All season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have relied upon strong third quarters to win.

During their comeback 20-13 win yesterday against visiting Dallas, the Steelers shifted their dominance to the final quarter.

Pittsburgh (10-3) came in outscoring its opponents in the third quarter, 77-9. Yesterday, Dallas broke open a 3-3 halftime game with a 10-0 third-quarter edge.

The Steelers then scored 17 in the fourth to rally and win.

"Desperation," Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "The guys knew we had to do it. It was now or never. It was a little later than we wanted to."

The fourth quarter didn't start out well for the Steelers as they were stopped on successive plays on third and fourth downs at the Dallas 1.

But the Steelers' defense allowed only two first downs the remainder of the game and the offense scored during the next two possessions. Cornerback Deshea Townsend's 25-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:40 to play won it.

The momentum the Cowboys thought they had after the goal-line stand shifted swiftly after Pittsburgh forced a Dallas punt that Santonio Holmes returned 35 yards to the Cowboys' 25.

"When you have a great defensive unit, you take those kinds of chances," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said of his decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal. "Unfortunately it didn't work out for us, but I thought the sequence of events that followed is encouraging because we have a football team that doesn't blink."

"We played 3 1/2 good quarters," Dallas receiver Terrell Owens said. "We just couldn't finish it out."

Deshea Townsend scored on a 25-yard interception return with 1:40 remaining as the Steelers scored their only two touchdowns 24 seconds apart.

Pittsburgh was stopped on a fourth-and-goal play at the Dallas 1 early in the fourth while falling behind 13-3, but came back to tie it at 13 on Ben Roethlisberger's 6-yard pass to Heath Miller with 2:04 remaining. Roethlisberger found Nate Washington three times for 51 yards on a 67-yard drive after the Cowboys (8-5) twice stalled on drives that, if they had scored, probably would have sealed it.

Dallas' loss secured the NFC East for New York (11-2), despite the Giants' loss to the Eagles.

The Steelers (10-3) didn't wrap up an AFC playoff spot, but won their fourth in a row and ended Dallas' three-game winning streak.

In another NFC East game:

* RAVENS 24, REDSKINS 10: At Baltimore, given their uneven performance against the Ravens, Washington must be glad it doesn't have to face its I-95 rival regularly.

Ed Reed set up a touchdown with an interception and scored on a 22-yard fumble return, part of a stifling effort by the Baltimore defense.

With their seventh win in eight games, the Ravens (9-4) remained one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Baltimore hosts the Steelers next Sunday.

Washington (7-6) has lost four of five. The Redskins trailed 17-0 before scoring twice in the fourth quarter after Baltimore turnovers, but couldn't complete the comeback. *