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Spagnola: Agony Dampens The Thrill Of Victory


That was sick.

Sick as in amazing.

Michael Gallup receptions of 19 and 38 yards within 37 seconds of each other, as if he was a member of the Flying Wallendas with his circus, toe-tapping catches.

CeeDee Lamb, a rookie mind you, eight catches for 124 yards, and two of those causing me to say out loud, "Seriously?"

Ezekiel Elliott, running like a Mack Truck through a loaded up Giants defense.

A defense … finally a defense … out of previous character, making a most crucial stop at the end of the game to give the Cowboys one last chance at victory, and who knows, maybe building new character.

Andy Dalton coming in ice cold but with ice in his veins, just what you want from your experienced backup quarterback when serving in a subservient capacity for the first time in his career.

The sack-fumble-one-hop-recovery-touchdown-return of the DeMarcus Lawrence/Anthony Brown combo act to knot the score after, of course, as if some sort of perfunctory routine, the Cowboys fell behind by 14 points.

Jaylon Smith, putting on his best on-field Sean Lee impersonation.

Greg Zuerlein with two heart-stopping field goals to tie and walk off that appeared to be fading only to hook back inside the right upright to restart your ol' ticker ticking.

Cowboys 37, Giants 34.

Cowboys 2-3.

Cowboys first place in the NFC East, half a game up on the losing Eagles (1-3-1) and a full game up on the losing Washingtons (1-4).

Yet, too, a victory leaving you sick to the stomach, defining the agony of victory.

Just seeing Dak Prescott's mangled right ankle on the ground, his foot somewhat sideways, suffering a gruesome compound fracture and dislocation after a 9-yard quarterback draw that his nature would not allow him to simply slide in for a safe landing, dang it, still fighting for more yards as you knew he would. Dak, grabbing his leg, and as only Dak would do, trying to straighten his dislocated ankle all by himself.

Want all you proponents these last few years of Dak needing to run more to please raise your hands. That's right, get 'em up, nice and high.

Just to see the pain in his eyes. The tears, too, partially, knowing him, because he was going to have to leave his team on a cart, eventually heading straight to the hospital for successful surgery to wash out the puncture wound and repair the fracture, with hopes of no severe ligament tears and scheduled to be released at some point today.

Seeing his teammates gathering around. The concern of the Giants, too. The Mike McCarthy-Jason Garrett on-field exchange. Then Dak, raising his fist high into the air as he was being carted off.

"And I told him we are going to hold it down till we get to see him again on the field with us" were the words of the rookie Lamb, who admitted having to look away since, "I don't really like seeing things like that."

Hell, none of us do, either. Especially when it's Dak.

How many more season-ending injuries can one team withstand?

Tyron Smith.

La'el Collins.

Blake Jarwin.

Travis Frederick's retirement.

Gerald McCoy.

Now Dak.

Maybe Trysten Hill, too, depending on Monday's MRI of his sprained right knee.

And having already lost over these first five games for the time being Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, Joe Looney and Cam Erving, with Brown just getting back on the field.

Never has _sick_ created such diametrically opposing emotions before 25,147 socially-distanced folks on a Sunday at AT&T Stadium within a 3-hour, 18-minute time frame.

In the end, gosh, you probably didn't know if you should stand up and cheer or sit down and cry.

"I don't know where your viewpoint was, but there was a flood of emotion, even from their bench," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said after getting his second win at a huge expense. "Obviously, there's relationships on their sideline that Dak has and the respect that everybody has for Dak, that was clearly evident during those moments."

Prescott finished the game completing 14 of 21 passes for 166 yards, no touchdowns and a tipped pass intercepted and returned for a Giants touchdown. He rushed twice for a 7-yard total, even though his eventful run went for 9 yards because he just wouldn't give up on the play, leaving the field with 6:33 left in the third quarter, the Cowboys now facing a second-and-1 at the Giants' 18-yard line while leading 24-23, yet with a cloudy future.

Dak also became the first Cowboys quarterback since Danny White in 1985 to catch a touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in the second quarter, Zeke taking a handoff, then pitching to Cedrick Wilson going the other way, and the former high school quarterback lobbing a perfect pass to a wide open Prescott for the 11-yard touchdown giving the Cowboys a 24-20 halftime lead – their first halftime lead since 14-13 over the Rams in the season opener. And to think, that was only the third touchdown reception by a Cowboys quarterback in their 61-season history, White catching the other two.

But from the Giants' 18 in the third quarter, Dalton, CeeDee and Zeke took it from there, Zeke running as if a man possessed the final 12 yards behind Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin and a nice seal block from Gallup to give the Cowboys the 31-23 lead, finishing in the end zone while holding up four fingers to honor his fallen quarterback.

But, they have Dak no more, out likely four to six months.

"I mean, it sucks," Zeke said after his 19-carry, 91-yard, two-touchdown effort. "Yeah, it sucks. Honestly, I know we won, but it just sucks to lose Dak, our leader. I was talking to the guys, this is going to take all of us. It's going to take all of us to fill that void that we are going to be missing from 4. We've just got to go out there and play for him."

Just maybe the Cowboys began that prescribed Dak-less journey right then and there. If not for a fumbled snap between Dalton and rookie center Tyler Biadasz, the Giants recovering at the Cowboys' 17-yard line and scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion to take a 34-31 lead with 8:46 remaining in the game, the Cowboys defense showed some improvement against a challenged Giants offense.

Sure, the Giants scored 34 points, the fourth time in five games the Cowboys have given up at least 34, running their season total to a league-high 180 points in five games – a sobering 36 points per game. But 14 of the Giants' points came on the interception return for a touchdown and then this one from just 17 yards out after the fumbled snap. Other than that, the Cowboys held the Giants to four field goals and a touchdown.

And after allowing the Browns to run over them for 307 yards rushing last week, they actually held the Giants to an opponent season-low 89 yards rushing and 3.3 yards a carry. Maybe scraping their attempts to lapse into a 3-4 formation actually worked.

Plus, after the Cowboys tied the game at 34 with just 1:36 left on Zuerlein's 40-yard field goal, the defense got that all-important stop by putting undo pressure on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and forcing a punt. From there, starting at the Cowboys' 12-yard line, Dalton (9 of 11, 111 yards), Amari Cooper, CeeDee, Gallup and the offensive line filled that void Zeke was talking about.

Especially Gallup, making those two catches worth 19 and 38 yards to get the ball to the Giants' 16 and set up Zuerlein's game-winning 34-yard field goal.

"You just put the ball up anywhere close to him, and he's been able to come down with them," Dalton said of Gallup's catches.

But now the hard part begins. No more Dak. No more starting offensive tackles. Suddenly Team Resiliency over these first five games of the season will now stretch its resilient limits.

As McCarthy said when asked what he told the team afterward, "Well, really, the message was that our fight is our flight."

And they've got 11 rounds left to keep this thing in the air.

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