“America’s Team” kept its playoff hopes alive Sunday. But less than 40 hours before those Dallas Cowboys rallied for a 20-19, last-second victory at Cincinnati, one of their practice-squad players lost his life to a continuing American menace.

Linebacker Jerry Brown died early Saturday morning after the car driven by Cowboys nose guard Josh Brent flipped on a highway near Dallas.

The good friends played their college football at the University of Illinois. Now one is dead and the other faces the possibility of a long prison term.

Mr. Brent, while a member of the Fighting Illini, pleaded guilty to DUI in 2009 and drew 60 days in jail, two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service. He also paid a fine of roughly $2,000.

Now charged with intoxicated manslaughter in Saturday’s accident, he’s facing a much more severe penalty.

But Mr. Brent’s psychic punishment could transcend any criminal sentence.

In a statement released Sunday, Mr. Brent said: “I am devastated and filled with grief. ... I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life.”

Such “horrific and tragic” loss remains all too familiar across our land.

When you drink and drive, you don’t just pose a fatal threat to yourself and others in your vehicle. You pose a fatal threat to everybody on the road.

Yes, federal statistics released Monday show that U.S. highway deaths in 2011 fell to 32,367 — the lowest road-fatality figure since 1949.

And highway deaths due to drunk driving dropped from 10,136 in 2010 to 9,878 in 2011.

Yet 9,878 is still is a big number. The best way to keep that figure falling is to not drive while intoxicated.

Keep that in mind during this season of holiday parties that often include ample consumption of alcohol.

And regardless of the time of year, if you’re not sober, keep away from driving.