IRVING, Texas — Three drives, three scores. The way the Dallas Cowboys were treating the winless Cincinnati Bengals, it looked as if they'd have all afternoon to work out their kinks. But these Cowboys don't do things the easy way.
They let a 17-point lead shrivel to one, then had to break up a 2-point conversion that could've tied it midway through the fourth quarter. Then, in the final minutes, they caught a break when a pass went through Miles Austin's hands at the 1 and right into Patrick Crayton's in the end zone, pushing Sunday's winning margin to 31-22.
Even Dallas Coach Wade Phillips said winning "doesn't make up for everything," not when the Cowboys go from losing a division game at home to nearly blowing this one.
And not when Terrell Owens catches only two passes, then delivers a post-game statement and leaves without answering any questions.
"This was a great team win," T.O. said. "It was frustrating out there, but I kept with it. My teammates stuck with it. ... God used me today for his glory. Reality is where glory resides. That's all I've got to say."
The Bengals fell to 0-5 for the first time since 2002, when they started 0-7 and finished 2-14. Marvin Lewis took over as coach the following year and didn't have a losing record until going 7-9 last season. Cincinnati would have to win eight of its remaining 11 games just to break even this time.
The frustrating part for the Bengals is that this was their second near-miss of a huge upset. They took the unbeaten New York Giants to overtime, also on the road.
"We're at the point where we can't play good; we have to play great," said Carson Palmer, who was 23-for-39 for 217 yards with two touchdown passes to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "We have to find a way to play that perfect game."
Palmer missed the previous game with a sore throwing elbow and opened this game by throwing an interception. It was a deflection to linebacker Greg Ellis, and it was the first of the season for the Cowboys, ending a franchise-record-tying drought of five games.
Dallas got only a field goal out of it, but its next two drives ended in touchdowns — a 33-yard run by Felix Jones on a fourth-and-4, and a 4-yard pass from Romo to Jason Witten.
Down 17-0, the Bengals didn't exactly storm back. Crawled is more like it.
They got a pair of field goals before halftime, the second set up by a Romo fumble. Then Palmer started to click, going 72 yards in 11 plays on his first drive of the second half, capping it with an 18-yard touchdown to Houshmandzadeh that made it 17-13. Then came Romo's interception, leading to another field goal that got the Bengals within a point early in the fourth quarter.
So close to pulling off the upset, Lewis called for an onside kick. The Bengals recovered but they gave the ball back three plays later when Tank Johnson forced Chris Perry to fumble. It was Perry's fifth in as many games.
Dallas stretched the lead when Owens caught a ball across the middle and ran away from everyone to score. But the joy was short-lived because of another special-teams breakdown — ex-Kentucky Wildcat Glenn Holt returning the ensuing kickoff 60 yards. Palmer followed with another touchdown pass to Houshmandzadeh. A 2-point conversion would've tied it at 24.
Palmer lobbed left to tight end Ben Utecht, but Keith Davis got enough of the ball to prevent the catch.