Romo to make an easy throw for the 17-yard touchdown.
Too easy. With Tony Romo seemingly locked in to any receiver being covered by CB Josh Victorian, the Cowboys drove 80 yards in nine plays for the go-ahead touchdown, which came on a pass to Dez Bryant, the sixth straight game in which he caught at least one touchdown pass. Romo was 7-for-7 on the drive that gave the Cowboys a 17-10 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Just when the Steelers seemed to be taking control of the game, a turnover gave the Cowboys new life with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Holding a 24-17 lead, the Steelers defense got off the field, and Antonio Brown was returning Brian Moorman's punt out to midfield when disaster struck. LB Victor Butler stripped the ball and TE John Phillips recovered for the Cowboys.
Ben Roethlisberger made a lot of plays for the Steelers, and they don't even get to overtime without his contributions, but the interception by Brandon Carr was a killer.
The seventh combo a charm?
The seventh different offensive line combination the Steelers used this season was on display in Dallas, and it had two rookies on the right side, which sort of was the plan all along.
David DeCastro and Mike Adams – the team's first two picks of the 2012 draft – both now have started NFL games as rookies, but never together. In Dallas, DeCastro made his professional debut at right guard, but it was seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum making a third straight start at right tackle while Adams rehabbed an ankle injury. Before the injury, Adams had started six games at right tackle.
The rest of the configuration in Dallas included LT Max Starks, LG Ramon Foster and C Maurkice Pouncey.
It was the first substantial playing time DeCastro has seen this season, after suffering a knee injury during the preseason.
"That is what I have been working the past couple of months for," said DeCastro. "I have been injured, doing rehab, and you set a goal like this to get back out there and play."
DeCastro wore a brace on his knee, but said he felt confident in it.
"It's one of those things where I was getting comfortable every week," said DeCastro. "Every week has gotten a lot better, which is positive. It's gotten better every week so it should keep going upwards."