A back-and-forth game ended in unsavory fashion for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as Dan Bailey’s 21-yard field goal in the opening moments of overtime pushed the Dallas Cowboys to a 27-24 home victory Sunday night.
With the sudden victory, the Cowboys (8-6) drew into a three-way tie for first in the NFC East division. The import was just as great on the Steelers’ side, as they missed a chance to tie Cincinnati for the AFC’s second and final wild-card spot. Pittsburgh (7-7) hosts the Bengals next Sunday in a true must-win game for the Black and Gold.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his interception on the first play from scrimmage in OT that tilted the result in Dallas’ favor. Aiming for Mike Wallace on the right sideline, Roethlisberger was picked off by defensive back Brandon Carr, who dived for the catch and returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.
It was an awkward ending to a contest that featured three lead changes and three tie scores. The Steelers trailed 10-0 early in the second quarter and were down 17-10 midway through the third, but Pittsburgh rallied to go ahead 24-17 on Antonio Brown’s 7-yard touchdown catch with 12:37 left in the fourth.
However, Brown fumbled during a punt return a few minutes later, giving Dallas the ball near midfield. The Cowboys capitalized, driving to the tying score when DeMarco Murray rushed for a 3-yard touchdown with seven minutes remaining in regulation.
Prior to overtime, each team had an opportunity to kick a lengthy go-ahead field goal, but elected to punt. The Steelers had a look at a 56-yard try, while the Cowboys set up from 61 yards away before turning away.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was superb, completing 30 of 42 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Steelers were missing starting cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, plus backup defensive back Cortez Allen, and Romo took advantage of the extra room in the secondary.
Cowboys receivers Miles Austin (seven receptions, 79 yards) and Dez Bryant (four catches, 59 yards, one touchdown) shared in Romo’s success, as did running back Murray, who gained 81 yards on 14 carries with the Steelers forced to honor the pass.
Led by Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ playmakers woke up after a quiet start. Oft-maligned wideout Mike Wallace pulled in four balls for 95 yards, highlighted by a 60-yard bomb that set up Jonathan Dwyer’s tying touchdown late in the third. Tight end Heath Miller caught seven passes for 92 yards and Brown had eight for 76.
Miller’s night included a 20-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the final minute before halftime, a likely candidate for play of the day in the NFL. Roethlisberger pump faked three times while dancing in the pocket, eventually holding the ball for nearly 10 seconds before finding an open Miller on the right sideline.
It wasn’t all good for Big Ben, though. He fired 16 incompletions on 40 passes, as his accuracy on short passes was strangely absent at times. Roethlisberger’s protection was also spotty, as he was sacked four times – thrice in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers defense allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 200 yards for the first time in eight games, but it also made four tackles for losses. Linebacker James Harrison forced a Murray fumble inside the Pittsburgh 10, keeping the Cowboys within range in the first half. Safety Ryan Clark led the team with eight tackles and Troy Polamalu had seven, but the Steelers frequently allowed Dallas plentiful yards after contact.
Bailey’s 50-yard field goal in the first quarter and Jason Witten’s 17-yard touchdown catch early in the second put the Cowboys ahead by 10 in this premier matchup. The two franchises have combined for 11 Super Bowl titles and have played in the season’s final game three times.
Suisham’s 32-yarder and Roethlisberger’s memorable toss to Miller knotted the score at halftime, but Bryant, playing with a broken finger, corralled a 24-yard pass from Romo to put the home side back up by seven.
Despite some sloppiness on both sides, the scene at the new Cowboys Stadium was electric, with Steelers fans predictably invading the home field of one of their traditional rivals. Terrible Towels were quite visible in all sections of the 100,000-strong crowd.
However, Brown’s fumble in the fourth with Pittsburgh up 24-17 drained considerable energy out of the Steelers faithful. The explosive returner had broken into the clear and appeared to be setting up a clinching score before getting the ball stripped near the 50.