NASHVILLE, TENN — CeeDee Lamb doesn't simply want the smoke, the Dallas Cowboys former first-round pick is himself providing the fire behind the billows opposing secondaries can't help but choke on over the past several weeks, having now added the Tennessee Titans to the list of victims suffering from smoke inhalation.
Lamb caught 11 passes for 100 yards, pushing him to 102 catches for the season, becoming just the third player in franchise history to hit the century mark, joining Michael Irvin (111 in 1995) and Jason Witten (110 in 2012). And Lamb's 100-yard outing in Nashville marks the fourth in his last seven games, and the two-time Pro Bowler has now racked up 651 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns over that same span of time, effectively extinguishing any concerns regarding his ability to step up and be the WR1 for the Cowboys.
"I always wanna finish strong," said Lamb. "That's always been my forte. I believe in myself and my teammates that we're gonna get the job done — 100 yards is just the icing on the cake."
He's also doing it the hard way because, for as much as Lamb is known for his speed and quickness, the 23-year-old has routinely made it a habit to stiff-arm or run through his would-be tackler to increase his yards after catch; and he's one of the better downfield blocking receivers in the NFL when the ball is not in his hands.
"I'm doing whatever to get extra yards," he said. "Never wanna get pushed back. That's how I've always played this game. I always go in understanding that I'm not your biggest receiver, but I can for sure pack a punch."
The addition of four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton to the roster in early December only helps to prevent teams from keying in on Lamb, Hilton's four catches for 50 yards against the Titans creating critical conversions that kept the chains moving — Michael Gallup doing the same — giving Lamb added space to operate.
"It builds our confidence," Lamb said of Hilton's rapid progression in the Cowboys offense. "It keeps the ball rolling. In this league, all you need is time and downs. If we can get those, with the weapons we have, he's a key element to it. [We just need to] keep building, and they can double me all they want.
It's a Cowboys team that is now 12-4 heading into their final regular season game, having earned 24 wins through their last 33 outings, looking to finally find hydration for their very long Super Bowl drought, but it begins with cleaning up the mistakes that prevented them from obliterating the Titans and cost them a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars two games prior.
"We've still got a ways to go, honestly," said Lamb. "If we [clean up] our mistakes, we can be great."
It's felt for weeks, if not the entirety of the season, that this version of the Cowboys can only be defeated by themselves. That was again evidenced in Nashville but, as has been the case more often than not in 2022, they found ways to remain resilient en route to a victory.
And that in large part is attributable to Lamb becoming what the Cowboys always believed he could be: the top dog in the WRs room in Dallas.