BOSTON (CBS) – While it was the offense that led the New England Patriots to the winning touchdown, it was their defense that gave them the opportunity Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

After turning the ball over four times, the Patriots came away with an ugly 20-16 win over the Cowboys on Sunday, thanks in large part to a big defensive effort. Off the four turnovers, Dallas only scored six points.

“With the offense having a few struggles out there it was good for us to go out and hold them to three and not give up seven points because it would have made a difference in the score and the outcome of the game of course,” said linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

“Here we always talk about situational football,” said corner Devin McCourty. “Those situations came up a lot. Sudden change (of possession) you go up there in a four-minute situation. This team is very prepared to go out there in different situations and play good football.”

Read: Pats-Cowboys Highs and Lows

“It’s just having our teammate’s backs,” said linebacker Brandon Spikes, who accounted for eight tackles. “Sometimes things aren’t going to go the way we want them to, and we just have to be there and do our job. Like I said, we were there to stand up and we got the job done. Anytime we get the opportunity to go out there and there is a sudden change, we want to come out holding them to three or getting the ball back and giving it to the offense.”

“We wanted to stick together,” said corner Kyle Arrington, who picked off his fourth pass of the season to go with a team-high 11 tackles. “You know, we definitely wanted to – the ups, the downs, you know – because it’s a long year. So I think we do a great job of that. It’s ‘We all we got,’ that’s what we always say defensively. I think we just all banded together and left it all out on the field.”

“They were awesome,” Tom Brady said of the defense. “We gave them some short fields there. But they really stepped it up when they needed to. They really kind of tightened down in the red area and limited them to field goals. That’s really what kept us in the game.”

While the game was far from perfect for either side of the ball, the defense is showing signs of improvement. They stopped the run, giving up just 77 yards in the ground. They kept Tony Romo guessing, and pressured him all afternoon.

Defense end Andre Carter came up with a pair of key sacks, solidifying an evolving Patriots pass-rush.

Photos: Pats Comeback Against Cowboys

“It felt great. One thing that people don’t understand, especially when it comes to sacks – sacks and coverage, everything else, it just comes hand in hand,” said the 10-year veteran. “So it’s just something that we always talk about and discuss. It was just a blessing and I thank God and I just thank the 10 guys who were around to do their job. When the opportunity presented itself to make a play, we made a play.”

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While the offense may have struggled for most of the afternoon, the D was confident that if they gave Tom Brady one more chance in the end, he would come through. They did just that, forcing a Dallas three-and-out to give Brady and the Pats offense the ball with just over two and a half minutes to go.

“We talk about it all the time. Just keep giving our offense the chance,” said McCourty. “No matter what they do (the opposing team), if they score a touchdown, if they score two straight, or if they go three and out, anything that happens. We know that if we just keep giving them (the offense) the ball, good things will happen. I think they have proven that. As a defense that is our goal, keep giving them the ball off of turnovers, three and outs, anything. Just give that offense the ball.”

“Everybody on the sideline was saying that we need to go back out and get a stop,” the second-year corner said of the stop before the final drive. “We don’t have any doubt that if we get the ball back to Tom Brady with time left on the clock, we’re confident that he will go down and get three or get seven, whatever we need.”

Stats: Pats-Cowboys Box Score

The defense may be improving, but it is far from perfect. The Cowboys were able to gain extra yards after the catch because of horrendous tackling by New England defenders; something coach Bill Belichick will be sure to point out during their week off.

“We had our moments. I thought we missed a lot of tackles,” said coach Bill Belichick. “That was the biggest problem. Obviously, they’ve got a lot of good runners – guys that can handle the ball and are tough to tackle. The backs, the receivers, the tight end – they’re all hard [to tackle]. We’ve got to do a better job of tackling, but we were able to play well in the red area and hold them to some field goals.”

“Definitely there is (improvement), but I still think there are things we need to improve on,” said Ninkovich. “We will watch some tape and tighten up but I think that week to week as long as you’re getting better that is all you can ask.”

“I know when we come back to work, there will be a few clips where you cringe,” Carter said on WBZ-TV’s Sports Final Sunday night. “But it humbles you. That’s one thing about coach Belichick. A win in the NFL is never easy to come by, but at the same time despite how you win, whether by big points or close games, you have to be a man and look at yourself in the mirror and say OK these are the things we need to get better (in).”

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“We’re getting better, we’re definitely getting better,” said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “Each week we go in and we improve and that’s one thing you want to do. You want to be able see improvement throughout each week and I think we’ve seen that. Going into the bye week, there are a couple of things that we can work on and continue to improve.”

It may have been ugly, and they may have had to work extra hard to do it, but a win is a win in the eyes of the Patriots.

“I’m all about the W. Call it what you want, but we won,” said Spikes.


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