IRVING, Texas – Asked if his confidence in Dan Bailey had waivered, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gave a long, quizzical look – an incredulous look, in fact.
"Have you watched our football team for the last few years? The guy's pretty damn good," Garrett said.
The Cowboys showed no hesitancy to let Bailey prove just that in overtime on Sunday afternoon. Facing third down from the Houston 31 – a kicking distance of 49 yards – Garrett called Bailey onto the field a play early to give the Cowoys a 20-17 win.
"This guy's as locked in and focused an individual as I've ever been around, and he's just unbelievable at what he does," Garrett said. "Obviously we didn't waver at all."
The circumstances that put Bailey in position for the game-winner were straight out of a movie script. The fourth-year kicker was riding a franchise record streak of 30-straight makes when the Cowboys called him out at the end of regulation.
From a distance of 53 yards, he whiffed wide left, giving the Texans a chance to win a game they had trailed, 17-7, with 10 minutes remaining.
"Today, what was really positive was that it wasn't perfect by any means," Garrett said. "There were some things that we didn't do as well as we needed to do as a football team, but guys kept fighting, guys kept battling."
In battling back from the setback, the Cowboys gave Bailey his shot at redemption. After the Dallas defense, which limited the Texans to 330 total yards, forced a stop in overtime, it took the Cowboys a miracle play to even put Bailey in position.
Facing a third-and-8 from his own 32, Tony Romo tossed up a prayer to Dez Bryant, who hauled in the 37-yard reception despite blanket coverage.
"You know it was a make-or-break, and I knew it as well," Bryant said. "We had to have each other's back and that's exactly what we did."
It all combined to provide a nail-biter ending to a game the Cowboys seemed to have in the bag. When Romo connected with Dez for a two-yard touchdown on one of the pair's patented fade routes, the Cowboys were up 17-7 with 9:50 to play. The deficit itself wasn't unbelievable, but the Dallas defense had stymied the Houston offense to that point – Ryan Fitzpatrick finished the day with just 154 passing yards, and the Texans were just four-of-13 on third down.
"The one thing I do like about this team, though, is that they never give up. They fight until the bitter end," said Texans coach Bill O'Brien.
They certainly did, riding a 157-yard rushing effort from Arian Foster – who rushed for 87 of those yards and two touchdowns after halftime. The Texans scored the final 10 points of regulation, making the Cowboys regret not one, but two red zone turnovers earlier in the game – another DeMarco Murray fumble and a Romo interception.
"It shows you what can happen if you're not right, if you're not on the screws every snap, you're going to get hurt in this league," Garrett said.
That the Cowboys were in control with just 17 points is a testament to the physical nature of the game. Bailey's first field goal of the day sent Dallas to halftime with a 3-0 lead, as the teams' two defenses traded blows for a large portion of the afternoon.
"That was an outstanding unit that we went up against today – probably the best I have seen this year," Romo said. "We were going to expose them a little bit down the field, but we just did not have time during the game to get to that. The one that we did, I had to make someone miss to have the ability to get them in that one-on-one situation."
Romo's description doesn't do justice to what was probably the play of the game, if not for Bryant's overtime grab. Trailing 7-3 in the third quarter, Romo spun to dodge a certain sack from Houston All-Pro J.J. Watt. Having secured himself time, he delivered a 43-yard touchdown strike to Terrance Williams.
what I could see, maybe it ranks up there with some of the great ones he's made," Garrett said. "They've got some great defensive linemen, and it looked like he just kind of shirked him off."
The score gave the Cowboys a lead they didn't relinquish – they only trailed for 2:41 in the entire game. Though that stat is a bit disingenuous, given the way it played out.
"That was a tough, hard fought game," Romo said. "This is how it goes in the NFL."