ARLINGTON, Texas – Thirty-eight seconds left, 81 yards to go, no timeouts. A touchdown beats the NFL's last unbeaten team.
Garrett Gilbert couldn't have asked for much more in his first NFL start.
Except the final result, of course.
"That's what you live for as a football player," Gilbert said after the Cowboys' 24-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0) at AT&T Stadium. "Unfortunately those last two drives I just couldn't make enough plays for us to finish that one off."
Gilbert -- signed in mid-October after Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Giants -- became the fourth quarterback to start a game for the Cowboys this season. Backup
Andy Dalton went from concussion protocol last week to the Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week. After rookie Ben DiNucci struggled in last Sunday's loss to the Eagles, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy opted for a veteran presence against the Steelers.
Gilbert had only thrown six regular-season passes before Sunday but has been on seven NFL teams since 2014.
The experience showed. He calmly completed 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards and a second-quarter touchdown Sunday – the Cowboys' first in three games – that helped them jump out to an early 13-0 lead.
"I thought Garrett kept us in good plays," McCarthy said. "There was a lot that was going on at the line of scrimmage. He was prepared. You could see it during the course of the week he was getting more and more comfortable as he had the opportunity to exercise the game plan. I thought he definitely it from practice over to the game today."
Yet, as Gilbert said, the offense didn't have enough answers at the end.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did what he's done for 16 years: make fourth-quarter comebacks. After Pittsburgh took its first lead of the game (24-19) with 2:14 remaining, the Cowboys had two final cracks at a winning touchdown.
The first drive ended in a turnover on downs after Gilbert barely avoided one sack on third down and got sacked for a 17-yard loss on fourth-and-8.
The Cowboys' defense gave him the ball back with 38 seconds left, and two deep completions to CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup (32, 20 yards) helped set up one last try to the end zone from the Steelers' 23-yard line.
With four seconds left, Gilbert tried unsuccessfully to fit a pass to Lamb in between three defenders -- a tall task with the Steelers in a 'prevent' look.
"There was a chance for it. I moved up in the pocket a little bit and I just missed him too a little too far inside," he said. "I think he had a shot at maybe making a catch there. I've got to give him a better ball."
Gilbert also wished he had his lone interception of the day back -- a fluttering ball picked off by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in the end zone after the Steelers' pass rush hit Gilbert during the throw.
The Steelers scored six points off two Cowboys turnovers and won by five.
"Losing sucks," Gilbert said. "I felt like our guys played really hard today and played really well and we deserved a chance to win that game. And obviously we gave ourselves that chance, but it's just tough when all of us together put everything into that thing and then come up short."
The Cowboys (2-7) aren't into moral victories, for sure. But Gilbert did give the offense something to build on during the upcoming bye week.
"Garrett's definitely a warrior. That's how I look at him," Lamb said. "He kind of was thrown in there and just how he responded, he had a pretty decent game and I can't thank him enough for his contribution to this offense and to this team."