ARLINGTON, Texas – You know those movies that are good enough to watch over and over, but they still have a sad ending – one that you just think might be different this time.
Like, is Goose really going to die this time? Or maybe Rocky wins the first fight against Apollo. Or better yet, maybe Kevin Costner actually lands the green in Tin Cup and doesn't take the 12 at the end of the movie.
That reference actually hit home here and we'll get back to that in a moment.
But this game was one where I've seen the ending before – actually twice. Once was just last week and another one was about 18 years ago.
Both of those games ended in heartache for the Cowboys and man, this one was headed right there again.
When the Lions grabbed the lead just for a second in the first 2-point conversion, it felt like they were able to absolutely steal this game and ruin a historic night that included Jimmy Johnson and record-breaking effort by CeeDee Lamb … and also a great football game between two hard-fought playoff teams.
But for a second, the Lions just about stole the game in the final seconds. It would've been the second straight week in which the Cowboys lost a lead at the very end, just like they did in Miami back on Christmas Eve.
Actually, that wasn't the game that I kept thinking about. The one that sticks out to me – and forgive me if you don't recall this 2005 moment – but the Cowboys had another halftime induction that was just as important to the fans as this one.
Now, that wasn't as controversial because putting Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith into the Ring of Honor together wasn't just a given, but it was only six years after the three of them were on the field together.
That night, the Cowboys completely dominated Washington for three-and-a-half quarters, but only managed a 13-0 lead. That's when disaster struck and ruined the night as Santana Moss caught two bombs for touchdown, giving the Redskins a stunning 14-13 win.
It was a magical night for the Triplets, ruined by just two plays by the Cowboys' most-hated rival, losing a game they had no business losing.
And honestly, I felt the same way about this one Saturday night. Nothing against the Lions, who entered the game with a better record, but after just a few minutes of watching it, this game felt like the Cowboys were the better team – maybe not appreciably better – but I got the sense they were going to win this game one way or another.
And when CeeDee Lamb was walking into the end zone in the second quarter, about to put the Cowboys up 14-3, that was definitely reaffirming my suspicions.
And then, Lamb fumbled – not out of bounds of course – but forward into the end zone for a touchback. With that, we had a game. I really think a 14-3 lead by the Cowboys, who were getting the ball to start the third quarter, could've led to a bigger win, but just like they did last week, the Cowboys fumbled again on the 1.
Maybe the Cowboys-Dolphins game is different last week if Hunter Luepke doesn't fumble the snap on the opening drive right before he lunges into the end zone.
Same goes for the Cowboys and Eagles back in Philly when Dallas had numerous chances to score inside the 10, all in the fourth quarter. That's been a theme this year for the Cowboys, not just failing at red-zone attempts, but leaving obvious points on the table.
And had the Lions gone back and actually won this game – as Dan Campbell was determined to do – we would've thought about several plays, including the Lamb fumble.
But also the questionable play-calling at the end for the Cowboys just about doomed this team again. This is the second time in the last five games in which the Cowboys threw the ball in the final two minutes with the opponent out of timeouts. It happened against Seattle and then again vs. Detroit. The Cowboys had a shot to cut the clock down to about 1:05 with a field goal by Brandon Aubrey. But the Cowboys went for the knockout blow, an incomplete pass left the Lions with 1:41 on the clock when they took over at their 25.
It took 1:14 on the clock for the Lions to score and that's when the 2-point conversion fiasco ensued.
Earlier in the column, I brought up the movie Tin Cup with Costner, a trick-shot golfer his entire life who has a chance to win the U.S. Open if he plays it smart. All he has to do is just "lay up" and hit the ball close, then get the Par and win the tournament. But instead, the character knows he can make the shot by driving the green. Instead, the ball rolls in the water, and then he does it again, and again, and then again and then again, blowing his chance at the tournament. Sure, for the movie's sake, he finally makes the shot in the hole, but finishes with a 12.
That's basically what it felt like with Dan Campbell at the end. It didn't matter where the ball was, he was going for it and trying to get the win.
Maybe you do that when you've already clinched the playoffs and the division and just playing for seeding. Maybe that's what McCarthy was thinking as well with his pass-happy calls at the end, looking to put the game away.
Who knows, but you wonder if things might be called differently when the playoffs arrive.
But this time, the Cowboys were the fortunate team. They got the call – as controversial as it might be – to help lead to a dramatic win.
Saving the team's chances to win the division and most importantly, saving us from another sad ending to a movie we've seen before.