While the Dallas Cowboys look to continue their playoff push, they might have to do it without their top offensive threat.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back, but need a win to hold on to their AFC wild-card spot.
The Cowboys and Steelers will try to boost their postseason chances Sunday when they meet in Dallas.
After a 20-19 victory at Cincinnati on Sunday that was its fourth win in five games, Dallas (7-6) is a game behind NFC East-leading New York and also one back of Chicago and Seattle in the wild-card race.
Dallas, however, suffered a big blow when wide receiver Dez Bryant broke his left index finger against the Bengals.
He caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass after the injury, and insists that he'll play Sunday.
"One of the things we know about Dez is he's a tough guy and he loves playing football,' coach Jason Garrett said. "He's going to give himself and our team every chance possible to play in this ballgame and continue to play this season.'
Bryant has 33 catches for 525 yards and seven TDs over the past five games, and is 10th in the NFL with 1,028 yards this season.
Bryant's emergence has certainly helped Tony Romo, who has completed 66.3 percent of his attempts for an average of 306.8 yards in his last five games. After throwing 13 interceptions in his first seven games, Romo has just three in his last six contests.
While Romo will now face a Pittsburgh pass defense that allows the fewest yards in the league (169.2 per game), the banged-up Steelers hardly look like a premier secondary right now.
Ike Taylor will miss his second consecutive game on Sunday due to a broken right ankle, while Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen are questionable with hip flexor ailments.
The short-handed Steelers (7-6) were burned on a season-high 12 of 22 third-down conversions - 11 through the air - in a 34-24 loss to San Diego on Sunday in which they trailed by as many as 24.
"We didn't make the necessary plays that we needed to make,' Allen said. "We have to be better as a whole. We just have to be better.'
After managing just four offensive touchdowns in the three games without Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh had only three first-half points against the Chargers. Roethlisberger finished with 285 yards and three touchdowns, though much of that came when the game was out of reach.
The Steelers were fortunate to hold on to the AFC's final wild-card spot because of Cincinnati's loss to Dallas. While both teams are 7-6, Pittsburgh holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals - with next Sunday's rematch at Heinz Field potentially looming as a playoff play-in.
"We can't be happy just because other teams lost and we're still in it,' linebacker Larry Foote said. "It's one of those gut-checking times.'
Mike Wallace, who had 10 catches for 77 yards and no scores while Roethlisberger was out, came alive with seven catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He did, though, have his sixth drop of the season, earning a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
"It's not like I'm out here dropping every pass,' Wallace said. "I made a lot of plays, too, as well. But I definitely would like to make every single play on the field.
Pittsburgh will try to shake off its recent struggles against a Dallas defense that ranks eighth in the NFL against the pass (217.8 yards per game).
The running game hasn't added much either, with Jonathan Dwyer rushing for a team-best 32 yards against the Chargers. The Steelers averaged 140.0 rushing yards during a four-game midseason winning streak, but are down to 25th in the NFL in rushing at 98.6 per game.
The Cowboys have managed to win their last two games despite giving up 7.2 yards per carry, but they won't have to deal with perhaps Pittsburgh's most talented running back. The team on Tuesday suspended Rashard Mendenhall against Dallas, reportedly because Mendenhall failed to show up at the Chargers game after finding out he'd be inactive for a second straight week.
Making matters worse, the Steelers have had to shuffle their offensive line around with left guard Willie Colon going down with a knee injury. Rookie first-rounder David DeCastro, who has yet to play because of a knee injury suffered in the preseason, is expected to get his first start Sunday.
The Steelers have won both of Roethlisberger's starts against Dallas, and picked off Romo three times while rallying from 10 down in the fourth quarter to win 20-13 at Heinz Field in 2008.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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