It should have never been this close.
As the old saying goes, those who win the turnover battle win the game, so the Cowboys should be grateful they escaped with a 20-17 overtime victory in front of 91,159 fans, a crowd that seemed nearly split down the middle in their affiliation for the either Cowboys or Texans.
Three times Dallas turned the ball over on the day, including twice in the red zone that killed potential point-producing drives. Overall, the Cowboys held the edge on the stat sheet, putting up 456 total yards to 330 for Houston while also earning more first downs (24 to 15) and winning the time of possession (36:07 to 31:08).
But the team's early mistakes nearly cost them in the end as they allowed the Texans to hang around long enough to eventually force the game into the extra quarter.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have Dan Bailey in their back pocket. And although he missed a 53-yarder at the end of regulation, breaking a string of 30 straight made, the kicker split the uprights on the game-winner from 49 yards out.
Doing so for the fifth straight game was DeMarco Murray topping 100 yards, this time reaching 136, while Tony Romo provided balance with 324 yards passing with two touchdown tosses. Six different receivers caught at least two balls with Dez Bryant leading the way with two catches for 85 yards and a score.
Terrance Williams added another 71 yards on two grabs, one of which was a 43-yard touchdown.
For all the excitement at the end, the first quarter didn't amount to much as the only threats either side made were soon quashed by turnovers. On their second possession of the game, the Texans crossed midfield to the Dallas 40, but when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a stop route, only to have his intended target, running back Arian Foster, run a go, cornerback Orlando Scandrick took advantage with his first interception of the year.
With that gift, the Cowboys marched back the other way, and got as close as the Houston 12-yard line. Unfortunately, there is where Murray continued his troubling fumble trend, coughing up his fourth of the year to end what seemed like sure points.
Quarter No. 2 wasn't much better with the Cowboys' punt return unit continuing what would be a brutal half. After penalties on two previous returns, which gave the Cowboys starting field position at their own 10- and 7-yard lines, Dwayne Harris fumbled on his next return attempt, the ball recovered by Houston at the Dallas 43. And there was even a penalty called on the Cowboys on that play, although it was declined.
After the Texans could again do nothing on offense, Dallas finally got a bit of a drive going. Starting at his 20, Romo worked the team all the way down to the Houston 13-yard line. But after a false start penalty, the drive stalled, leaving Bailey to come in for a 33-yard field goal to send the Cowboys into halftime with a 3-0 advantage.
Things got more interesting after the break. On their first possession of the third quarter, with their passing attack doing nothing – Fitzpatrick had a 21.1 passer rating in the first half – the Texans took a page out of the Cowboys' playbook and turned to their Pro Bowl running back. Foster carried the ball five times for 59 yards, capping off the series with a 15-yard rumble into the end zone to put the visitors on top, 7-3.
The lead was short-lived, however. In the first two quarters, Dallas produced three drives of 11 plays, but only had those three points to show for it. This time around, they needed just four to finally reach the end zone.
It was vintage Romo. On second-and-15 at the Dallas 17, the quarterback stepped up and found a streaking Jason Witten running down the seam, hitting the tight end perfectly for a big 34-yard gain. Then two plays later, he spun out of what looked a sure sack by all-world defensive end J.J. Watt and then threw a 43-yard bomb to Terrance Williams in the end zone to go back up 10-7.
The score was a team-high fifth of the season in five games for Williams, equaling his total from all of last year.
Now with the Houston defense appearing to wear down, Dallas drove down to the Texans 20-yard line on its next possession before a Romo pass intended for Bryant was picked off by safety Kendrick Lewis, again ruining what should have been points on the board.
But after the Texans could do nothing with the ball, the beleaguered punt return until finally came through, Harris getting around the right corner and sprinting 38 yards to the Houston 30.
Set up nicely to start the series, three Murray runs moved them to the 2-yard line before Romo hit Bryant on the left side of the end zone for the score, the game now seemingly well in hand. 17-7.
Yeah, not so much.
The Texans came back and made it a one-possession game, knocking in a field goal from 29 yards out. But in picking up the three points, they did themselves no favors by eating up 7:17 of game clock, leaving only 2:27 remaining.
Still, it didn't matter. Much to the angst of the Cowboys faithful, the Cowboys couldn't move the chains themselves, and after the ensuing punt was returned 14 yards to the Dallas 45-yard line, Houston got the ball back with exactly two minutes left in the game.
That was more than enough time as a 20-yard pass to Andre Johnson and a 19-yarder to DeAndre Hopkins was followed two plays later by a 1-yard plunge from Foster, the score now tied 17-17.
Dallas had one last gasp in regulation. Taking possession with 36 seconds left, Romo moved his team to the Houston 35-yard line, but there Bailey, who hadn't missed a field goal all season, pulled his attempt wide left, the two teams heading to overtime.
After Houston failed to make any progress on its opening possession of the extra frame, Dallas was struggling to gain any ground as well. That's when Dez Bryant does what Dez Bryant does.
Romo basically threw the ball up for grabs while spinning to the ground to avoid an oncoming rusher. But 37 yards downfield, Bryant out-jumped the Texans defender to haul in a juggling catch at the Houston 31-yard line.
After two runs netted zero yards, head coach Jason Garrett then put his trust in his kicker, bringing out Bailey on third down for the 49-yard attempt. This time he was good, the ball splitting the uprights to give Dallas the [embedded_ad]
With the win, Dallas improved to 4-1 on the season to stay in a tie for first place in the NFC East. They'll now head to Seattle for a tough tilt against the Seahawks before coming back to Dallas for three consecutive home games.