IRVING, Texas - When the pass went through Miles Austin's hands at the 1 and into Patrick Crayton's hands in the end zone, everyone on the Dallas Cowboys was smiling and laughing. It was mostly relief.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens (81) points skyward after scoring against the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth quarter during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, in Irving, Texas.
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
After letting a 17-point lead shrivel to one, then breaking up a 2-point conversion that could've tied it, the Cowboys had plenty of reasons to be giddy about their lucky break in the final minutes that sealed a 31-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Dallas (4-1) led 17-0 after only three drives, but ended up needing big plays from Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson and Keith Davis to stave off the bumbling Bengals (0-5).
Tony Romo was 14-of-23 for a season-low 176 yards, but threw three touchdown passes — two in the fourth quarter. He also threw another interception, making it eight straight games, lost a fumble and was out of sync with T.O. for most of the game.
Owens went from having 20 balls come his way in a loss to Washington last week to having less than five this time. His only catches were a 10-yarder in the first half and a 57-yarder in the fourth quarter. He also had one run for 8 yards. Even team owner Jerry Jones visited him on the bench during the third quarter to make sure his star receiver wasn't brooding.
Part of the reason Owens was less involved: Dallas ran it more. Marion Barber turned 23 carries into 84 yards and rookie Felix Jones gained 96 yards on just nine carries. Jones went 33 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-and-1 during Dallas' early game burst.
Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer returned after missing a game with a sore elbow and was 23-of-39 for 217 yards with two touchdown passes to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Chad Ocho Cinco had only three catches for 43 yards and didn't score, so he didn't "kiss the star" in the end zone as he'd hoped.
Palmer started out by helping the Cowboys, throwing an interception to linebacker Greg Ellis on the game's opening play. It was the first interception of the season by Dallas, ending a franchise record-tying drought of five games (dating to last season).
Palmer eventually got into a groove, especially when he led an 11-play, 72-yard drive early in the third quarter. He capped it with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Houshmandzadeh that got the Bengals within 17-13. They made it 17-16 with a field goal following an interception of Romo.
Then Cincinnati really shook things up by recovering an onside kick. Three plays later, Johnson forced Chris Perry to fumble and Anthony Spencer recovered for Dallas. It was Perry's fifth lost fumble in as many games, and it hurt even more when Romo found Owens going across the middle, then he ran away from everyone for the long touchdown.
The Bengals came right back, getting a 60-yard kickoff return from Glenn Holt, then another Palmer-to-Houshmandzadeh touchdown to make it 24-22. Going for the tie, Palmer lobbed left to tight end Ben Utecht, but Keith Davis — a special teams ace starting at safety because of two injuries — got enough of the ball to prevent the catch.
Crayton's lucky grab capped Dallas' great escape.