Cowboys find the will to win

CINCINNATI -- As Dan Bailey's game-winning 40-yard field goal split the uprights, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett clutched defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and defensive end DeMarcus Ware and pulled them in close.

The trio held each other for several soul-cleansing seconds, hoping to ease the heartache they've experienced since learning practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown died in a one-car accident early Saturday morning.

Nose tackle Josh Brent, Brown's teammate, roommate and best friend, was behind the wheel and has been arrested for intoxication manslaughter.

As Garrett released Ware and Ryan, he bumped into defensive end Jason Hatcher, who was carrying Brown's No. 53 jersey.

The coach grabbed Hatcher around the neck. Then Garrett smacked him on the butt the way coaches do as Hatcher sprinted into a throng of players, twirling Brown's jersey above his head.

"I keep using this word numb because I think that's how we all feel," Garrett said. "When [the kick] goes through and you think about how everybody fought and how everybody battled, you think about the young man we lost and you almost want to drop to your knees. There were a lot of hugs and a lot of raw emotion in our locker room."

Dallas 20, Cincinnati 19.

No longer can we say Garrett is a robotic head coach devoid of emotion.

Not if you saw the emotion in his eyes as he described handling the news of Brown's death. Or listened as he haltingly shared his brief conversation with Brown's mother after the game.

And we heard the emotion in Garrett's voice when he pledged team-wide support for Brent.

During this tragedy, Garrett has shown his players a side of his personality they rarely see. Garrett provided some details about Brown's personality and work ethic that let us know he had really spent time getting to know a guy who showed up a couple of months ago and had a tiny role on the team.

"Jason loves this football team," Tony Romo said. "He loves the guys he coaches, and I'm glad to have him as my head coach."

Finally, Garrett has another signature win to go with the season-opening win over the New York Giants.

Garrett You think about the young man we lost and you almost want to drop to your knees. There were a lot of hugs and a lot of raw emotion in our locker room.

-- Cowboys coach Jason Garrett

For the past couple of months, that win seemed more like a fluke than tangible evidence that Garrett is building a team that can sustain success for years.

Garrett demonstrated leadership and poise in the most difficult of situations. The result is that somehow, some way, the Cowboys remain viable in an improbable December run to the playoffs.

Who believes the Cowboys are going to win their last three games and crash the postseason tournament? Not me.

Not right now, anyway.

But weird things can happen in sports when athletes channel the emotions born from tragedy into focus. That's because they start playing for something more important than winning, and bigger than the individual.

These Cowboys are no longer just trying to make the playoffs. They're playing for Brown's memory. And they're playing for Brown's family to demonstrate what happens when 53 players and a coaching staff unite when life delivers a butt-kicking.

Those who believe in a higher power understand rainbows can't exist without a storm. Faith is forged by the storm because it's not required for good days and good times.

This is really what Garrett means when he talks endlessly about having the right kinds of guys on his team. And this is what he's alluding to when he talks about his players battling every play. And every quarter. And every game.

He wants a team composed of high-energy, relentless players capable of willing themselves to wins on days when they don't play their best football.

Sometimes a team's progress can't be measured solely in wins and losses. Or statistics. Building a foundation is not always glamorous, but it's necessary for long-term success.

Last season, the Cowboys blew fourth-quarter leads five times. This year, they're playing their best football in the fourth quarter.

They don't always win, but it represents some progress.

Still, none of this would've been possible without Cincinnati's help. Quarterback Andy Dalton missed routine throws; star receiver A.J. Green dropped easy passes.

And offensive coordinator Jay Gruden lost his mind in the fourth quarter. Leading 19-17 with 6:35 left, Gruden called five consecutive pass plays. The drive ended with Anthony Spencer's second sack of the game.

Romo then methodically drove the Cowboys 50 yards -- no play gained more than 9 yards -- in 13 plays for Bailey's game winner.

"Football is a game of emotion, and there are a lot of different emotions circulating," Garrett said. "We had to process it all and understand life is different than football. We had a job to do today."

And with Garrett's guidance and leadership, the Cowboys found a way to win, which is why the playoffs remain a possibility for another week.