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Spagnola: Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Winner


NEW ORLEANS, La. – In 1983, the Chicago White Sox won the American League West, the first time they qualified for the playoffs since winning the American League pennant in 1959.

And even though they finished with a 99-63 record, 20 games ahead of second place Kansas City and 22 in front of Texas, Rangers manager Doug Rader around the All-Star break of that season wasn't impressed. He claimed the White Sox were "winning ugly."

Well, that became the team's rallying cry. In fact, printed up T-shirts with the slogan, "Winning Ugly." Still have mine, oh, these 38 years later.

After the Cowboys' 27-17 victory over the Saints here Thursday night before 69,170 in a deafeningly loud Caesars Superdome and a national TV audience, the team's merchandise department might get started printing up a version of its own.

Why, no matter the Cowboys didn't have some gaudy offensive numbers. Not really any standout offensive performances.

Or that they were a pitiful two-of-13 on third-down conversions, a season low 15.4 percent, or that if not for Tony Pollard's 58-yard touchdown run and a behind-the-line pass ruled a 33-yard run, the Cowboys on their other 22 carries rushed for just 55 yards, not even 3 yards a carry, 2.5 to be exact.

Or that seven of their 14 possessions were three-and-outs.

Nor did it matter that the Cowboys were playing with head coach Mike McCarthy sequestered in his Frisco, Texas, hotel room because of a positive COVID-19 test, or that their two offensive line coaches, Joe Philbin and Jeff Blasko, were back home for the same virus reason.

No matter this confounding defense at times gave up 405 yards to a struggling Saints offense, a season high, or that Taysom Hill, starting his first game at quarterback this season, gashed them for 101 yards rushing on just 11 carries, the most yards rushing by a Saints QB in 20 years.

Or that this was a Cowboys team coming into the Big Easy saddled with a two-game losing streak while dropping three of their previous four games,

Just ugly, right?

But tell you what, they won, style points inconsequential.

This was the most beautiful "ugly" win this team has chalked up all season. No wait, in quite some time. Games like this, especially in this at times Voodoo Dome just a couple of miles off the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, where weird things have been known to strike them out of nowhere, the Cowboys would have lost.

But no, they won, and don't want to hear any complaining. As Dak Prescott said afterward, "I mean, a win is a win. It means a lot," and especially in this year's version of the up the down staircase NFL.

And in doing so, they heeded McCarthy's final instructions to them at the end of their team meeting he Zoomed into, the rookie Micah Parsons relaying, "Coach Mike just said, 'Don't let what's going on right now affect what we have going on. At the end of the day, we're leaving New Orleans 8-4.'"

That the Cowboys are, with a 2.5-game lead in the NFC East over Washington, their next opponent in 10 days, and three games over Philadelphia with five left to play, four of those against division rivals.

And afterward, a relieved Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – who quipped, "I don't know that I felt good (about the game) but five minutes of the 60" – would concede, "It was important we needed to win the game. We needed to win the game."

No kidding. Just win, baby.

But geesh, how'd the Cowboys do it?

Well, start with four interceptions of Hill, who late in the first quarter suffered a right middle finger injury when his follow through on an incomplete pass struck Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong, resulting in a small splint being placed on the top of that finger, not exactly conducive to throwing a football.

How rare is that, four picks in one game? Why, the Cowboys haven't had four interceptions in a single game since the 2010 season.

So that, and the Cowboys getting back to making crucial plays. Big plays, turning this town of character into The Big Sudden instead.

Check this out.

In a scoreless game, and the Cowboys having gained just 15 yards and one first down in their first two possessions, on a third-and-7 at their own 23-yard line on the next possession, Dak connects with the COVID-returning Amari Cooper for a 41-yard pass play – his first catch then in three games. The Cowboys were then on their way to taking a 7-0 lead on one of those can-you-believe-it Michael Gallup TD grabs, uh, his first of the season. But not before what appeared to be a harmless smoke screen to CeeDee Lamb that actually was ruled a long handoff broke for 33 yards to the 1.

Then there was Pollard suddenly arriving on the scene. In a 13-10 game, with the Cowboys holding what was an extremely precarious lead, he takes a pitch left from Dak and shocked the Saints with his speed, going 58 yards to the house – not only the longest run of the season for the Cowboys but also the longest run allowed by the Saints, who headed into the game as the No. 3 rushing defense.

Then there was Parsons striking again in the nick of time. With the Cowboys leading 20-10, though fans probably holding their breath, the Saints had a third-and-2 at the Cowboys' 26-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter, in certain scoring range. But Parsons sacks Hill for an 11-yard loss, guaran-darn-tee you shocking the New Orleans QB with how sudden he struck.

Instead of the Saints at least getting a field goal out of that drive, they were forced to punt thanks to the NFL's Rookie of the Month for November racking up his 10th sack of the season, also becoming just the 13th NFL rookie with a 10-sack season. And to think, he still has five games to go.

And how 'bout these bananas: The Cowboys ended consecutive New Orleans possessions in the fourth quarter, the Saints still just down two scores, with interceptions. The first was by Damontae Kazee, thanks to the blitzing Jourdan Lewis hitting Hill's hand as he was throwing, but then Trevon Diggs – yeah, remember him? – struck for his ninth interception of the season, just two behind Everson Walls' single-season record of 11 set in 1981.

Then, as if all that were not enough, big ol' Carlos Watkins, the 310-pound defensive tackle, reaches up to not only intercept Hill on a third straight possession, but the big man rumbles 29 yards for a touchdown, Cowboys 27-10, just 2:52 remaining.

"It's every fat guy's dream to get a pick and make it to the end zone," Watkins said.

Ball game.

When we asked Jimmy Johnson's question, "Who's going to make the play?" well, on this Thursday night, it was the Cowboys making the play, er, plays, suddenly striking when least expected.

One after another after another after another.

And remember, the Cowboys were playing with a substitute head coach, a substitute offensive line coach, er, make that two, also without offensive assistant Scott Tolzien, a huge help to quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, and without fourth receiver Cedrick Wilson (sprained ankle). So, a bunch of guys forced to do extra to compensate for the team's absences.

Or as Quinn said, "No job is not your job."

Bottom line on this night, though, is the Cowboys won, and now have 10 days to get right physically. DeMarcus Lawrence, who made his presence felt, will have time to recoup after his first contact since the season opener. Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore are expected back for that Washington game. Cooper will be further removed from his bout with COVID. The head coach and assistants will be back for next week, too.

Sound the bugle they've been waiting for. The calvary is on the way.

And about this winning ugly?

"I think at the end, it's just a matter of resiliency," Quinn said. "Not every game is the same. Tonight we knew going in this was going to be a fight. This was going to be a battle. It certainly was.

"We were coming in ready to make sure we were ready to get it on with physicality and aggression. We said if it took all night or longer into overtime, we were going to be ready to go, however long it took."

Basically took 57 minutes, 8 seconds. And it wasn't pretty by any means.

But it's a win, and indeed, Mike, the Cowboys did leave here 8-4.

Who could ask for anything more?

Pretty sweet, right?

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