With heavy hearts, the Cowboys took the field knowing football was only a diversion to the tragic events that occurred only a day earlier. The task at hand was both monumental and trivial. A loss was expected by virtually everyone.
But with perhaps something more to play for, the emotion-filled Cowboys pulled off a last-second, come-from-behind victory in Cincinnati, defeating the Bengals, 20-19.
Even from a purely football standpoint, this was going to be a tough game regardless. On the road against a surging Cincinnati squad, injuries having decimated the defense with no less than six key members of the defense sidelined.
Instead, Rob Ryan's unit came up big when they needed to. They allowed only one touchdown on the day and when the team absolutely needed to stop its opposition, the defense forced the Bengals to punt on their final two possessions.
All in all, Cincinnati held the upper hand as far as total yards, posting 336 to the Cowboys' 288. But Dallas had only one meaningless interception, kept the penalties manageable and narrowly took the time of possession, 30:11 to 29:49.
The Dallas defense held Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to 206 yards off 20-of-33 passing with only one touchdown and one key interception. Four different players collected at least 40 yards receiving, but only one went for more than 20 yards.
With the middle of their defense decimated, the Cowboys struggled against the run, as Cincinnati rushed for 146 yards, BenJarvus Green-Ellis doing most of the damage with 89 yards on 12 carries.
Conversely, Dallas again wasn't able to do much in the running game with DeMarco Murray topping the club with just 53 yard on 21 tries, although he came up big late in the game with two huge first-down gains, and he scored the team's first touchdown.
Continuing his stellar play, Tony Romo threw for 268 yards on 25-of-43 plays, tossing one touchdown. Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin each had four catches while nine players overall hauled in a pass. Witten finished first with 62 total receiving yards while Bryant scored the lone touchdown grab.
The Cowboys opening drive was a thing of beauty, as Romo worked his team down the field while eating up 6:24 of clock. He mixed it up, throwing passes to fullback Lawrence Vickers out of the backfield for 11 yards, as well as a 21-yard shot to Dwayne Harris on the left side. Murray also rushed four times for 10 yards.
Unfortunately, the drive came up just short as on third-and-1 on the Cincinnati 19-yard line, a Romo pass to tight end James Hanna fell incomplete. Bailey came on for the chip-shot field goal, giving Dallas an early 3-0 lead.
It didn't last long. The Bengals came right back with an impressive drive that went 70 yards in just five plays, with 56 of those coming on just two rushing attempts. Green-Ellis went for 19 yards off right guard, which was followed by receiver Marvin Jones going around the left end or a big 37-yard gain. The drive was eventually capped with a shuffle pass from Dalton to Andrew Hawkins from 6 yards out, the home team's lead, 7-3.
That advantage grew to 10-3 on the Bengals' next possession. After Brian Moorman shanked a punt for only 23 yards, Dalton moved Cincy into field goal range, a pass to Jones going for 17 yards with another to Green picking up 16. That left a relatively easy 25-yard field goal for kicker Josh Brown and the three points.
As the game clicked over into the second quarter, Dallas caught a much-needed break. On the Bengals' next possession, Dalton rolled to his right and tried to thread a pass to Green, but cornerback Brandon Carr closed quickly and stepped in front of the throw for the interception. His 37-yard return set the Cowboys up with great field position at the Cincinnati 27.
Dallas then needed only four plays to reach paydirt. Romo hit Witten on a pretty pass down the middle for 25 yards to the 2-yard line, which was followed by a lob to Austin in the right corner of the end zone that the receiver caught, but bobbled before getting both feet down.
Not that it mattered. Two snaps later, Murray dove over the top for the score, the Cowboys tying the game, 10-10, with just over 10 minutes remaining in the quarter.
Cincinnati took the lead back, though, before the end of the half. Starting at their own 19-yard line, the Bengals went on a lengthy 12-play drive that ate up 7:09 off the clock. The big blow came on third-and-7 at the Dallas 47-yard line when Dalton found the tight end Jermaine Gresham for 25 yards and a first down at the 22.
There the Dallas defense was able to make a stand, but the Bengals put three more points on the board with a 33-yard field goal for the 13-10 lead at the half.
That lead was added to in the third quarter when the Bengals kicked two more field goals. The first came on their opening possession of the third quarter, when the team again put together a 12-play drive. That was wrapped up with a 25-yard field goal.
Then after another horrible punt by Moorman, this one going for 27 yards, the Bengals only managed to move from their own 48 to the Cowboys' 34-yard line before a 52-yarder was boomed by Brown, the score 19-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
Dallas found some momentum late, however. After the defense came up with a big stop, Romo and Co. took over on their own 32-yard line, and steadily, he worked them down the field. On an first-and-20 following a penalty, the quarterback found Kevin Ogletree for a big 23-yard gain, then later found Austin on third-and-10 for a 15-yard pickup to the Cincy 27.
That was immediately followed by Romo stepping up and completing a pass to Bryant over the middle, the receiver racing into the end zone to cut the lead to 19-17 with 6:35 remaining in the game.
Carrying that over to the other side of the ball, the Dallas D continued to play above and beyond, as they forced another punt, linebacker Anthony Spencer breaking through up the middle on third-and-4 for a sack that pushed the Bengals back 10 yards.
With the Cowboys taking over on their own 28-yard line with 3:44 left, the team had a chance. Murray ran for five yards with a Romo-to-Witten connection picking up 9. Another 9 were added with a pass to Bryant with Murray carrying on the next three plays for a combined 11 yards, Dallas at the Cincinnati 40-yard line at the 2-minute warning.
Coming out of the break, Dallas faced a third-and-1, but Murray picked up 3 yards to move the chains. Three plays later, it was third-and-5 with this time Murray going around the right end for six yards and the first down at the Bengals' 24-yard line with only 24 seconds left.
Romo snapped the ball one more time, Murray picking up 2 yards, the team then calling timeout with only 4 seconds to set up Baily for a 40-yard field goal. He split the uprights as time expired, Dallas taking the emotional 20-19 victory.
With the win, the Cowboys improved to 7-6 on the year, keeping pace with the winning Redskins and waiting on the Giants' outcome, but knowing they're still definitely in the hunt for the NFC East crown with three games to play.