Winning drive cures all for Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The result was fine Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium. You never, ever complain about a win in today's NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys' process, though, is screwed up. And if coach Jason Garrett, play-caller Bill Callahan and quarterback Tony Romo don't fix it, then this season will end with profound disappointment.


Dallas 27, Minnesota 23.

The Cowboys needed a beautifully choreographed nine-play, 90-yard drive that ended with Dwayne Harris' 7-yard touchdown catch with 42 seconds left to beat one of the NFL's worst teams.

The victory enables the Cowboys to move a game over .500 and maintain sole possession of first place for at least another week.

Minnesota, which had lost its past three games by an average of 18 points, entered Sunday's game with the NFL's 30th-ranked defense, allowing 401.6 yards and 32.1 points per game.

No worries.

Their defense confounded the Cowboys most of the game, while their offense, led by Adrian Peterson's 140 yards, controlled the game.

With 2:44 left, the Cowboys' offense had managed only 260 yards and 15 first downs, while producing one touchdown and two field goals. An end-zone fumble recovery by Nick Hayden gave Dallas its other touchdown.

Still, Romo said he believed the Cowboys would win.

Only he knows why, since the Cowboys had dropped at least five passes, the offensive line had yielded three sacks and consistent pressure and Romo's last pass had been intercepted.

"I don't think you ever think you're not going to score," Romo said. "Your thought process is always just what do we need to do to give us the best chance to score.

"The more you can singularly focus on that specific moment and call the play, get the right protection, get the right combination [of players] and then get the ball out -- let the playmakers do what they do -- you give yourself a chance."

Romo completed 7 of-9 passes to five different receivers as the Cowboys made five first downs and never faced a third down. On second-and-goal from the Minnesota 7, he found Harris in the middle of the field.

Harris caught the ball and lunged across the goal line for the go-ahead score.

Last week, Detroit drove 80 yards in six plays without a timeout to beat Dallas. This week, the defense held.

Just so you know, Romo has now led 19 game-winning, fourth-quarter drives.

"If you pull back and really look at Tony Romo's career," Garrett said. "I know a lot of people want to talk about plays or games where things didn't work out. But if you really look at his career objectively he's done this kind of stuff a lot.

"He's led game-winning drives where we've won it on field goals and won it on touchdowns. He's made a number of great plays for us. Anybody who knows and understands football and has followed our football team understands what a fantastic player he is. It was on display again today."

Garrett can talk about all the games having equal importance, but the reality is some mean more than others.

This was one of them.

A loss heading into a Sunday night game against New Orleans, among the league's best home teams, would've been disastrous. Instead, the Cowboys still have time to fix their dysfunctional offense.

Don't be fooled by three wins in the past four games. We all know the defense is bad; the offense was supposed to prop it up. But it has been the special teams and defense that's covered up several sub-par offensive performances in a row.

DeMarco Murray returned after missing the past two games with a sprained knee and the Cowboys still dropped back to pass 87 percent of the time.

What team does that?

Since the start of the 2006 season, teams that pass more than 80 percent of the time are 6-90. This approach will get you beat most weeks.

Romo won when throwing the ball more than 50 times for the first time since 2007. He's now 2-4, when he throws more than 50 passes in a game and 8-15, when he throws more than 40 passes a game.

The Cowboys threw it 52 times; they ran it nine times. Yes, the run-pass ratio was skewed before the final two drives.

Romo wanted more input in the offseason, and actually demanded it during contract negotiations with owner Jerry Jones.

He's part of the meetings each Tuesday, when the Cowboys put the game plan together. Plays he doesn't like are kicked out.

And Romo has veto power once he gets the play from Callahan, which means he can shift from run to pass or pass to run based on his pre-snap read. Or he can change the play entirely.

With as much juice as Romo has, the quarterback is as culpable as Garrett and Callahan for the raggedy offense we've seen much of the past four games.

"It obviously feels better to win," Romo said. "But I just think the entire football team has to take the approach of improvement while winning and while getting yourself into the tournament. That's the whole point of it."

We'll see.

It's a lot easier to take that approach after a last-second win.