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Cowboys follow Jason Garrett's lead

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When it finally ended, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett pumped his fist quickly.

Then he smiled broadly.

Hey, Garrett's team is in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East, so he's entitled to enjoy it for a few seconds.

Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 24 in overtime.

Wow.

For now, the Washington Redskins own a tiebreaker over the Cowboys, but Dallas controls its playoff destiny. If the Cowboys win their last two games, they win the NFC East.

Not bad for a team that was two games under .500 after a loss to Atlanta on Nov. 4.

Just don't ask Garrett about it.

"A tie in the division after 14 games means nothing," he said. "What means something is now we have the New Orleans Saints coming here next week.

"I'm not real concerned about the standings. I'm focused on the task at hand. The players hear me say this and halfway through the talk they start rolling their eyes. We're not concerned about what anybody else is doing or what the standings say. We have to take care of our job. We have to get better and we have to win one ballgame."

The Cowboys have won three consecutive games for the first time since winning four consecutive games last November. Dallas beat Pittsburgh and shut up its raucous throng of Terrible Towel-waving fans by making a plethora of plays at winning time.

Jerry Jones expects his stars -- DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Anthony Spencer and DeMarco Murray -- to play their best when it matters most.

They received considerable help Sunday from several role players.

Garrett We're not concerned about what anybody else is doing or what the standings say. We have to take care of our job. We have to get better and we have to win one ballgame.

-- Cowboys coach Jason Garrett

Sean Lissemore. Dwayne Harris. Victor Butler. John Phillips. Each made game-changing plays.

Brandon Carr made the biggest with his diving interception and 36-yard return on the first possession of overtime, setting up Dan Bailey's game-winning 21-yard field goal.

But it all starts with Garrett, which is why all of the chatter about Sean Payton replacing Garrett as head coach is null and void -- even if the Cowboys lose their final two games.

Seriously.

If you can't see this team's improvement from September, you're either not watching the games or you just don't like Garrett as a coach, which is your right as a fan.

Garrett talks endlessly about a team comprised of the right kind of guys who handle adversity and play relentlessly. We get sick of hearing the same thing every day, so we roll our eyes, just like the players.

Say what you want, but the Cowboys have taken on their coach's personality and adopted his core beliefs about winning football.

Last year, the Cowboys blew five fourth-quarter leads, including three double-digit leads. This season, the Cowboys haven't blown any fourth-quarter leads.

More important, they've won five games in which they were tied or behind in the fourth quarter. Last week, Dallas trailed Cincinnati by nine with 6:45 left.

So no one panicked when Pittsburgh led 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter.

"Our football team has started to understand what it takes to win," Romo said. "…You look up and you win a game, you win another one, you win another one and your football team has that edge and kind of starts to think they can overcome some adverse situations throughout a football game."

Butler made the play that started the comeback.

He stripped Antonio Brown at the end of a 22-yard punt return and tight end John Phillips recovered it at midfield. Seven plays later the Cowboys tied the score on Murray's 3-yard run with 6:55 left.

With each victory, Garrett gains more credibility in the locker room.

He showed leadership and poise last week in guiding his team through practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown's tragic death in a one-car accident and the subsequent arrest of nose tackle Josh Brent for intoxication manslaughter.

Garrett continued to earn the praise and respect of his team this week for handling Brown's memorial service Tuesday and his pledge of continued team-wide support of Brent.

On the field, everything Garrett has told his team has come true. You know, the stuff about ignoring the standings and focusing on each player getting better each and every day, which will ultimately lead to team improvement.

This team remains flawed, and it still must beat New Orleans on Sunday to set up a winner-take-all showdown with Washington. But this team believes it can win each week, and it shows.

We're talking about a team rallying to beat Pittsburgh with dudes named Eric Frampton, Sterling Moore, Michael Coe and Brian Schaefering playing key defensive roles.

For those of you who wanted progress instead of process from Garrett, here it is. Give the coach the credit he's earned.

Finally, Garrett's showing us why he was Jerry's handpicked football messiah.