Ragged Cowboys find ways to win

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three wins in 12 days. At least a share of first place with the New York Giants in the NFC East, when the weekend ends.

Clearly, there's quite a bit for Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys to be thankful for after slipping past the Miami Dolphins, 20-19, on Thanksgiving Day.

For a team that in 2010 had its coach fired in midseason, missed the playoffs and won just six games, style points remain of no consequence.

You should've figured that out by now.

What matters is the Cowboys have won four consecutive games for the first time since 2009 and continue to position themselves to control their playoff destiny heading into the season's final five games.

We still don't know if these Cowboys are better than average, but give them credit for finding ways to win. Earlier this season, they found creative ways to lose against the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots.

So let's not dwell on a raggedy performance from the Cowboys' collection of sensitive cornerbacks or left tackle Doug Free's penalty-plagued afternoon.

This is a day to celebrate the grit and tenacity the Cowboys used to beat the Dolphins, who had destroyed each of their past three opponents. Miami had not allowed a touchdown in three games, spanning 231 plays, until Laurent Robinson's second-quarter touchdown grab.

"We don't really characterize wins very much," Garrett said. "I thought it was a good illustration of the will that our football team has.

"Obviously, we're going to go back and look at this tape and there's going to be things in all three areas that we don't like very much, but it's hard to win in the NFL."

The Cowboys extended their winning streak because they made plays at winning time.

Miami had scored on four straight possessions but couldn't generate a first down when it needed one late in the fourth quarter. Matt Moore missed Davone Best, who was running a crossing route, on third-and-9 with 3:21 left.

Dez Bryant's 20-yard punt return gave the Cowboys good field position, and Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray led the Cowboys on a 10-play, 54-yard drive that culminated with kicker Dan Bailey's 28-yard field goal as time expired.

To steal a line from DJ Khalid, "All they do is win."

And the more the Cowboys win, the more credibility Garrett gets in the locker room because everything he's telling his team about what it must do to win games is coming true.

Last week, the Cowboys received tangible evidence that it takes everyone on the roster to win a game. This week, they learned how the team that endures is often rewarded with a victory.

Garrett discusses various aspects of these principles each day.

Sometimes, he lectures. Other times, he uses anecdotes to make his points.

Slowly, the Cowboys are learning how to win close games. They've had plenty of practice under Garrett, considering 13 of the 19 games he's coached have been decided by four points or less.

Dallas is 7-6 in those games.

"Individual players need experience in critical clutch-type situations and teams need to do that as well," Garrett said. "It comes back to having confidence in those situations that we're going to make the right play and we're going to do the things that help us win."

Now, the Cowboys have nine days to decompress and get physically and mentally ready to play the Arizona Cardinals, another game they should win. Garrett is hopeful Miles Austin (hamstring) and Mike Jenkins (hamstring) will return to the lineup.

Whether they do or not, the Cowboys will continue to persevere. They're a flawed team -- and they know it.

More important, they accept it.

"It's just about getting each win. It's a 'W.' It counts in the win column, and that's what people will be talking about when the season is over," Romo said. "What was your record? Were you in the playoffs?

"You have to be mentally tough, you have to believe in yourself and you have to keep going. Sometimes, the offense has to pick it up. Sometimes, it's the defense. Sometimes, it's the special teams. We believe in each other and we trust each to get the job done."

It's why they're in first place heading into December.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.