IRVING, Texas – Drew Bledsoe spent the first two months of this season proving he can still be among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. After a bit of a slump, he showed Sunday that he -and perhaps the Dallas Cowboys – are back.

Bledsoe threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns, including a 1-yarder to tight end Dan Campbell with 22 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 31-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in a tense, thrilling game befitting a matchup between coaches Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil.

Dallas (8-5) ended a two-game losing streak and finally found itself on the right end of a game-ending field goal when Kansas City’s Lawrence Tynes missed a 41-yarder. The Cowboys have had all but two games decided by a touchdown or less; two of their last three losses came on a field goal as time expired.

Kansas City (8-5) wasted Larry Johnson’s 143 yards rushing and three touchdowns and ended a three-game winning streak. The Chiefs had a chance to move up in the AFC playoff standings as division rival San Diego also lost. While remaining among a pack of teams fighting for wild cards, Kansas City slipped to two games behind Denver for the AFC West lead.

The Chiefs were making only their fifth trip back to the area where they began in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. They lost for the fourth straight time here, with this one spiced up by the postseason stakes for both teams and the sideline battle of their coaches, Parcells and Vermeil.

Parcells told the Cowboys last week that they could still win their division by winning their last four games. They went ahead early in the fourth quarter, then found themselves behind 28-24 when Trent Green threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Kennison with 3:55 left.

Then Bledsoe, who was 22-of-34 with no interceptions, marched the Cowboys 68 yards in 14 plays for the winning score.

Steelers 21, Bears 9

PITTSBURGH – Finally, the Chicago Bears’ defense made a major miscalculation after eight nearly perfect weeks. They forgot to pack their snow tires.

The Bears’ lack of offense caught up to them on a day their exceptional defense was merely average. Jerome Bettis plowed through the muck and snow for two touchdowns and 101 yards as the Steelers beat the Bears 21-9 and ended Chicago’s eight-game winning streak.

Bettis, held to 22 yards on 14 carries in his previous two games had his first 100-yard game since getting 117 last Dec. 26 against Baltimore. Bettis’ previous season high was 56 yards against Cincinnati on Oct. 23, and he had only 186 yards in Pittsburgh’s first 12 games. Ben Roethlisberger, all but ignoring the deep pass due to his bad thumb and the bad weather, threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on Pittsburgh’s first drive. After that, the Steelers (8-5) played a nearly error-free game on a day made for mistakes to stay alive in the AFC playoff race following three consecutive losses.

For a change in a series of almost weekly must-win games, the Steelers won because they got back to basics, something the Bears’ offense did successfully for weeks during a winning streak that was carried almost exclusively by the defense.

The Steelers’ three touchdowns matched a season high against the Bears, and their 21 points were the most against Chicago since a 24-9 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 25. The Steelers outgained the Bears 363-268.

With the Bears’ defense allowing only 68 points during their longest winning streak since their 1985 Super Bowl championship team won 12 in a row, and never more than 17 points in any game, rookie quarterback Kyle Orton kept winning even while fumbling 11 times and throwing 13 interceptions.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, when the Bears (9-4) finally needed him to bring them from behind, Orton (17-of-35, 207 yards) couldn’t do it, or even come close.

The Bears managed to drive to the Steelers’ 3 following Ward’s third touchdown catch in two games, but Orton was sacked for an eight-yard loss on second-and-goal and threw incomplete on third down to force them to settle for Robbie Gould’s 29-yard field goal.

Six Bears possessions and six Bears punts later, the Steelers led 21-3 after Bettis scored on runs of 1 yard midway through the second quarter and 5 yards in the third quarter. – only one fewer touchdown than the three he had previously this season.

The first run came on a 73-yard drive that included Roethlisberger completions of 16 yards to Verron Haynes and 17 to Cedrick Wilson and Willie Parker’s 11-yard run to the 1. Bettis’ second score followed Roethlisberger throws of 15 yards to Antwaan Randle El on third-and-14 and 10 yards to Quincy Morgan on third-and-9.

Roethlisberger (13-of-20 for 173 yards, no interceptions) threw almost no high-risk passes a week after throwing a career high three interceptions in a damaging 38-31 loss to Cincinnati that left the Bengals in control of the AFC North.

The Steelers remained two games back of the Bengals (10-3) with three to play as Cincinnati pulled out a 23-20 victory at home over Cleveland.

AP-ES-12-11-05 1625EST


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