IRVING, Texas -- Regardless of whether Ron Dayne ever outruns his reputation as an underachiever, he'll always be able to look back fondly at Thanksgiving 2005.
Filling in for injured Tatum Bell, Dayne rumbled 55 yards on the second play of overtime and Jason Elam followed with a 24-yard field goal to give the Denver Broncos a 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday in the kind of tight game expected in a clash between first-place teams.
Bell was a surprise scratch because of a bruised chest, and Dayne didn't even know he'd be in the lineup until yesterday. He responded with 98 yards rushing, his most since Sept. 30, 2001, and scored his first touchdown since the 2004 opener, when the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner was still with the New York Giants.
''The coaching staff gave me a chance and they believed in me," Dayne said. ''I was glad I got this opportunity to show Coach that I wasn't a bust."
The game was close for more than four quarters, with the margin never wider than a touchdown. Both defenses came up with big plays and each team downed a punt inside the 2. But the Cowboys (7-4) missed a 34-yard field goal that would've put them ahead midway through the fourth quarter.
Dallas ended a three-game winning streak and, like all its other losses, this one was decided late. The Cowboys' losses are by a combined 13 points, with the last two coming on game-ending field goals.
''I'm disappointed with the outcome, I'm not disappointed with the effort," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. ''I thought we played pretty solid on defense, until that last run."
Dayne was active only five of the first 10 games with Denver (9-2). He came into this game without a carry since Oct. 2 and a season total of 53 yards.
He began showing confidence with a season-best run of 14 yards on his first carry. Then came a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Dayne and Mike Anderson (31 yards on 11 carries) were alternating series, and it was Dayne's turn when the Broncos won the overtime coin toss. After opening with a pass, Plummer handed off to Dayne on second and 3 from the 39.
He bowled through the left side of the line, pulled away from would-be tackler Keith Davis around the 50, and kept going until he was dragged down from behind by Terence Newman at the 6.