INDIANAPOLIS - The Dallas Cowboys have not quit. After losing seven of their first eight games, the Cowboys will not be going to the playoffs. Their season is essentially over, but they are not playing like it.
Want proof? It was scattered all over the turf inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday - effort and execution and turnovers and big plays and poise, all of the things you need to win in the National Football League.
For the third time since offensive coordinator Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips as coach, the Cowboys won, beating the Indianapolis Colts, 38-35, in overtime. They are 3-1 post-Wade, and 4-8 overall with four games to go. The Cowboys will face the Eagles twice in the next four weeks, beginning Sunday in Dallas, and you had better believe they are not going to lie down and just let the Eagles roll over them.
Only a fool would pencil in two wins over the Cowboys for the 8-4 Birds. The Dallas players are playing for their interim coach, for themselves, for their jobs in 2011, and for one another. Given their record, that is a lot. They certainly could have quit, but they have not.
If they had, there is no way Dallas would have survived coughing up leads of 17-0 in the second quarter and 27-14 in the third Sunday. The Cowboys would have pouted at their misfortune after returning two interceptions of Peyton Manning for touchdowns and yet trailing, 28-27, after Colts wide receiver Taj Smith, who wasn't even with Indianapolis two weeks ago, returned a blocked Dallas punt for a touchdown and the Colts' first lead.
The Cowboys were resilient - and lucky - on their next possession. With a steady dose of running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, Dallas drove to the Indianapolis 1-yard line. The Cowboys had three tries from the 1, but could not punch the ball in and settled for a field goal by David Buehler.
But an official flagged Indianapolis defensive tackle Eric Foster for unsportsmanlike conduct for climbing on the backs of two Cowboys and using them for leverage as he tried to block the kick. Given the nature of what goes on during field-goal attempts, it was an unusual call, and it gave the Cowboys the ball back at the 3-yard line.
On third down from the 2, Jon Kitna hit Jason Witten in the left front corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 35-28 lead.
Manning threw to Reggie Wayne seven times on the Colts' next drive, and Indianapolis forced overtime when Javarris James rushed 2 yards up the middle for a touchdown.
The Colts got the ball first in overtime and could not do anything with it. The Cowboys went three and out on their first overtime possession. Then, fittingly given how the defense had played in regulation, Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee intercepted a tipped Manning pass to set up the winning 38-yard field goal.
"They come back and block the kick and go ahead in the game, you have to look at each other and say: 'Let's go. This is where it gets fun,' " Garrett said. "I used the expression last week: You don't blink in that situation. I think our guys proved again that they didn't."
The Cowboys have flaws that the Eagles likely can exploit. Dallas' defense intercepted Manning four times but gave up 365 passing yards and could not slow Wayne, who caught 14 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. The 'Boys likely will struggle with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, two of the faster receivers in the league, and with Michael Vick when he inevitably takes off and slices through the secondary.
While the Cowboys have a solid rushing tandem in Choice and Jones - Marion Barber, where are you? - they lost one of their biggest playmakers, rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant, for the season with a broken ankle. Bryant leads the team with six touchdown catches and had two punt returns for touchdowns.
Kitna has been effective managing the game with the injured Tony Romo on the sideline, but it will be a lot to ask him to mount a double-digit comeback if the Eagles are able to score early, as they have in recent weeks. Kitna was 18 of 26 for 167 yards and one touchdown against the Colts.
And Dallas' kicker, Buehler, is a thrill a minute.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys went on the road and walked away with a victory. It doesn't matter that this Indianapolis team is a shell of itself. As Eagles coach Andy Reid always says, every win is a good win in the NFL, and it certainly was for Dallas, which didn't get many wins early in the season.
"Since we passed that point, I'm happy just to get any win," Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. "We know that this team is capable of winning every time we go out there, and that's what makes this game great. You never know what the results will be, but you have to go out there and take advantage of the challenge, and I think that's what we did today."
The challenge will be greater Sunday, and that is true for both teams precisely because these Cowboys have not quit. At least not yet.
Dallas 10 7 10 8 3 – 38
Indianapolis 0 7 7 21 0 – 35
Dal–Choice 20 run (Buehler kick), 10:15.
Dal–FG Buehler 30, 1:38.
Dal–Scandrick 40 interception return (Buehler kick), 14:12.
Ind–Garcon 13 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 5:57.
Ind–Wayne 34 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 13:53.
Dal–FG Buehler 46, 5:47.
Dal–Lee 31 interception return (Buehler kick), 4:53.
Ind–James 1 run (Vinatieri kick), 14:56.
Ind–Smith 2 blocked punt return (Vinatieri kick), 12:56.
Dal–Witten 2 pass from Kitna (R.Williams pass from Kitna), 2:38.
Ind–James 2 run (Vinatieri kick), :29.
Dal–FG Buehler 38, 7:55.
First downs 24 24
Total Net Yards 368 405
Rushes-yards 46-217 17-40
Passing 151 365
Punt Returns 1-2 2-22
Kickoff Returns 5-144 4-79
Interceptions Ret. 4-84 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 18-26-0 36-48-4
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-16 0-0
Punts 4-36.5 3-41.7
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 5-35 3-28
Time of Possession 40:00 27:05
Rushing: Dallas, Choice 19-100, Jones 22-83, Kitna 4-28, Austin 1-6. Indianapolis, James 6-18, Garcon 1-11, Hart 5-8, D.Brown 4-4, Manning 1-(minus 1).
Passing: Dallas, Kitna 18-26-0-167. Indianapolis, Manning 36-48-4-365.
Receiving: Dallas, Witten 5-42, Austin 4-47, Bennett 3-24, Jones 3-8, R.Williams 2-32, Bryant 1-14. Indianapolis, Wayne 14-200, Garcon 8-56, Tamme 4-47, White 4-32, James 2-17, Hart 2-1, Eldridge 1-8, D.Brown 1-4.
Missed Field Goal: Dallas, Buehler 48 (WR).