The New England Patriots picked a very good time to beat the Dallas Cowboys for the first time. The Patriots broke a three-game losing streak--and boosted their fading playoff prospects--with their best defensive performance of the season in a 13-6 victory tonight.

Drew Bledsoe (14-of-25 passing for 176 yards) improved over his recent struggles, but still threw two interceptions in the first half. Then he led the Patriots (7-5) on a 65-yard fourth-quarter drive capped by Terry Allen's three-yard touchdown run that gave them a 13-3 lead with 6:39 left.

That and Adam Vinatieri's first-half field goals of 41 and 23 yards were all the Patriots needed to beat the Cowboys for the first time in eight tries.

"We didn't care who it was," New England defensive tackle Chad Eaton said. "It could have been Attleboro High School. We just needed a win bad."

Dallas's Emmitt Smith joined Barry Sanders as the only players to rush for more than 1,000 yards in nine consecutive seasons. Smith gained 75 yards on 19 carries, giving him 1,053 this year.

The Cowboys (6-6) dropped to 1-6 on the road and failed to get a touchdown for the first time this season, scoring on Richie Cunningham's field goals of 20 yards in the first quarter and 34 in the fourth.

The Cowboys, playing for the first time in 10 days, are tied for second in the NFC East, one game behind Washington, which also lost. The Patriots moved one game behind second-place Miami and Buffalo (8-4) in the AFC East.