ARLINGTON, Texas — As so often is the case, there were the numbers.
Tony Romo's 416 yards of passing. Dez Bryant's two 58-yard touchdowns. Jason Witten's six catches, breaking the record for an NFL tight end.
Some teams gather victories. The Dallas Cowboys collect numbers.
But the gaudy statistics didn't close the deal this time for the Cowboys. The four touchdown passes by Romo ended up still being one scoring pass short. Bryant's nine receptions mattered little because he couldn't catch a crucial 10th.
At the finish, the Cowboys found a way to lose Sunday — 34-31 in overtime to the New Orleans Saints — because the outcome wasn't decided by hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, but by timely football plays.
A fumble at their own 5-yard line. A bouncing ball in overtime that a Cowboys defender couldn't corral.
The 15th game of the season is no time to be embracing moral victories. But the atmosphere in the Cowboys' locker room after the overtime defeat seemed to smell more of relief that they'd been handed a playoff berth mulligan, than of disappointment that they'd let one slip away.
“That's one of the reasons I'm proud to be a part of this group,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They just keep playing. They keep battling.
”I thought it was a tremendous comeback. We got stops on defense, special teams contributed, and the offense was able to drive the ball down and score to tie it up.
“But ultimately, it wasn't enough. They made more plays than we did today, and we've got to somehow, some way, get beyond this one and get ready for Washington next week.”
Oh, right. The Washington Mulligans. Win on Sunday, and the loss to the Saints will be rendered harmless.
Win on Sunday, and the DeMarco Murray fumble that swung momentum New Orleans' way will be reduced to a footnote. Win on Sunday, and the six successive midgame possessions by the Cowboys that produced a grand total of only three points will become old news.
Or will they?
Worthy teams close the deal at this point in the season. And a check of the NFL history books will tell you that the Cowboys haven't closed the deal in 17 years.
But, oh, the numbers. The broken records. The Papa John commercials. The 92,570 at Cowboys Stadium who partied and watched it all.
The Sean Payton-less Saints, it will be noted frequently today, came into the game with numbers of their own. The New Orleans defense was on a league-record pace for allowing yardage. Only two teams had allowed more touchdowns. No other team had surrendered as many first downs.
Yet, it was the Saints' defense that put quarterback Drew Brees into position to win the game. From the Cowboys' final possession of the second quarter through their first time with the ball in the fourth quarter, against the No. 32 defense in the league, Romo and Co. were able to muster only the aforementioned field goal — and that Dan Bailey boot had to come from 47 yards.
Then, after getting the ball first in overtime, Romo and Bryant failed to connect on a third-down pass at their own 36.
They never got the football back.
Is a comeback still a comeback when the dimpled prince fails to rescue the kingdom in the end?
In fairness to Romo, the Saints lately haven't been as bad as their stats indicate. It's as if new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defensive system has finally been deciphered.
Romo himself played well, but he needs Miles Austin to hold onto the football more often. And Murray can't be giving the ball away inside the 10-yard line.
“Give them a lot of credit,” Witten said of the Saints. “They made more plays than we did in the end.
”We had a lot of fight. We felt like we could have done stuff earlier in the game.“
If the Cowboys don't win in Washington, the ”could have done stuff earlier“ memories will haunt them — not only earlier on Sunday but also earlier in the season.
One fact remains — they are fresh out of mulligans.
For all the prodigious numbers that this Cowboys offense seems to amass, for all the Sundays that Romo brings smiles to the fantasy football legions, they need to find a way next week to close the deal.
It's what winning teams do in December when even 31 points aren't enough.
It's what this franchise has been missing for 17 years.
Who better for the Cowboys to measure themselves against than the Washington Redskins?
Distributed by MCT Information Services