Cowboys stage rally to upend Lions in thriller

Tony Romo can add a big playoff comeback to his NFL resume. Jason Garrett can add a playoff win to his.

The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Green Bay for the Divisional Round after a 24-20 comeback win over the Detroit Lions, but it did not come without controversy.

A pass interference call on the Cowboys midway through the fourth quarter was picked up by officials without any explanation, starting an avalanche of disastrous plays for Detroit. The head-scratching non-call will overshadow a fascinating two-touchdown comeback by Dallas.

"We can't let one play define the game," Ndamukong Suh said after the game with tears in his eyes.

Good point. So what else went wrong for the Lions late?

Right after the picked-up flag, Lions coach Jim Caldwell tepidly called for a punt on fourth-and-1 instead of going for a first down in Cowboys territory. The Football Gods did not approve.

The Lions shanked their punt 10 yards, and Romo subsequently directed one of the most memorable drives of his career. The penalty will overshadow the Cowboys' comeback, but the entire Dallas team deserves credit for crawling out of a 14-0 hole. Romo, inaccurate and frantic for much of the day, was cool in the pocket as he delivered an 8-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams on third down to take the lead for the first time all day.

Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offense had their chances. In five second-half possessions, they punted twice, turned it over twice and had one field goal. Detroit's offense got the ball back after Williams' score with 2:32 left and all their timeouts. They could have flipped the narrative.

Stafford, protected well for most of the day, actually lost two fumbles on Detroit's final drive.  This Cowboys' pass rush, maligned for much of the year, came up huge with the game on the line. The Lions had a chance to make the controversial picked up flag irrelevant, but they couldn't close the deal.

The Cowboys offense delivered the biggest plays late, scoring on their final three drives. This surprising season out of Romo and Garrett will continue, after giving us a game we'll remember for a very long long.

Here's what else you need to know:

  1. Give Jason Garrett a ton of credit for coaching to win. He went for a fourth-and-goal on the goal line late in the third quarter, and the Cowboys' offensive line did the rest. Garrett also went for it on a fourth-and-6 with six minutes to go rather than kick a long field goal or punt it. Romo hit Jason Witten to keep that drive alive. The Football Gods, dismissive of Caldwell, approved of Garrett's sudden aggression.
  1. This was a great game for Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, even though Detroit didn't close the deal. They got a number of free rushers on Romo and stuffed DeMarco Murray for much of the day. The Lions begged Dallas to throw the ball often, and the Cowboys obliged. It took Romo roughly half the game to figure out what the Lions front seven was doing.
  1. Ndamukong Suh was emotional after the game, seemingly aware that his days in Detroit could be over. The future of the Lions defense is not dark, though. Ziggy Ansah had a huge performance Sunday with three QB hits, one sack, and a tackle for loss. Linebacker DeAndre Levy is one of the best at his position. Detroit's offensive nucleus can stay together. This team has a chance to build on this 11-win season.
  1. Cowboys rookie Demarcus Lawrence narrowly avoided being remembered with Leon Lett. He picked up Stafford's fumble with just under two minutes left, but then lost the ball right back to the Lions. It felt fitting that Lawrence essentially ended the game with a sack.
  1. Stafford outplayed Romo overall. Stafford enjoyed one of his most accurate games of the season, and had a number of terrific throws in difficult situations. He stepped up in the pocket to keep plays alive and make difficult throws. Stafford couldn't finish the job, but this game wasn't on him.
  1. Golden Tate proved again that he was one of the best signings in free agency over the offseason. He had a long touchdown with a great run after the catch. He had a great block that helped spring Reggie Bush for a touchdown. He made a key first down late in the first half to set up a field goal. He even managed to hold on to a punt without fumbling after taking a massive hit.

It's remarkable to see a Lions team where Calvin Johnson was not the leading receiver in a playoff game.

  1. It's a credit to the Cowboys they could win on a day when their offensive line was not at its best. DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant were also relatively quiet. Dallas' depth and coaching shined through. Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams had massive catches for Dallas.
  1. Few will give Dallas a chance next week in Green Bay, but this Cowboys team has shown a lot of mental toughness all season. They know they are never out of a game.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Wild Card game and looks ahead to the Divisional Round. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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