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The Good, Bad and Ugly of the Cowboys Win

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    In 2008, the Cowboys were 8-4 and feeling good entering December, but finished 1-3 and wound up missing the playoffs. 

    In 2011, the Cowboys were 7-4 and feeling good entering December, but finished 1-4 and wound up missing the playoffs. 

    That approach obviously wasn't working for them and it has taken a prime spot in the Tony Romo narrative since he was the starting quarterback in each of those seasons. There are some ghastly losses in there, some late gut punches and painful memories everywhere you look among those seven games. 

    Change has come to Dallas, though. This year's edition of the team decided to enter the final month of the year with a 5-6 record giving birth rumors about Sean Payton and other massive changes when the year came to an end. Three wins later, two of which featured the Cowboys making all the plays in the final moments that they needed to make instead of fumbling away chances for wins as they have so often in the past. 

    We can't know how things end up from here, but it does seem these aren't the same old Cowboys anymore. Through three games this month, we've seen players come off the street to make plays in place of those lost for the season and other players fight through injuries. We've seen Romo play nearly error-free football for 12 quarters and we've seen the Cowboys shrug off punches that used to knock them out. 

    Maybe things revert to the bad old days against the Saints and/or Redskins, but it doesn't feel all that likely. They might lose, but they are going to have to get beaten instead of beating themselves. That's a good thing for the Cowboys. 

    Here's the rest of the good, bad and ugly from Sunday:

    GOOD: The third quarter drive that ended with a Dez Bryant touchdown should be part of any Romo retrospective that may or may not be mounted in the future. He completed all seven of his passes to six different receivers, ran for the other four yards that the Cowboys gained on the drive and bouncedback from a sack that cost them 13 yards. He was great all day, but that was the best of Romo in one little package. 

    GOOD: It was far from a perfect day for the Cowboys defense, but you couldn't help but be impressed by what they were able to do given how many injuries they are facing. Brandon Carr's interception and Anthony Spencer's everything were the clear highlights, but the whole unit gets credit for a very good job in both stopping the run and pressuring Ben Roethlisberger.

    BAD: It wound up not mattering, but any honest soul will admit that they thought DeMarcus Ware's roughing the passer penalty would lead to the game-winning field goal for the Steelers. Ware didn't intentionally clobber Big Ben in the back of the head, which won't stop him from getting a fine he likely prefers to a loss. 

    GOOD: Dez Bryant had a drop and he clearly was limited by the injury to his left finger, but he scored that touchdown and made other big grabs. Bryant's motivations have been questioned from time to time, but it may be happening a lot less often if he keeps this up. 

    UGLY, THEN GOOD, THEN UGLY: The punt team's day will wind up being remembered for Victor Butler's forced fumble on Antonio Brown's fourth quarter punt return, but it was an otherwise terrible day for the unit. Brown had a huge return before the fumble and had another long punt return earlier in the game. Brian Moorman gave the Steelers the ball on the 20 with 25 seconds to play in regulation by kicking the ball into the end zone and gets no credit for the Steelers opting against a more aggressive approach. 

    GOOD: DeMarco Murray's fumble kept the Cowboys from opening up more of a lead early in the contest, but he made up for it over the course of the game. You'll notice that he only needed 14 carries to be highly effective, giving further lie to the notion that the Cowboys needed more of a running game. They needed a better running game to give them balance and you saw how well the offensive results worked on Sunday. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.