A 2-3 record for two full weeks would have been unbearable.
Miles Austin helped the Cowboys (3-2) avoid that grim reality halfway through overtime on a blustery Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The fourth-year receiver turned a short hook route into a
60-yard touchdown - his second of the game and part of a
franchise-record performance - that lifted the Cowboys to an
ugly-yet-resilient 26-20 win over the winless Kansas City Chiefs (0-5).
The Cowboys narrowly entered their bye week in third place behind the NFC East-leading New York Giants (5-0). Next up is an Oct. 25 tilt against the Atlanta Falcons at Cowboys Stadium.
Replacing an injured Roy Williams in his first career start, Austin had a career-high 10 catches for 250 yards, surpassing 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hayes' single-season record of 246 yards (Nov. 13, 1966).
"I just wanted to show people that I'm ready to play," Austin said. "I wanted to do it for my teammates just to show them that I want to contribute to the team as much as I can. I was able to today and it was big for us."
Try vital. Austin's clutch plays helped conceal the Cowboys' self-inflicted struggles against a clearly inferior team.
Two lost fumbles led to 10-0 deficit in the second quarter. A season-high 13 penalties for 90 yards stalled offensive drives and extended defensive ones. The Chiefs' 31st-ranked offense held an unthinkable 13-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
"I don't know if there's ever been a team that overcame some of the things that we had to overcome in one single game," quarterback Tony Romo said. "It just kept piling on and piling on. But we've got a lot of competitive individuals."
Romo (20-of-34, 351 yards, two touchdowns) and the Cowboys' offense finally found its rhythm and scored 17 unanswered points: a 36-yard touchdown run by Tashard Choice, a 28-yard field goal by Nick Folk and a 59-yard touchdown catch by Austin.
Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff made a terrific special teams play during that stretch, blocking the Chiefs' 53-yard field goal attempt with the game tied 13-13. Austin scored on the next series to give Dallas its first lead, 20-13.
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel sent the game into overtime with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe in the final minute. But the Cowboys' defense stopped Kansas City twice in overtime, and on the fourth play of his second possession, Romo hit Austin for the go-ahead score.
Austin caught the pass on the left sideline, shook cornerback Maurice Leggett and raced in for the score. His teammates mobbed him in the end zone.
"Really the DB was pretty tight on Miles," Romo said. "He tried to jump it, so I had to keep it outside a little more than you would normally want to. But Miles did a good job of continuing to come back. If you take that chance in the corner, the possibility is there.
Said Austin: "I caught it, put my shoulder down, made him miss and started looking up on the screen seeing how far the other guys were. They started gaining on me a little bit, so I had to run a little faster."
Austin's score prevented the Cowboys' first 2-3 start since 2004. Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips was pleased with his team's grit despite a sluggish beginning.
"The most important thing was winning that ball game," Phillips said. "And I thought we came together more as a team there than a different kind of victory. I think you learn who's going to come through to make plays and all the guys did in this game."
Spirits will be higher over the next two weeks at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys will use the time off to get healthy. Key contributors Felix Jones (sprained PCL), Gerald Sensabaugh (broken thumb) and Williams (bruised ribs) all missed Sunday's game with injuries.
But the team realizes there's much to improve with a tougher schedule ahead.
"When you're playing those big teams, the big teams don't make any mistakes," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "They don't get all those offsides penalties, holding penalties, pass interference, whatever. They don't get those types of penalties."And if we can eliminate those penalties we can be a good team."