ARLINGTON, Tex. — Tony Romo looked and sounded like a veteran quarterback finally ready to shed his image as a gunslinger with superficial numbers.
Style points apparently no longer matter to the surging Dallas Cowboys and Romo. As the players trotted toward the star emblazoned at midfield on Thursday after a last-second 20-19 victory over the Miami Dolphins, they appeared more calm than celebratory.
Four days after prevailing in overtime against the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys escaped again, notching their fourth straight victory and piling more pressure on the Giants in the N.F.C. East.
The Giants, who two weeks ago owned a two-game lead, now must win at New Orleans on Monday night to keep pace before their meeting here with Dallas on Dec. 3.
”It’s just about winning,” Romo said. ”When you’ve played the game long enough, that, literally, is what it comes down to. We’re just finding ways to win right now.
”This was a stretch we needed to get going. We had some tough losses earlier in the year, and at some point you’ve got to get on a roll and stack the wins together.”
The Cowboys take their cue from Romo, and with 2 minutes 59 seconds to play and the ball at their 36-yard line, the potential for dramatics was there. Instead, Romo rather casually led them into field-goal range, making the key play on a 23-yard pass to tight end Jason Witten. The only third down Romo faced was when he took a knee at Miami’s 10, whittled the clock to three seconds and called timeout. Dan Bailey’s 28-yard field goal as time expired almost seemed anticlimactic.
”We’re trying not to think about the overall big picture yet,” Romo said. ”This team is just understanding if we believe in each other and if we trust each other, we can get the job done.”
Romo threw two touchdown passes to Laurent Robinson, and Bailey also had a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. Romo started off shakily, throwing two interceptions, but he found a groove in the second half and finished 22 of 34 for 226 yards.
”A lot of guys just kind of hung in there,” Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said. ”Tony did a really good job of playing through this game. He was out of rhythm but found receivers in critical situations and made some plays that seemed nondescript but were plays that made the difference in the end.”
The Dolphins had several opportunities to spoil the holiday for the crowd of 87,418 at Cowboys Stadium. But they were forced to settle for four field goals by Shayne Graham, all from within 28 yards.
”It was a good illustration of the will our football team has,” Garrett said. ”It’s hard to win in the N.F.L. The Dolphins had been playing very well, and we knew it was going to be a battle. When one side of the ball wasn’t getting it done, the other side was for us.”
Graham’s 23-yarder put the Dolphins ahead, 19-17, with 7:14 to play. Before that, Romo’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Robinson had given the Cowboys a 17-16 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins’ playoff hopes were buried with their 0-7 start, but after three victories in a row they seemed intent on tripping up the Cowboys, who also had won three consecutive games and climbed back into the race for the N.F.C. East title.
The Dolphins stunned the crowd at Cowboys Stadium with 10 points to open the second half. Graham’s 27-yard field goal pulled them to 10-9, before Moore and Brandon Marshall hooked up for a 35-yard touchdown that gave Miami a 16-10 lead. Marshall made an amazing catch; cornerback Terence Newman had jumped on his back and wrapped an arm around his neck in the end zone.
Miami’s defense had not allowed a touchdown during its three-game winning streak — a span that reached 13 quarters on Thursday — and the one Dallas scored for a 10-6 halftime lead should come with an asterisk.
A high snap from center Mike Pouncey deflected off Moore’s hand and was recovered by DeMarcus Ware at the Miami 5-yard line with a minute left in the second quarter. Romo found Robinson in the back of the end zone on the first play to salvage some momentum from a sluggish first half.
But the Cowboys then quickly helped move the Dolphins into field goal range. Clyde Gates’s 39-yard kickoff return and a pass interference call against cornerback Alan Ball put Miami at the 13-yard line, setting up Graham’s 28-yard field goal as time expired.
Romo’s stellar play had sparked the Cowboys to three consecutive victories. He had thrown eight touchdown passes and had not been intercepted.
So clearly the Cowboys had cause to worry when Romo was picked off twice in the first quarter. He looked out of sync for most of the first half, but was 9 of 16 for 82 yards and that first touchdown pass to Robinson.
But the Dolphins managed only a 26-yard field goal by Graham after Romo’s second interception.
Bailey countered that with a 32-yarder for the Cowboys, before both teams found their footing in the second half.
PHOTO: DeMarco Murray had 27 total yards on five consecutive carries during the Cowboys’ winning drive in the final 2:59. (PHOTOGRAPH BY RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES)