ARLINGTON, Texas -- The punt was bouncing into the end zone and Detroit's John Wendling played it perfectly, leaping just before the goal line and tapping the ball toward the field. For the fourth time this game, the Dallas Cowboys were about to be pinned inside their 5-yard line.
Only this time, the ball took a waist-high hop, right into the hands of Dallas' Bryan McCann. And the speedster knew exactly what to do with it.
"I saw the edge," he said, "and kept running."
McCann returned the batted punt 97 yards for a touchdown, putting the Cowboys ahead and sparking them to a 35-19 victory Sunday.
Jon Kitna added three touchdown passes for Dallas in its first win at home this season and improved to 2-0 under interim coach Jason Garrett.
The new boss has it all figured out. Just make sure the ball finds a way to McCann and victory follows. The previous week, this undrafted rookie who was on the practice squad at the start of the month returned an interception 101 yards for a pivotal touchdown in a stunning road victory over the Giants.
Now he's come through again, breathing life back into the club when it was down by five points and starting to fall apart -- "seeing the Grim Reaper," as team owner Jerry Jones put it.
Better still, it happened because McCann understood the rule. Once a ball is touched by the kicking team, there's no downside to the return team trying to advance it. Even if they fumble it away, they would get the ball back where it was first touched.
"I was tired of seeing the offense start out at the 5 all day, so really I just wanted to make something happen," McCann said. "Everybody wants to be the guy to make that play and it just felt good to be able to do it two weeks in a row."
Replays showed McCann may have gone out of bounds about 30 yards before scoring. But the replays were slow in coming, so Detroit (2-8) didn't challenge.
Given a 14-12 lead, the Dallas defense pried away a turnover two snaps later. Then an offense that had been in a huge funk turned into a scoring machine, getting touchdowns on three straight drives.
Kitna threw short touchdown passes to Miles Austin on the next two series, then the 38-year-old backup capped the following possession with a 29-yard TD run; it was the longest jaunt of his 14-year career.
"You just keep on running 'til they get there," Kitna said.
From McCann's timely plays to Kitna finding the fountain of youth, everything seems to be clicking for the Cowboys (3-7) since Garrett took over.
"When you are looking for crumbs, it doesn't take but a little piece to get you to smile, and these [wins] have been a couple of nice little pieces," Jones said.
Next up for Dallas is the challenge of back-to-back games against last season's Super Bowl opponents -- the Saints at Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving, then at Indianapolis.
Detroit is headed home for Thanksgiving still lugging its woeful NFL record for road losses: 26 in a row, and counting.
The Lions blew a 12-7 lead because of a wacky stretch that featured McCann's return, the fumble soon after and a penalty on Detroit rookie Ndamukong Suh for pulling Cowboys running back Marion Barber down by his hair, which is actually legal. That was a key flag because instead of Dallas having third-and-goal from 11 while leading 21-19, the Cowboys had first-and-goal from the 5. A touchdown followed, putting them ahead by two scores.
"They said he didn't pull his hair, that they got a horse-collar. I saw what you saw," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.
On Dallas' first series, Kitna took over after a punt was downed at the 2 and drove the Cowboys 98 yards for their first touchdown. They couldn't do anything else right until after McCann's big play.
Their six possessions in between were the kind of stretch that got Wade Phillips fired: zero first downs, minus-10 yards overall, a fumble at the 12 that led to a go-ahead touchdown for Detroit just before halftime, then a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety.
"Every game in this league is different, but this one was a little weird," said Lions quarterback Shaun Hill, who was 32 of 47 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, plus an interception.
Kitna was 18 of 24 for 147 yards and three touchdowns, and was Dallas' second-leading rusher with 40 yards on four carries. He also didn't have any turnovers, all against a team that gave up on him a few years ago.
He's now won more games than Tony Romo has this season. Suddenly, no one is in a hurry for the franchise's biggest star to return from a broken collarbone.
"The people I'm playing with allow me to play at this level," Kitna said. "When they're playing like that, the quarterback position becomes easy."
At halftime, former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith received his Hall of Fame ring. ... Detroit RB Jahvid Best tried playing on a pair of injured big toes and found out he couldn't. After gaining 2 yards on three carries, third down back Maurice Morris became the main ball carrier. He gained 31 yards on 10 carries. ... Austin's TDs were his only catches.
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