10 Has Become Cowboys' Magic Number

Cowboys, in their 49 seasons, have faced this final-game, win-and-you're-in predicament three other times: 1984, 1990 and 1999 - all three times needing to win the final game just to qualify for the playoffs as a wild-card team.

In order, the Cowboys lost at Miami in 1984, 28-21, when Dan Marino connected with Mark Clayton on a 67-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left while defensive backs Ron Fellows and Michael Downs each slipped on the rain-slickened field to drop the Cowboys to a non-playoff 9-7 finish.

They lost 26-7 at Atlanta in 1990 when Babe Laufenberg had to start the season finale in place of Troy Aikman (separated shoulder), and even at that, the Cowboys still would have qualified for the playoffs at 7-9 had the Los Angeles Rams beaten the New Orleans Saints on Monday night in the season's absolute final regular-season game. But Morten Andersen's 24-yard field goal with two seconds left - his first attempt was blocked if you can believe that, but the Rams were called for being offsides - gave the Saints a 20-17 victory with a slew of Cowboys players down the street at Cowboys Café watching the MNF game on the big screen TV.

But in 1999, with the 7-8 Cowboys needing to beat the 7-8 Giants at Texas Stadium and after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had a Monday sit-down with like 20 of the team's veterans for 20 minutes, knowing his club had gone just 4-8 over the final 12 games, they edged into the playoffs with a 26-18 victory for the only time in club history at 8-8.

Two other times the final game has come down to the winner winning the NFC East, the Cowboys doing so in 1979 with the stirring comeback for a 35-34 victory over the Redskins, who ended up not even qualifying for the playoffs because of tiebreakers, and again claiming the division in 1993 when they defeated the Giants at Giants Stadium in overtime, 16-13.

That was then, this is now, although that final-game victory in 1999 is the last time the Cowboys have won the last game in a regular season, having lost the past eight straight.

But, you know what? This team just might be loaded with a bunch of Cool Hand Lukes, because every time they have been backed into a corner, desperately facing a must-win situation, they have won.

Remember 4-3 and facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without Romo at quarterback and knowing the next game was at Giants Stadium? The Cowboys won, 13-9, the Bucs then winning the next four straight to pull to 9-3 thereafter.

Remember 5-4 and heading to Washington with a splint on Romo's little finger, knowing they couldn't possibly lose if their playoff hopes were to remain alive? They won, 14-10.

Remember 8-5 and having to face the Giants a second time, once again desperate to log an NFC victory and keep the streaking Eagles off their tail? They won, 20-8.

Maybe this is how the Cowboys roll.

They need the proverbial gun pointed to their temple to scratch and claw like a bunch of alley cats. Also in this pressure-packed body of work, see how they crawled back into that first Washington game with the late fourth-quarter touchdown when times were desperate to cut the deficit to two; or the Arizona game when they scored 10 late fourth-quarter points to send the game into overtime on Nick Folk's 52-yard field goal as time expired in regulation; or, at least from the offense's view, scored two times late in the fourth quarter - and 17 points total - to twice cut Baltimore's lead to just two points.

"They seem to pick it up when it's dire," Phillips said. "When it looks like they might be out of it, they're not. They fight, they keep fighting."

And so it's come to this, the Cowboys' situation as dire as dire can be in this world of sports, staggering and stumbling into an elimination game they welcome - and dearly hope is the first of many.

Tee 'er up.

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