Miles Austin grinds it out for Cowboys

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jesse Holley's day Sunday reminded us of what Miles Austin did in 2009 at Kansas City.

The Dallas Cowboys were getting beat all day until Austin stepped up for an injured Roy Williams. Austin had 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns that afternoon, including the game-winner in overtime when he ran down the Cowboys' sideline for the score.

Holley caught three passes Sunday, two in the fourth quarter and the other in overtime that set up a game-winning field goal by Dan Bailey in the Cowboys' 27-24 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Austin has a soft spot for Holley because both are considered underdogs. Both are undrafted players who moved up the depth chart by grinding it out.

Sunday was one of those grinds for Austin. He started with two drops but finished with nine catches for 143 yards and a career-high three scores.

It was the 12th time Austin picked up at least 100 yards receiving, and he paid for it with the punishing hits he took on slants and at the end of plays.

"I'd rather play healthy," Austin said. "But you've got to go out there, and everyone else is sticking their neck out there so you've got to do the same thing."

Austin wasn't 100 percent. Maybe he was just 5 percent when coach Jason Garrett tried a toss to him out of the backfield and he couldn't move in the fourth quarter.

The receiver would say it's football, and he's right, but there is a new level of respect for him.

He's not going to be some flashy player who gets all the yards. He doesn't mind fighting for every yard. Austin caught touchdown passes of 53 and 25 yards but also picked up a 12-yard pass and another for one yard.

Austin's day inspired Holley.

"When you have guys like Miles Austin ahead of you showing you the way, just follow his lead," Holley said. "This guy is out there literally on one leg. He's making diving catches, contorted catches, and if you can get one tenth of what he does on the field you're one helluva player. And when he went down it was next guy up, and my God I'm blessed that next guy is me."

But Austin excelled here more than ever.

Dez Bryant was out with a quad injury and behind him were novices Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and Holley.

The Cowboys need Austin to be the lead receiver Terrell Owens was and Williams was not. You can talk all you want about the next No. 88, but it is Austin who is the lead receiver.

Bryant has all this talent, but he's not as polished as Austin. He's trying to be a student of the game, but Austin is there already. He watched and learned from Terry Glenn, Owens, Williams and his first two receivers coaches in Todd Haley and Ray Sherman.

The new receivers coach, Jimmy Robinson, is putting the finishing touches on Austin as he did the receivers in Green Bay.

Bryant has health issues that keep cropping up, but Austin is playing.

Austin reinjured his hamstring in the fourth quarter Sunday, and his status is uncertain. The extra day before the Redskins game should help him recover, but Austin is not one to complain.

"Miles is phenomenal," quarterback Tony Romo said.

But Austin had a slow start. He had the two drops, and it seemed Romo was busy picking himself up off the Candlestick Park grass more than anything else. The run game wasn't going anywhere, and somebody needed to do something.

It was Austin.

"I didn't feel like I had my best game," Austin said. "I messed up a bunch of times."

Austin is like everybody else on this Cowboys' team. He cares about one thing.

"Wins and losses," he said. "So happy that we won."

Austin burst onto the scene when he had that day against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was Holley's turn Sunday, but in some ways it was Austin who won this game.

He won't take the credit. That's not his style.

"I was just so happy for him," Austin said.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.