OXNARD, Calif. - The Cowboys gathered in a huddle an hour into their final full practice Thursday in preparation for Saturday's preseason game against the Chargers.
Head coach Jason Garrett usually will corral the team periodically throughout a practice. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in this case until discreet cheers became more audible.
The Cowboys sprinted to set up for a field goal that Dan Bailey nailed to send the team into applause and hysterics as they ran off the field. Bailey's converted field goal cut practice short and sent the Cowboys to the beach on their last full day in Oxnard.
It's doubtful the cheers would have started in the huddle in past seasons. This year, the Cowboys knew their guy would drill the kick, just as he had throughout training camp.
The first three Cowboys games last season were all decided by three points or fewer, including an overtime win against the 49ers, which was sealed by Bailey's game-winning kick.
Bailey gave the Cowboys another three-point overtime victory with a 39-yarder to beat the Redskins, 27-24, in Week 11. That win was followed by a one-point victory against the Dolphins.
Three points can make all the difference in today's game. After a carousel of kickers filed through the Cowboys organization in the last 10 years, Dallas now has a player expected to deliver every time.
He's carried last year's performance into training camp this season, where he's hit almost every field goal he's lined up for. In a 3-0 preseason victory against the Raiders, it was Bailey's lone kick that made the difference against a Raiders team which struggled to put the ball through the uprights.
While the Cowboys are still figuring out starters as more rookies demonstrate glimpses of potential and other players go down with injuries, Bailey has been a stable force the Cowboys can rely on. It's a luxury often overlooked as most of the focus in practice centers on two-minute drills, red zone drills and team drills.
Many teams are still searching for a consistent kicker they can trust in pressure situations. The Cowboys have that guy and the MVP of the preseason in Bailey.