Cowboys In OT: 'You Can Learn How To Win'

IRVING - 'We did far too many things,' coach Jason Garrett said of Sunday's game against Houston, 'that don't allow you to win in this game.' Ah, but the Cowboys did win. So in a wonderfully twisted way, Garrett's words of caution are also words of praise.

On the right side of the Dallas Cowboys winning locker room at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon, there was music. That's where the defensive players congregate. On the left side of the locker room, there were mobs. That's where the media surrounded the locker stalls of Bryant, Bailey, DeMarco, Romo and Witten. In the middle of the locker room there were trays of sandwiches, certainly prepared lovingly for hungry Cowboys but left unwanted, sitting on the floor amid the cut-off ankle tape and the wet towels and the dirty underwear.

But everywhere in there -- left, middle and right -- there was a singular feeling.

"This,'' said veteran cornerback Brandon Carr, "is a game that we would've lost last year.''

Losing a close game in which your star running back and your star quarterback cough up turnovers, in which your young receiver drops a potential TD pass or two, in which your coach bungles end-of-regulation clock management, in which your sure-thing kicker pulls a field-goal try?

Yes. That is a game you lose last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and one more before that, too, which is how the Dallas Cowboys haven't been in the playoffs since 2009.

But enduring all that heartache -- not just the three seasons of 8-8 but all the heartache of Sunday, when aforementioned culprits DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo and Terrance Williams and Jason Garrett and Dan Bailey kept a game closer than it needed to be before finally winning 20-17 in OT?

Good teams winning games when they aren't so good is how ... well, it's how good teams are formed.

"We don't really live in that four-in-a-row thing," said Garrett, pretending he isn't extremely aware that his 4-1 Cowboys have won four consecutive games for just the second time in his tenure and for the first time since 2010 season. "We're focused on this day and what we need to do to prepare for the challenge and then get ready to play our best football for three hours.''

They will need three hours at a level superior to this one to compete next Sunday in Seattle with the defending Super Bowl champs, but that is a story for another day. This was only about finding a way to beat the Texans, just as Dallas has previously found ways to beat the Titans, Rams and Saints. In each of these games, there loomed a threat. In each of these games, Dallas overcame that threat.

"We're growing up,'' Carr says.

The defense has certainly grown from where it was a season ago, when it served as the 32nd-ranked laughing stock in the NFL.

"I (sensed in training camp) a group of guys who were hungry,'' said middle linebacker Rolando McClain, the reclamation project who was again terrific until sustained a groin re-injury that forced him from the game. “I was hungry, I’d been out of the league for a while, and they were hungry. So it all fit together.”

The offense has done the same, a Scott Linehan-driven run-first mindset freeing Tony Romo from his Houdini shackles and asking him to only occasionally make a marvelous play (like the spin-away from J.J. Watt resulting in a deep TD throw to Williams) and also allowing him to trust his weaponry (like on Dez Bryant's sensational leaping, juggling 37-yard catch to set up Bailey's redemptive 49-yard game-winner drive.) But again, all the supplements the foundation, the ground game featuring DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 136 yards on 31 carries -- his fifth straight 100-yard game to start the season in O.J./Jim Brown style.

"We've got the right kinds of guys on our team,'' Garrett said. "Guys who compete. When things don't go well, they have the right kind of demeanor -- they're going to play the next play."

They are doing so with a certain amount of scar tissue from so many recent disappointments, with a second level of younger leadership that brings a fresh collection of 'tude, and with what Garrett says is a roster loaded with "guys with chips on their shoulders.''
"We have a lot of guys with chips on their shoulders and attitudes about how they've been treated,'' he said, "and we're all playing and practicing with the same urgency and accountability to one another."

Some will argue that Dallas' opponents have a combined record of just 7-12 but that misses the point on numerous levels. One of the reasons a team like the Saints has a disappointing record is because the Cowboys handed them disappointment. Besides, the argument that "They haven't played anybody'' is tough to apply in an NFL in which there aren't too many "anybodies.'' And the biggest issue of all: For the better part of this decade, Dallas -- doing things that as Garrett said "don't allow you to win'' -- is left bemoaning having lost to plenty of teams with disappointing records on the way to having a disappointing record itself.

"You can learn how to win,'' said Garrett, standing not far from the music and the mob and the forgotten sandwiches. "And that's what we're doing.''

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