ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had far prettier drives during the course of the regular season but none more important than what they did in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 24-20 wild-card playoff victory against the Detroit Lions.
Fifty-nine yards separated the Cowboys from a potential game-winning touchdown. In the first half, that might have seemed like a mile given how the Lions pressured and harried the Cowboys’ offense.
In the fourth quarter, however, there was a sense of calm, which considering Tony Romo's past might strike thousands of people funny. After putting up ridiculous regular-season numbers and leading the Cowboys to an NFC East title for the first time since 2009, Romo knows it is what he will do in the playoffs that will ultimately define his career.
“Tony came into the huddle and was just direct,” center Travis Frederick said. “Just exactly like how he always is.”
To get to that point, the Cowboys received the benefit of an overturned pass interference penalty and a 10-yard punt by Sam Martin, but they also wrestled the opportunity away.
No play defined their season more than a 21-yard hookup between Romo and Jason Witten. Facing fourth-and-6 from the Detroit 42, Dallas coach Jason Garrett did not flinch, but he did call timeout with six minutes to play to calm everything and everybody down.
“He really deserves all the credit for that because the book might say, ‘Don’t do that,’ but when you’re playing to win ,” passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said.
Garrett didn’t consider it much of a gamble because of his trust in Witten and Romo. Teammates for 12 years, Witten has run that route and Romo has thrown that pass thousands of times. With the Lions locking down Dez Bryant, Witten became Romo’s primary read.
Even with 91,410 fans and the Lions' defense expecting Witten to get the ball, Romo and Witten made the play.
“That’s what you live for,” Witten said. “That’s what you want to do.”
At the Lions' 16 and well within field-goal distance, the Cowboys did not want the tying field goal. Two defensive holding penalties helped move the ball to the Detroit 8. A Murray run moved it to the 3, but the Cowboys gave it back with a false-start penalty of their own.
With 2:39 to play, the Cowboys had three wide receivers on the field with Witten and DeMarco Murray on third-and-goal from the 8.
Sacked six times already with at least three coming as Romo attempted to buy time earlier in the game, Romo took the shotgun snap and found nobody open. He danced in the pocket as his line gave him time.
“I was actually going to throw a high, back, baseline throw to Dez,” Romo said. “I saw Terrance [Williams] as he was sprinting across and I was late. I thought I was going to throw it to Dez. I see that and in that process Terrance just stops abruptly. Right when I was about to throw it to Dez, I see that and change the arm angle to throw it to Terrance at the last moment.”
Williams cradled the ball for his second touchdown of the game. Romo was left banging the turf in celebration, taking a shot to his legs after being hit by Ezekiel Ansah.
“When your season is on the line I think it is a little different than throughout the year, even though every game is as important as it is,” Romo said. “I think when you get in the playoffs to have that mentality it just shows your football team that you trust them. I think it shows who you want to ride with. It we’re going to make it, we’re going to make it with the guys that have been around awhile and have them go make a play. It is just a credit to everyone for that drive and going to win this game.”