Steelers vs. Cowboys: Dallas Might Have What It Takes to Pull This off

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates with Anthony Spencer #93 of the Dallas Cowboys after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A Dallas Cowboys team that for years has driven fans to the point of insanity by finding ways to lose is suddenly doing the opposite, and now it appears that despite being down a slew of starters it might actually have the right formula to make its first playoff appearance since 2009.

The Cowboys don't win pretty, but considering the injuries that have ravaged their roster and the opponents they've had to deal with, the fact that they're winning is all that matters.

They outplayed a desperate Pittsburgh Steelers team on Sunday, winning for the fifth time in six games. It probably shouldn't have been as close as it was—Dallas might not have survived if not for a Brandon Carr interception in overtime—but this is a team that is without both starting inside linebackers, a starting corner, a starting safety, two starting defensive linemen and has its best offensive player in the lineup despite a broken finger.

Yet, the Cowboys are now tied for first place in the NFC East and are also tied with the Bears and Giants for the last wild-card spot. If they win out, they win the division. 

It should be stated that Jason Garrett will take—and will deserve—some heat for some of the plays that were called and some of the decisions that were made in this game. In fact, had Dallas lost, I was ready to declare that Garrett had failed an inspired and courageous team by sheepishly deciding to punt on fourth-and-a-foot on his own 21-yard line with the game tied in the final minutes.

I would have been in the minority there, I know. But I feel strongly that if this team is going to go all-out and honor Dez Bryant for delaying surgery in order to go big or go home in this playoff quest, they have to take chances in moments like those. 

Ultimately, the decision didn't cost the 'Boys, because the defense stepped up. The same defense that has lost so many men at all three levels. It sacked Ben Roethlisberger on back-to-back plays on the ensuing drive, and then, it intercepted Roethlisberger in overtime, setting up the game-winning field goal. 

Imagine how good this unit would be if it were even remotely healthy, right?

Then again, in a game that is so emotional and so heavily linked to a team's mentality and spirit, maybe the 'Boys wouldn't be where they are right now if not for the hardships they've encountered in 2012. 

The only one of those hardships that really matters in the real world is the loss of practice-squad linebacker Jerry Brown, who died suddenly in a tragic accident eight days ago. If the rest of the men on this depleted roster are playing for Brown, they're doing him proud. 

Those long-suffering, frustrated, nearly-insane fans—especially those not old enough to remember anything pre-1996—should also take pride in the effort Garrett's team is putting forth.