IRVING, Texas – It's an opinion so common that it borders on cliché, but it's probably true – Sunday's overtime win against Houston was a game past Cowboys teams would have let slip away.
The familiar symptoms of a late-game loss were there – red zone turnovers, shoddy defense, poor ball control, even a missed field goal as time expired. Much like the Week 3 comeback in St. Louis, it took some heroics to turn the tide and come out with a win.
Just another week in the NFL.
"I think that's the sign of a competitor, an individual competitor, a team that competes the right way," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "The NFL is hard, the Houston Texans are a good football team. They've got a lot of good football players, so every time you break the huddle it's going to be a challenge for you and you ain't going to win them all."
In finding a way to pull out a win, the Cowboys achieved a four-game winning streak for just the second time in Garrett's tenure as head coach. Their 4-1 record through five games is also their best start since 2008.
"It's a huge deal to me. I haven't been 4-1 since I've been here," said Barry Church. "We've just got to keep building on it and capitalizing on our opportunities."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Cowboys' season is the way they've been able to build the record so far. After being drubbed by San Francisco to open the season, they've managed four wins in four different manners. They dominated defensively against Tennessee, they roared back from a huge deficit in St. Louis, they fired on all cylinders in a primetime beating of the Saints and they overcame self-inflicted wounds to beat the Texans.
"Again the games are different every week. You're going to have to compete different ways," Garrett said. "Rarely are you going to have an opportunity to just roll over a team. There's going to be adversity within games you have to deal with individually or as a group. At the end of the day, do the necessary things to win."
The Cowboys did that Sunday – twice, in fact. Having given up the tying score with 41 seconds remaining, Tony Romo drove Dallas into manageable field goal distance. After Dan Bailey missed and the defense forced a stop, he did it again, this time for the win.
"Our guys did a really good job of responding after they scored that touchdown by giving ourselves a chance at the end of regulation, making a stop on defense, and then going to make the plays necessary in overtime," Garrett said.
Asked Sunday if he thought the Cowboys would have lost in prior seasons, Romo was honest in his assessment.
"Yeah, probably," he said. "For us, more than anything, we have a calming sense. It was great to go down and win the game basically twice. You can put your hat on, you go out there and execute."
The result is a four-game winning streak, though that's not the type of thing Garrett is ever likely to harp on. In keeping with the team's new schedule, the players were off Monday, but the coaches have already broken down the Houston tape. Beginning Tuesday, the goal is to work with the team to correct the mistakes – of which there were plenty.
"We have a long way to go in every area of our team, and that's the big thing we emphasize," Garrett said. "As coaches, you have to take the result out of it and go back and watch the tape unemotionally and find out how we can get better."
How much the Cowboys can improve will determine how much they can continue to build on the hot start. Garrett emphasized that teams can only manage to contend if they're consistently improving through the season.
The manner in which they've started has to be encouraging, however – especially compared to recent history.
"I do think you have to have confidence and you have to have a spirit and you have to have a demeanor about you to be able to do that and handle that adversity as well as we did," Garrett said.