FRISCO, Texas – You'd need to be blind not to notice the trend by now.
When the Cowboys need a big play in crunch time, Michael Gallup delivers.
"MG, he has done everything, he has been so clutch this year," Ezekiel Elliott said on Sunday. "Just, whenever we need a play, he is there to make it."
Late game heroics have been a steady theme for the third-year receiver through the first month of the season. As it turns out, Gallup doesn't necessarily need Dak Prescott to make them happen.
The Cowboys' coaching staff hadn't asked much of Andy Dalton up to the end of Sunday's win against the New York Giants. Coming on in relief after Prescott's ankle fracture, he had only thrown for 53 yards on seven completions, as the Cowboys instead leaned on Elliott for much of the second half.
Needing to make hay to reach Greg Zuerlein's range for a game-winning field goal, though, Dalton knew just where to look. He first found Gallup while rolling to his right, hitting his man right at the sideline for 19 yards on a beautiful, toe-tap completion.
"You just put the ball up anywhere close to him, and he's been able to come down with them," Dalton said afterward.
Clearly, the veteran quarterback meant what he said. After video review confirmed the catch, Dalton went right back to the same well, lofting a 38-yarder down the sideline for Gallup to go get.
The result was another acrobatic display – a high-flying, foot-tapping, box out move that would've made Dez Bryant proud – that put the Cowboys in position for the game-winning kick. It was a highlight reel play that stunned everyone in attendance at AT&T Stadium, except for maybe Gallup himself.
"Oh that was automatic. That was automatic," he said.
It's just the latest late-game feather in Gallup's cap.
It's a bit ironic, because the former third-round draft pick is bringing up the rear on the stat sheet. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper lead all Cowboy receivers with 433 yards and 424 yards, respectively, while Gallup is just behind them with 348. Cooper's 39 receptions easily lead the team, whereas Gallup has caught just 17 balls on the year. In fact, he even trails Dalton Schultz in that department, as the fellow 2018 draft pick has caught 19 passes.
But again, notice what happens when the game is on the line. In Week 2, Gallup hauled in another 38-yarder with 2:29 to play against Atlanta, moving the Cowboys down to the Falcons' goal line and cut the deficit to 39-37.
He took over the second half of the Week 3 loss to Seattle. In less than two quarters of game play, he caught four passes for 126 yards and his only touchdown of the season – another diving, acrobatic effort to extend across the goal line.
"Michael has had that a few times here where, for whatever reason, early in games, it's not coming that way. It's going to other guys or maybe running the ball a little bit," said offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. "But he knows eventually he's going to get some opportunities and he's taken advantage of these things when guys get one-on-one opportunities."
It feels like ancient history in this injury-ravaged season, but it's worth pointing out the near miss. In the waning minutes of the Week 1 loss to L.A., Prescott looked for Gallup in one of those one-on-one opportunities against Jalen Ramsey. The result was a 47-yard gain that would have set the Cowboys up in the Rams' red zone with a chance to tie or win the game – if not for a dubious offensive pass interference penalty.
"He's incredible on the vertical route and the way he goes up and gets the ball and stays in bounds," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "He's got a special gift there and he's demonstrated it almost in every game."
Clearly, that early miss didn't deter anyone. Gallup currently leads the NFL in vertical routes run, with 71. Obviously, he has turned in several of those for sizable chunks.
In the wake of Prescott's injury, it was encouraging to see him make a few of those plays with Dalton. If the Cowboys' backup quarterback is going to have success, he'll need help from all three of his receivers.
And if that means, Gallup is in position for more late-game heroics, he'll said be ready.
"I mean if it comes down to it, I'll take it," he said.
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