ARLINGTON, Texas – Without two of its top three cornerbacks, the Steelers entered their game Sunday against Dallas in a precarious position against one of the top passing attacks in the NFL.
In the end, it was the Steelers’ own passing game that did them in.
Dallas’ Brandon Carr intercepted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the second play of overtime and returned the ball to the Pittsburgh one-yard line, and Dan Bailey kicked a 21-yard field goal, as the Cowboys defeated the Steelers, 27-24.
The loss drops the Steelers to 7-7 and puts them one game behind Cincinnati in the AFC wildcard playoff race. The Steelers host Cincinnati Sunday.
Dallas (8-6), meanwhile, moves into a three-way tie for first in the NFC East with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.
The interception ruined an otherwise outstanding day for Roethlisberger, who completed 24 of 40 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns.
“Real tough, especially when you lose the game for your team,” Roethlisberger said. “We called a good play. We just didn’t execute it.”
Roethlisberger’s counterpart, Tony Romo, was equally efficient, completing 30 of 42 attempts for 341 yards and two scores.
Carr intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Mike Wallace along the right sideline.
“That guy had backed off Mike all day,” Roethlisberger said. “We called the out route for him. I just didn’t put enough on it to the outside and (Carr) made a good play.”
For Roethlisberger, his one interception could not have come at worse time.
“He got to the top of his drop and was delivering the ball. I made a run for it and when he threw it behind (Wallace), I laid out for it and caught it,” Carr said. “Those are the plays you dream about in the backyard, making the game-winning interception or touchdown.”
Pittsburgh spent much of the day playing from behind.
The Cowboys drove 52 yards in the first quarter, picking on Pittsburgh cornerback Josh Victorian along the way, before settling for a 50-yard Bailey field goal that opened the scoring.
Pittsburgh drove into Dallas territory on its next possession, but after a 12-yard catch by Wallace along the sideline that would have put the ball at the Cowboys’ 32 was overturned, the Steelers punted.
The Cowboys, again picking on Victorian, drove to the Pittsburgh five-yard line, but linebacker James Harrison forced a fumble by running back DeMarco Murray and defensive end Brett Keisel recovered the loose ball at the eight-yard line to turn Dallas away.
But it was a short-lived respite as the Cowboys forced a three-and-out. Romo then threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten to give Dallas a 10-0 lead with 11:02 remaining in the second quarter.
At that point, Romo was 10 of 13 for 135 yards and one touchdown, while the Steelers had 58 total yards.
The Steelers finally generated some offense, driving to the Dallas 14 before stalling and settling for a 32-yard Shaun Suisham field goal that trimmed the Cowboys’ lead to 10-3 with just over six minutes left in the first half.
Pittsburgh then tied the score at 10-10 on its final possession of the first half and a vintage Roethlisberger play.
Facing second-and-10 from the Dallas 30, Roethlisberger pump-faked, turned in a circle to escape pressure, pump-faked again and then threw a pass to tight end Heath Miller in the right flat. Miller outraced the defense over the final 15 yards for a touchdown with 34 seconds remaining. Roethlisberger kept the play alive in the pocket for nine seconds.
“Ben is our guy,” said guard Ramon Foster. “He makes 20 of those plays like that. There is nothing more we could ask than the way he played this game.”
After the slow start, Roethlisberger finished the first half 13 of 25 for 163 yards.
The Steelers appeared to gain momentum from the play, stuffing the Cowboys on third-and-short on the opening possession of the first half. Pittsburgh, however, was unable to move the ball from there and punted back to Dallas.
The Cowboys regained the lead at 17-10 when Romo directed an 80-yard drive that he capped off with a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant, who played despite a broken finger that will require surgery.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Roethlisberger threw a 60-yard pass to Wallace to the Dallas two-yard line and Jonathan Dwyer scored on a one-yard touchdown run for a 17-17 tie late in the third quarter.
Dallas drove to midfield on its next possession, but facing third-and-1, the Cowboys tried a fake dive play with Romo keeing the ball and running to his left, right into Harrison, who dropped him for a five-yard loss.
The Steelers capitalized, driving the length of the field following the punt to score on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, taking their first lead, 24-17, early in the fourth quarter.
Dallas made it 24-24 after taking advantage of a Brown fumble on a 22-yard punt return.
“I have to do a better job in the open field,” Brown said. “It was just carelessness. I have to protect the ball.”
The Cowboys recovered the ball at the Pittsburgh 45 following the miscue and Murray scored from three yards out with 6:55 remaining.
“Really, it’s simple, man. Just not enough of the critical plays in the waning moments to seize opportunities,” cSteelers oach Mike Tomlin said. “We had a lead, and had a punt return. It was going to be good field position. ... We had the ball near midfield at the end of regulation and timeouts.”
To make matters worse, Keenan Lewis, the Steelers’ lone regular corner playing in this game, was injured in the end zone one play before Murray scored. Lewis came down hard on his wrist after breaking up a jump ball to Bryant.
“This one stings,” Roethlisberger said.
Odds and end zones
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was among the Steelers inactives. … Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke suffered a shoulder injury while covering a punt in the first quarter and did not return. … Sanders suffered an injury to his ribs in the first quarter. … Miller’s touchdown catch was his career-high eighth of the season. ... Dallas had injury issues of its own in the secondary. Starting cornerback Morris Claiborne did not play after suffering a concussion last week.