Dan Bailey’s 40-yard kick went straight through the uprights. The Dallas Cowboys had won an important game on a last-second field goal.
They weren’t sure how to react.
Numb. Grieving. Distracted. The Cowboys were all those things on Sunday, dealing with the death of one teammate and the tribulations of another.
Winners, too, though they hardly felt like it.
Bailey’s kick gave Dallas a 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that ended a tough afternoon with the Cowboys’ playoff chances enhanced and their heads full of so many thoughts.
“You think about everything,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Like I said, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t know what’s right; I don’t know what’s wrong. I don’t know what you’re supposed to feel.
“It’s a hard, hard situation we’re in. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing in life.”
With a late comeback on Sunday, they got a momentary reprieve from their grieving.
The Cowboys overcame a nine-point deficit in the closing minutes behind Romo, who held his hand over his heart during a moment of silence to honor teammate Jerry Brown before the kickoff. The linebacker died in an auto accident early Saturday.
Defensive lineman Josh Brent, who was driving, was released from jail on Sunday in Texas about an hour after the game ended. He’s charged with intoxication manslaughter.
The Cowboys (7-6) learned about Brown’s death during their flight to Cincinnati on Saturday. Coach Jason Garrett told his team that the best way to honor him was to play well in a game with playoff implications for both teams.
One of the visitors’ metal lockers at Paul Brown Stadium had a strip of white athletic tape with “53 JERRY BROWN” printed on it, a wooden stool inside sitting upside-down. Brown’s No. 53 jersey was on the sideline during the game — defensive tackle Jason Hatcher held it up after Bailey’s kick.
There wasn’t much of a celebration by an emotionally spent team.
“I don’t remember crying this much other than maybe the day I was born,” defensive lineman Marcus Spears said. “With Josh’s situation and Jerry being gone, you felt it.”
Players couldn’t keep the tragedy out of their thoughts during the game, finding their minds wandering on the bench.
“I rarely let my emotions get the best of me,” fullback Lawrence Vickers said. “Today they did, but this was the place to do it.”
Owner Jerry Jones described his team as grieving when it took the field. It was the second consecutive week that an NFL team was playing a day after losing a teammate. Last Sunday, Kansas City beat Carolina 27-21 one day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and then himself at the Chiefs’ practice complex.
“There was a feeling of numbness on the field,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys salvaged the game by scoring on their last two drives against the Bengals (7-6), who had won four in a row and had a chance to move into position for an AFC wild-card berth with a victory.
Romo threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with 6:35 to go. Anthony Spencer’s sack of Andy Dalton forced a punt, and Romo led the Cowboys in range for Bailey’s winning kick. Romo finished 25 of 43 for 268 yards with a touchdown, an interception and three sacks.
Newcomer Josh Brown kicked field goals of 25, 33, 25 and 52 yards for Cincinnati, which wasted an opportunity to move ahead of Pittsburgh (7-6) for the second AFC wild card.
“They came here in an emotional situation, and you knew they were going to fight all the way,” Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “That game meant a lot to them. They played great.”
Dallas played a sloppy game until the closing minutes — nothing out of character there — and had a few especially bad moments.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan went onto the field and yelled at a Bengals player who had said something toward the Cowboys bench, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter. Dallas also was penalized for 12 men on the field during the drive, which ended with Brown’s third field goal and a 16-10 Cincinnati lead.
In the end, a defense that has allowed only three touchdowns in the last four games couldn’t hold on.