Cowboys game changers: Explosive defense and an elite Tony Romo topple the Steelers

Cowboys game changers: Explosive defense and an elite Tony Romo topple the Steelers

DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware was credited with half a sack against one the NFL's hardest to bring down QBs, big Ben Roethlisberger. Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
Dan Bailey for the Dallas Cowboys
Dan Bailey had one of the best games of his career, including a game-winning chip shot in overtime to give the Cowboys a much needed victory. Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
Rob Ryan of the Dallas Cowboys
With more starters on the bench than the field, Dallas has patched its crumbling defense into a formidable squad. Perhaps Rob Ryan isn't all hot air after all. Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys
Dan Bailey for the Dallas Cowboys
Rob Ryan of the Dallas Cowboys

Remember when the Cowboys were 3-5? No, nor does anyone else within a 300 mile radius of Dallas. The formerly feckless Cowboys have found their late season mojo with a string of impressive, consistent performances, and the roller coaster season has finally seemed to plateau at the top of the hill, for once. 

It should come as little surprise that the Cowboys — who came into the game as the second-worst first half team in the league, its fifth-best second half team — are peaking down the stretch. Against the Steelers, however, the Cowboys had to patch together four solid quarters in a row just to make it to overtime. In what was easily the most important non-division game of the season, the Cowboys rode a string of big time plays into a respectable shot at the playoffs.  

Brandon Carr, Anthony Spencer, and the motley crew defense  
Fourteen games into the season, it's time to hand out the defensive MVPs. The name DeMarcus Ware isn't on anyone's lips. The top honors go to none other than the $50 million man, Brandon Carr, whose overtime interception against a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback showed equal parts smarts and skill.

 Brandon Carr's overtime interception against a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback showed equal parts smarts and skill.

It was Carr's second jumped route of the night and his third interception in the last six games. For a man who has had to struggle through the emotionally loaded deaths of two former teammates within the last month, Carr is playing his best football of the season with a dignified poise.

On the front seven, Anthony Spencer isn't doing his contract negotiations any harm by coming up with yet another fourth quarter, drive crushing sack. Sure, he had an interception fall into and out of his hands on the first drive of the game, but Spencer's last minute sack (on arguably the strongest, hardest to bring down quarterback in the league), saved the season just as much as Carr's pick.  

Late game heroics aside, the Cowboys brass has to be baffled with how good their rag-tag band of nobodies on defense is playing. There's no doubt Rob Ryan could write an epic poem about how much he believes in players such as Sterling Moore, Brian Schaefering, and Brady Poppinga, but everyone would know it's just another round of BS.

With more starters currently on the bench than on the field, the Cowboys have patched their crumbling defense into a respectable squad, going so far as to keeping the Steelers to only 72 yards rushing. Perhaps Rob Ryan isn't all hot air after all.

Tony Romo, paragon of consistency
Who would have ever believed those words would make it into a review of Tony Romo? Isn't this the guy who was racking up picks like celebrity girlfriends?

Whether it's a newfound confidence or the addition of an effective running game (it's the running game), Romo was as close to perfect as you can come against the Steelers. From mad dash scrambles (one of best of his career was dropped by Dez Bryant) to an uncanny accuracy, Romo won this game with his flawless performance.

 Is Tony Romo the hottest QB in the NFL right now? Absolutely.

Compare that with Roethlisberger throwing the ball into the dirt twice on easy screens, and there's no doubt why one team is now a playoff contender and the other is sitting at .500.

Consider this for consistency: During the past six games, Romo is averaging 312.5 yards, 2 TDs, .5 INTs, and 69 percent completions. That's better than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees in every category save for TDs (Brady and Bree have a .3 edge). Is Romo the hottest QB in the NFL right now? Absolutely. Are his days as an inconsistent ball chucker with half a dozen interceptions finally in his past? Not a chance in hell. This Tony Romo we're talking about, after all.

Credit where credit is due
It's rare for a man to fumble on the goal line and still inspire praise, but DeMarco Murray is not the average man. His second efforts are unbelievable, and opposing defenses need to know that you don't stop playing against Murray until you hear a whistle.

The offensive line on the other hand — a bastion of mediocrity and inability — had easily their best game of the season. The opened the run, kept the penalties to a non-embarrassing level, and kept Romo on his feet for longer than anytime in 2012.  

Dwayne Harris had his breakout game, and it was a thing of beauty to see his impressive punt return ability translated into two quick screens in space that he exploited for impressive, clutch gains.

 It's rare for a man to fumble on the goal line and still inspire praise, but DeMarco Murray is not the average man.

And while we're at it, you have to give Jason Garrett his due for maneuvering his team through a tenuous late game scenario to a win. Had the Steelers been able to do anything with their final, gifted drive, Garrett's red head would have been on a pole. So when he makes the safe decision and it pays off, Garrett should get the credit he deserves. It was basically his first good late-game management in, oh, his entire head coaching career.

Shame where shame is due 
Joe Decamilis, special teams coordinator, is getting mighty cute. Unexplained squib kicks are disturbing enough, but fake passes on kick returns?  Just play the game well and leave the frills to the desperate teams.

Had the game tipped the Steelers way, all blame would have been on safety Danny McCray, who was left pointing at Mike Wallace as he burned by him down the field, telling Gerald Sensabaugh, "You go get him." Of all the scrubs fighting to keep these defense alive, none is as likely to give up the big, game changing play as McCray.