Dan Bailey's 40-yard field goal as time ran out gave Dallas a 20-19 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that provided a few seconds of relief from two days of grief.
"There was a feeling of numbness on the field, but they focused and found a way to win today," coach Jason Garrett said. "It is a day that I am never going to forget. However, it is a tragic day for all of us."
The Cowboys learned on their flight to Cincinnati on Saturday that linebacker Jerry Brown had died in an accident overnight. Defensive lineman Josh Brent — the car driver — was charged with intoxication manslaughter in Irving, Texas, for the early morning accident.
Brent was released from jail on $500,000 bond about an hour after Bailey's kick won the game in Cincinnati, leaving the Cowboys had a lot of thoughts racing through their heads.
"The last 24 hours has really been something I've never experienced," quarterback Tony Romo said. "It's something I've never experienced, and I think a lot of guys will tell you that. It's just been a roller coaster of emotions.
"It was a very — and still is — a very difficult thing that this football team is dealing with."
It was the second week in a row that an NFL team played a game one day after a team member died. Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend, then killed himself at the Chiefs' practice complex in front of his coach and general manager.
Playing the day after their tragedy, the Chiefs beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21 for their second win of the season.
Garrett told the Cowboys (7-6) on Saturday night that it was important to play well against the Bengals (7-6). Both teams needed a win to stay in the thick of playoff contention.
There was no ignoring what had happened.
One of the visitors' metal lockers at Paul Brown Stadium had a strip of white athletic tape with "53 JERRY BROWN" attached to the top, 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 decided it.
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 spoke with Brown's mother twice on Sunday. The team plans a memorial on Tuesday.
Jones wishes more had been done to help Brent, who had a DUI arrest in 2009.
"Personally, I have spent a lot of time over the past 12 hours thinking what might have been said and done," Jones said. "I know there are many things that might have been said or done. So the answer is yes. But I know that's the way things happen when you have a tragedy."
Cornerback Brandon Carr was with the Chiefs last season and was close to Belcher. He attended a funeral on Saturday, then rejoined the Cowboys as they started dealing with their own grief.
"Honestly, I couldn't do it myself," said Carr, who had an interception against Cincinnati. "My teammates have had my back since Day 1 with what transpired last week (in Kansas City) and then today."
Players around the league also were touched by it.
San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman and special teams standout Demarcus Dobbs thought about it before a home game Sunday against Miami. Dobbs was arrested early Nov. 30 — his 25th birthday — on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. He missed last week's game at St. Louis but was active for Sunday's game with the Dolphins.
Authorities said Dobbs was alone and involved in a single-car accident in which he hit a chain-link fence and a bush but didn't sustain any injuries.
"It was a wake-up call to me what happened to me," Dobbs said on the field before the game. "The thing that happened in Dallas, it makes me grateful that God was looking out for me. It could have been a lot worse in my situation.
"What happened in Dallas is unfortunate. It just goes to show what could have been. I'm grateful that I'm here and able to be on the team and go on and continue my life. That saddened me to hear that, but it made me count my blessings even more."
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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