Marion Barber III ran for two short touchdowns and Billy Cundiff kicked a franchise-record 56-yard field goal a day after rejoining the club, giving the Cowboys a 20-7 victory over the penalty-magnet Lions.
Detroit was penalized 17 times for 129 yards and nine first downs. Each of Dallas' four scoring drives included a failed third down that became a first down thanks to a penalty against the Lions.
"Hey, we appreciate that," Cowboys safety Roy Williams said.
Dallas needed the help because its offense wasn't clicking. Drew Bledsoe threw for a season-low 110 yards and didn't have a touchdown pass for the first time. Julius Jones returned to the starting lineup and ran for 92 yards but lost a fumble and was stuffed three consecutive times from the 1.
Still, the Cowboys (7-3) dominated the clock, didn't have any other turnovers and allowed only one sack to win their third in a row and fifth in six games. This one also gives them more victories than they had last season.
"It certainly wasn't the prettiest game and we didn't play up to the standards that we've set for ourselves, but there's no getting around the fact that it's a huge win for us," said Bledsoe, who was 12-of-23.
Barber's first touchdown came on the opening drive and Dallas led the rest of the way. Detroit (4-6) got within 10-7 in the second quarter, but Cundiff's boot stretched the lead at halftime.
Once Barber scored again in the third quarter, the Cowboys were able to enjoy a rare game that wasn't decided in the final minutes -- something they needed coming off a wild victory Monday night in Philadelphia and with Denver coming to Texas Stadium on Thursday.
"I just can't get them exactly the way I want it right now," said Parcells, who hung mousetraps throughout team headquarters this week to try keeping players focused. "They still don't all get it. It's OK. I am happy to win. I don't have time to cry the blues and I'm not going to."
The Lions were hoping to win a second consecutive game and break even going into their own Thanksgiving game, but their loss and a win by Chicago leaves them farther out of the NFC North race.
"They're all must-win games now," said Detroit receiver Roy Williams, who caught five passes for 72 yards, but not the game-breaker the Lions needed.
Detroit made things rough by getting penalized six times in each of the first two quarters, then five times in the third, seemingly taking aim at the league record of 22.
The breakdown on the flag-fest: five offsides, three false starts, three personal fouls (roughing the passer, face mask and unnecessary roughness), one defensive illegal contact, one offensive pass interference, one offensive holding, one defensive pass interference, one illegal block and one for too many men on the field.
"The penalties are inexcusable," coach Steve Mariucci said.
It was the most ever against the Cowboys. Lions officials could not immediately determine how the numbers ranked in their history.
The tone was set in the first 10 minutes.
On Dallas' first drive, a third-and-11 incompletion from the Detroit 21 turned into a first down courtesy of illegal contact by Lions safety Jon McGraw. The Cowboys got first down at the 16 and Barber scored two plays later. He finished with 53 yards on 15 carries.
Before Detroit's first offensive snap, lineman Damien Woody was called for a false start. The drive ended up featuring an offensive pass interference call on Williams that wiped out his 40-yard touchdown catch and ended with a third-down holding penalty that knocked the Lions out of field-goal range.
"You can't put yourself in that type of position," said Joey Harrington, who started again at quarterback. He was 17-of-25 for 169 yards, with a lost fumble.
Kevin Jones ran 12 times for 29 yards and Detroit's only touchdown.
- Cundiff, released with an injury settlement in August and re-signed Saturday, also made a 19-yarder.
- Detroit FB Cory Schlesinger got only a few inches on his first carry of the season, but it came on fourth-and-an-inch, giving the Lions a first down during their first scoring drive.
- The previous longest kick by the Cowboys was from 54 yards, done by Toni Fritsch in 1972, Ken Willis in '91 and Richie Cunningham in '98.
- Dallas TE Brett Pierce tore a knee ligament, likely ending his season.