As painful as a loss in Detroit was a week earlier, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys truly put their season in jeopardy when they fell behind one-win Minnesota in the fourth quarter at home.
Without Romo's winning drive in the final 2 minutes Sunday, Dallas would have a losing record after nine games with trips coming up to New Orleans and the New York Giants on either side of a bye week.
Instead, the worst-case scenario is a tie for the NFC East lead if they lose to the Saints on Sunday night. Plus, the Cowboys locked down the win a week after putting so much emphasis on that idea when they let one get away against the Lions. They rallied after Adrian Peterson had put the Vikings ahead 23-20 in the fourth.
"This was the antithesis, to some degree, of what we had last week," owner Jerry Jones said. "We should win one, when they are all coming down close like this. We ought to win our share, and this is one that we won."
Dallas won it because Romo led a 90-yard drive to the go-ahead score on a 7-yard pass to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left. Romo was 7 of 9, and the only incompletions were a drop by Terrance Williams and a throwaway to avoid a sack from inside the Minnesota 10.
"Honestly, you've got to disregard everything and just say, 'What do we need to do to win the football game?'" said Romo, who was 34 of 51 for 337 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. "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."
The danger for Dallas is relying too heavily on Romo. That wasn't good enough last year, when a faltering running game wasn't there for Romo and the Cowboys lost their last two games to miss the playoffs for the third straight year.
Dallas had a franchise-low nine carries against Minnesota even though DeMarco Murray returned from a two-game absence with a knee injury. He went 27 yards on his second carry — and only ran two more times, although he did have six catches for 19 yards. Murray finished with 31 yards rushing and the Cowboys had just 36.
"DeMarco looked like he was going to have a good day, but as it wore on there were some minus runs that happened that got us behind the sticks a little bit," Garrett said. "Hard for us to get in a rhythm. So, when you step back from it and you look at it and say, 'Boy, we need to run it more.'"
DeMarcus Ware could be ready to rejoin a defensive line that made another big play in its third game without him.
Jason Hatcher was the only one of the projected starters among the front four on the field when George Selvie knocked the ball out of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder's hand in the end zone, and Nick Hayden recovered to give the Cowboys touchdowns just 10 seconds apart early in the third quarter.
Even when Ware returns, a rotating crew that includes Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis, Kyle Wilber, Everette Brown and Caesar Rayford will be a big part of the defensive formula for Dallas. Of those players, Wilber was the only one on the roster when training camp started. Brown played 30 snaps five days after signing.
"We're relentless," Hayden said. "We've got new guys coming in each week it seems like. But they've been stepping up for us."
The downside defensively for Dallas was giving up a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season — Peterson had 140 — and letting Ponder match his season high with 236 yards passing when he's struggled enough this season to lose his job to Josh Freeman before Freeman went out with a concussion.
"We have to go back to the drawing board, correct mistakes and never allow a late game like Detroit to happen again," said linebacker Sean Lee, referring to the Lions driving 80 yards in less than a minute with no timeouts for a touchdown in a 31-30 win. "Until we show that week in and week out, I can't say it's going to propel us."
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