PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

November 25, 2011

Romo guides Cowboys in nail-biter, 20-19


Associated Press

ARLINGTON — Win big, win small; win pretty, win ugly. Tony Romo learned a long time ago that victories are the only thing that matter in the NFL.

So on a day when he was sloppier than he’d been in months, and when his defense was giving up plenty of long drives but only one touchdown, Romo had one chance to make it pay off — and he did. He and DeMarco Murray led an efficient final drive, setting up rookie Dan Bailey for a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Dallas Cowboys a 20-19 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.

Dallas (7-4) won its fourth straight, and fourth this season decided by a kick by Bailey in the final two minutes or in overtime.

Heck, it was the second time in five days that he ended a game with a winning field goal.

“We’re just finding ways to win,” said Romo, who offset a pair of interceptions with a pair of touchdown passes.

That plucky formula will send the Cowboys into December leading the NFC East. They’re a half-game ahead of the New York Giants, pending their game at New Orleans on Monday night. If New York wins, the clubs would be tied; a Saints win would keep Dallas on top alone.

“There is no favorite,” Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman said. “I’ll tell you what happens at the end of the season. We just have to keep on plugging and get some wins.”

The Dolphins (3-8) had four drives that got within 10 yards of the end zone, yet settled for field goals every time. Their only touchdown came on a 35-yard pass from Matt Moore to Brandon Marshall.

However, Miami still nearly pulled it out. In the second half, the Dolphins scored on all but their final drive, and that was all it took to end a three-game winning streak.

“When you come into somebody else’s place, those (deep drives) have got to be touchdowns,” Miami coach Tony Sparano said. “They’ve been touchdowns the last few weeks and that’s why you win.”

Eighteen years after these teams played another Thanksgiving game decided on a last-second field goal — one best remembered for Leon Lett’s gaffe on snow and ice — conditions were so balmy that the glass end-zone doors at Cowboys Stadium were opened for the first time all season.

Maybe that’s what caused both teams to play so sloppy for so long. TV viewers, especially anyone fresh off a huge holiday meal, might’ve dozed off watching the first half.

But things got plenty interesting after halftime. Moore led Miami on three straight scoring drives of at least 70 yards, the last putting the Dolphins up 19-17 with 7:14 left.

Dallas punted on its ensuing drive, then Moore was finally stopped, too. Miami punted and Dez Bryant made a rare appearance as a returner, taking it 20 yards.

Romo took over at the Cowboys 36-yard line with 2:59 left. Jason Witten went into the huddle and told teammates, “‘We need this W, whatever it takes. No penalties. We’ve got to get it there,”’ left guard Montrae Holland said.

Witten caught consecutive passes to put Dallas at the outer edge of Bailey’s range. Then it was up to Murray to drive the ball closer.

With blood streaked across the white numbers on his blue jersey, Murray churned out 27 yards on the next five carries. His constant gains — between 3 and 9 yards, including one where he went down rather than stretch for more and risk going out of bounds — took the clock from 2:41 to :17. After a kneel-down to waste more time and center the ball between the hash marks, Bailey split the uprights.

“That’s what they are paying me to do, I guess — to go out there and make kicks,” said Bailey, who has made 26 in a row, one shy of the club record.

Romo ended a streak of 128 straight passes without an interception, but he completed 22 of 34 for 226 yards. Many of those came while scrambling and some while also being hit or grabbed. He was patient waiting for a 5-yard touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson to develop, and the pair were in sync on an 18-yarder made with Romo moving to his left.

“He just kind of kept hanging in there,” Garrett said. “I thought he moved in the pocket really well. In critical situations, he ... allowed us to make plays.”

Murray ran 22 times for 87 yards, and caught four passes for 41 yards. Robinson caught seven passes for 79 yards. Witten had four catches for 43 yards and Bryant caught three balls for 35 yards.

Moore was 19 of 32 for 288 yards and a touchdown. He took four sacks and had trouble handling several snaps; one went through his hands and was recovered by Dallas only 5 yards from the end zone. That set up the first Romo-to-Robinson touchdown, with 55 seconds left in the half, ending Miami’s streak of 13 quarters without allowing a touchdown.

Reggie Bush ran 16 times for 61 yards and had 35 more on three receptions. Marshall had 103 yards on five catches, including the TD pass hauled in while Newman had him in a headlock for about 5 yards.

“We felt like we played a good game all day, but we didn’t make enough plays and they did,” Miami safety Yeremiah Bell said. “That’s the price you pay, so if we would have made more plays, we would have won the game.”

NOTES: The Cowboys improved to 28-15-1 on Thanksgiving. Romo is 5-0 on the holiday; he missed last year’s game — which Dallas lost — with a broken collarbone. ... The Dolphins are 3-4 on Thanksgiving. ... Miami’s Shayne Graham, who was among Bailey’s competition for the Dallas job in the preseason, made FGs of 23, 26, 27 and 28 yards.