MIAMI – Tony Romo expected some rust against the Miami Dolphins. He just hoped it would last only a couple plays, not a couple quarters.
In his first game back, the defense had his back.
Rod Marinelli's group allowed only 210 total yards, the third-fewest this season, and for the fourth time in five games, they yielded fewer than 20 points in Sunday's 24-14 win.
"I thought our defense was outstanding throughout the ballgame," head coach Jason Garrett said. "They (the Dolphins) challenge you in a lot of ways with that offense, just all the different things that they do, and I thought our guys buckled down and made some big stops throughout the game. I thought we were excellent on third down getting off the field. It was a total team effort."
Romo threw two interceptions in his first five drives as he tried to regain his offensive rhythm. Both times, the defense didn't allow points by Miami.
In fact, four plays after Romo threw the ball up for grabs and into the hands of Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes in the first quarter, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain read quarterback Ryan Tannehill's eyes, intercepted his pass and returned the ball 12 yards for the game's opening score.
"A big-time play, and we've talked about all year long the importance of taking the ball away," Garrett said. "We were really, really good at that last year and we haven't been as good at that this year. We've got to start getting good at it. We have some guys that can make those kinds of plays. Rolando's a very instinctive player."
McClain's interception was the defense's fifth pick in the last four games. They had only two in the first six games.
The most impressive stretch, though, was finishing time.
The Dolphins went scoreless on three drives in the fourth quarter. The defense stopped them twice, and then after Romo and the offense all but sealed things with a five-minute drive that didn't produce points but wound the clock down to just over a minute, Tannehill was sacked twice to end the game.
It was a major step forward for the Cowboys after losing three straight games that came down to the final drive.
"It's huge," linebacker Sean Lee said. "We've been playing hard, but we haven't been doing the things that winning teams do down the stretch, especially in the fourth quarter. You saw today we caused some turnovers, we played better in the fourth quarter and we were able to win."