Cowboys shouldn’t apologize for close win

ARLINGTON, Texas — If you expected the Cowboys to devour a one-win team headed toward another coaching change, it’s time to change your expectations. Nothing comes easy for this team, and that’s why they don’t need to apologize for celebrating a 27-23 come-from-behind victory over the hapless Vikings.

Even after a torrid start to the second half that saw the Cowboys score 14 points in the span of 10 seconds, they couldn’t separate from Minnesota. The pride of Palestine, Texas, Adrian Peterson, bludgeoned the Cowboys defense for 140 yards on 25 carries, including a remarkable 11-yard touchdown run that saw him carry safety Jeff Heath into the end zone on his back. At that point, the Cowboys were staring at what would’ve been a crushing loss.

Tony Romo responded to that touchdown with one of his patented late-game interceptions along the sideline. This time it was the immortal A.J. Jefferson that stepped in front of Terrance Williams to make the grab at the Cowboys’ 41-yard line. But the clueless nature of the Vikings immediately came to the forefront. Instead of feeding the ball to Peterson on first down, quarterback Christian Ponder launched a deep ball in the general neighborhood of Greg Jennings. The Vikings moved the ball a combined five yards on the next two plays and had to punt with 2:51 left in the game.

Given new life, Romo led the Cowboys on a nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. If it didn’t save the Cowboys’ season, it at least saved the sanity of their fans. The Cowboys have found ways to lose close games in every conceivable manner, so it has to give them confidence to pull one out late. To have dropped to 4-5 before taking a trip to New Orleans would’ve let the other three NFC East teams back in the race. Both Washington and Philadelphia won Sunday to improve to 3-5 apiece. The Cowboys now have a little margin for error heading into what will surely become Rob Ryan week at Valley Ranch.

“We’ve got a lot of mentally tough guys,” said Jason Garrett following Sunday’s win. “We’ve got strong-minded guys on our football team. That’s the kind of team we’re trying to build, and that’s the kind of team you need to be successful in this league. I thought we showed that today.”

All you had to do was look at some of the scores around the league to realize there’s no dominant team in the NFC. The Saints lost to the Jets, and the Seahawks had to rally to force overtime in a win against the winless Buccaneers. And the team in the AFC with the league’s best record, the Chiefs, only beat the Cowboys 17-16 in Kansas City. I think nine wins will certainly win the NFC East, and don’t rule out an 8-8 team taking the division crown. Is there any team in the league more qualified than the Cowboys to finish the season .500?

Romo showed some fortitude in leading the Cowboys to Sunday’s win. He shook off some uncharacteristic drops from Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. The Cowboys had some minor success in the running game early, but they abandoned it as usual. Starting tailback DeMarco Murray finished with 21 fewer carries than Peterson.

On the Cowboys’ game-winning drive, Romo spread seven completions between four receivers. On second-and-10 from his 45-yard line, he found Bryant on a short pass across the middle that went for 34 yards. That helped set the stage for a 7-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left. We’ve seen Garrett go conservative late in games before and play for game-tying field goals. That never appeared to be a consideration with the Cowboys trailing 23-20 Sunday. For an offense that has sputtered quite a bit since exploding against Denver, this was an impressive drive. And this week they didn’t leave the opposing team enough time to strike back.

“I know as a quarterback, you love to be in those situations,” said Romo. “We didn’t win last week, but I relish being out there in those situations to be able to go and help our football team win. And when you go do that, it’s a great feeling and it just reiterates everything you put into it.”

It might be galvanizing for the Cowboys to overcome all the drops and penalties they committed Sunday. But if they don’t clean it up, this team’s not going anywhere. Bryant had the most egregious mistake when he removed his helmet to argue an offensive pass interference penalty. The Vikings declined that penalty and accepted the ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which knocked the Cowboys out of field-goal position. And in a stunning admission, Bryant said he wasn’t aware of the rule that came about because of Cowboys Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith penchant for removing his helmet.

“It certainly was a big sequence, there’s no question about that,” said Garrett. “A bad play by him, you can’t do that.”

Bryant also dropped a perfect pass from Romo early in the fourth quarter on second-and-18 that would’ve set up the Cowboys deep inside Vikings territory. The Cowboys were forced to punt and the Vikings scored on the next drive to take a 23-20 lead.

Bad teams find a way to lose these type games, and the Vikings held true to form. Did a good team win this game?

Does it matter?