HOUSTON – The lasting image of Sunday's in-state feud at NRG Stadium will be DeAndre Hopkins spinning past Cowboys defenders like a Texas twister, his 49-yard catch and run putting the Texans in position for the deciding field goal in overtime.
The reality of Sunday's 19-16 loss to the Texans was clear, though: The game would've never sniffed overtime without goal-line heroics from the Cowboys' defense.
The Cowboys allowed only nine points on four of five Texans trips inside the 3-yard line, including linebacker Jaylon Smith's fourth-down sack of quarterback Deshaun Watson that stopped Houston's drive at the 2 and kept the Dallas' deficit at only four points entering halftime.
"The defense kept us in it all game long," quarterback Dak Prescott said.
It was textbook 'bend-don't-break' defense. Houston, led by Watson's dynamic plays in and out of the pocket, racked up 251 yards in the first half alone and 462 for the game.
Watson completed 33 of 44 passes for 375 yards and one touchdown and rushed 10 times for 40 yards. He sacrificed his body for extra yards on several occasions and paid the price.
"He's very athletic, he's shifty, he can move. But he took some licks today," said Smith, who posted 12 tackles and three for loss.
Watson's 49-yard completion to Hopkins with 3:47 left in overtime proved to be the difference. Ka'imi Fairbairn ended the game with 36-yard field goal six plays later.
But when a defense allows 16 points in regulation like Dallas did, that's typically enough to win games in the NFL.
The offense has sputtered away from AT&T Stadium, scoring 37 points in three road games to date. Its lone touchdown Sunday came off a drive that started at the Texans' 16, courtesy of a fumble recovery by cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
Meanwhile, the defense has allowed an average of 19.2 points through five games.
"We want to be relentless," Smith said. "It's a fight for every inch."
One gripe has been the group's lack of takeaways. Through four games, Dallas was the only team that hadn't recorded an interception.
The defense got two Sunday: Lewis' fumble recovery (forced by cornerback Anthony Brown) and safety Xavier Woods' interception near midfield with 10 seconds left in regulation. Prescott's ensuing Hail Mary was knocked down in the end zone.
What else could the defense have done? Another takeaway, for starters, according to defensive captain Tyrone Crawford.
"If we got one more, we change the game," he said.
Added Smith: "We're a team. If it's a night where they (the offense) are not scoring, then we need to score on defense. We need to cause more turnovers. We need to put them in better position to score points. It's a collective effort."
Collectively, not quite enough on the road yet again.