ARLINGTON, Texas — It took 57 minutes and 41 seconds of game time for the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers to mount a lead over Garrett Gilbert’s Dallas Cowboys.
But when the Steelers leaped into the lead, they did so with style courtesy of tight end Eric Ebron’s touchdown hurdle with 2:19 to play at JerryWorld. A failed two-point conversion gave Pittsburgh a tenuous 5-point lead, but that was enough to steal a 24-19 win and extend its unblemished record to 8-0.
Gilbert helped get the Cowboys all the way to Pittsburgh’s 23-yard line with a chance to take the lead in the final seconds, but his pass to the end zone fell incomplete.
Dallas suffered its fourth straight loss, falling to 2-7 and remaining winless since quarterback Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury. But starting their fourth quarterback in five weeks, the Cowboys were far more competitive than in recent weeks.
Here are three things we learned in the Cowboys’ 24-19 loss:
1. Gilbert gives Dallas its best performance since Prescott
After Andy Dalton landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, the Cowboys eschewed a second consecutive start for rookie Ben DiNucci and gave Gilbert the nod with veteran journeyman Cooper Rush as the backup. Gilbert had spent time with a half-dozen teams before Dallas, but he had played in just six NFL games, completing two of three pass attempts. Still, he appeared to offer what the Cowboys needed for their offense to again operate functionally. Gilbert completed 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards, a touchdown and an interception in addition to three carries for 28 yards.
The Cowboys scored 19 points, their most since losing Prescott, and scored a touchdown for the first time in three games.
2. Turnovers again proved critical
The Cowboys have now committed a turnover in eight straight games. On Sunday, Steelers All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made Dallas pay for that trend. Fitzpatrick recovered a CeeDee Lamb fumble in the second quarter when the ball popped suddenly from the Cowboys rookie’s hands straight into the Pittsburgh star’s waiting hands. Fitzpatrick was ready again in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers pass rush closed in on Gilbert at Pittsburgh’s 10-yard line, Gilbert chucking a ball to the middle of the end zone, Fitzpatrick again waiting. The Steelers marched 75 yards in 11 plays for a field goal to bring the game within 1 point. The Cowboys wouldn’t score again, the Steelers earning a touchdown that would ultimately seal the game. McCarthy’s team enters the bye with 20 turnovers.
3. Special teams is a silver lining
In addition to several strong defensive series, the Cowboys’ special teams unit played its best game of the season. Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford blocked an extra point that, at one point, let the Cowboys stay ahead by a point before ultimately ceding the late-game score.
Dallas also recorded two big return plays, a 64-yard kick return and 73-yard punt return. On the punt return, receiver Cedrick Wilson caught the ball at Dallas’ 6-yard line then pivoted and ran it 4 yards to the 10. Then, just as three Steelers readied to close in, Wilson threw a dart across the width of the field to defensive back C.J. Goodwin, who took off down the left sideline 83 yards, netting a 73-yard return after penalty.
Goodwin fell short of a score like his team would fall short of the win. But for the Cowboys, this contest appeared to be an improvement.
Dallas enters a bye week in Week 9.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein