Spagnola: 'Bout Time To Arrive At Closing Time


DETROIT – Finally, at last, 10 games into the season and the Cowboys closed out a game.

No more monkeying around.

See, if you look at the previous five games the Cowboys had won, they led by healthy margins. Beat the Giants by18. Beat the Redskins by 10. Beat the Dolphins by 26. Beat the Eagles by 27. Beat the Giants again, this time by 17.

No problem. Beat those teams by an average of 19.6 points a game.

Ah, but in those four losses, Saints win by two, Packers by 10, Jets by two, Vikings by four. That's but an average of 4.5 a game.

And they had their chances to erase those deficits. But in those nip-and-tuck games the Cowboys simply could not close, could not make the play.

Against the Saints, the defense gave up what turned out to be the winning field goal three plays into the fourth quarter. Then they allowed the Saints to control the ball in the fourth for 8 minutes, 18 seconds. And the offense, in three final-quarter possessions never moved past the Cowboys' 48-yard line.

Against the Packers, the Cowboys defense gave up a fourth-quarter field goal after 31 points in the first three quarters. And the offense, while it did mount a furious comeback in the fourth, drove the ball on its last possession all the way to the 17-yard line, but had to settle for a 33-yard field goal attempt with 1:41 left to play that Brett Maher missed, eliminating the opportunity to onside kick seven down.

Against the Jets, down 24-10, Maher misses from 40 yards out at the outset of the fourth quarter, and then the Cowboys scored consecutive touchdowns, leaving them down two with 43 seconds remaining, but could not convert the two-point try.

And what happened in the Vikings game has to still be fresh in your minds. Like in the fourth quarter driving to a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line only to settle for a field goal, and then the next possession move to a second-and-2, third-and-2 followed by a fourth-and-5, all inside the Vikings' 14-yard line, only to come up empty.

Four losses. Four failures to close. Three of those one-possession losses.

But in this one, a tighter than need be 35-27 victory over the Detroit Lions (3-6-1) before 61,801 made up of an abundance of vocal Dallas fans, the Cowboys made the necessary clutch plays down the stretch, offense and defense, to win their sixth game (6-4) to pull one game ahead of the Eagles (5-5) in the NFC East, 17-10 losers at home to the Patriots (9-1), who will entertain the Cowboys this coming Sunday in Foxboro, Mass.

"It's important. You always want to close out games like this," Cowboys center Travis Frederick said. "Got to get to a point where you can finish off a game like this."

You bet. And just in time.

Leading only 27-21 as the third quarter turned into the fourth, first the defense held firm and the offense drives 84 yards in 11 plays, the final 17 for a touchdown by Ezekiel Elliott, who somehow catches a mighty low screen pass, and as he's about to lose his balance, grips the ball in his left hand, puts his right hand on to the ground to steady himself and finishes in the end zone.

"He does that in practice a lot," Dak Prescott says of palming the football, and who knows maybe he also practices mimicking Dak's pregame stretch that went viral last Sunday, since he chose those quick-twitch moves for his touchdown celebration in honor of his quarterback.

But not just that, the Cowboys then go for two, trying to go up 14 instead of 13, with Dak handing the ball to rookie Tony Pollard, who sped up the middle and twisted out of a tackle enough to successfully lunge for the goal line, 35-21.

And while the defense allowed the Lions to move right down the field in just five plays to narrow the lead 35-27, the Cowboys stopped the two-point conversion when the Lions didn't properly set their pick on the left side, leaving Jourdan Lewis in the way of Jeff Driskel's pass to J.D. McKissic.

Then the Cowboys offense followed with consecutive possessions eating up 5:42 down the stretch. And the defense, after the Lions came roaring back, finding themselves at the Cowboys' 32-yard line with 3:01 left to play down eight, came up with a stop, the big play coming when Maliek Collins put pressure on Detroit quarterback Jeff Driskel, allowing Michael Bennett to grab his second sack of the game. The Lions had to punt from their own 47.

And the offense did the rest, needing one first down to salt the game away, got it when Dak finished off his 444-yard passing performance with a 23-yard bootleg pass to Blake Jarwin, putting the Cowboys in victory formation.

"The main thing is we've got to build on this, stack games back to back, offense and defense, and win in the fourth quarter," Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said.

The beauty of this win was the offense, the Cowboys now scoring Thirtysomething in all six wins, doing a better job of turning 509 total offensive yards, second most on the season, into a commensurate amount of points, unlike in last Sunday's loss to the Vikings, turning 443 yards offense into a mere 24 points.

And here is why the Cowboys still have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. While the Lions held Zeke to 45 yards rushing and Amari Cooper to just three catches for 38 yards, they had no answer, too, for Michael Gallup, who caught a career-high nine passes for 148 yards, and Randall Cobb turning four catches into a robust 115 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown catch, his second straight 100-yard receiving performance.

Not to mention Dak putting this team on his back, becoming the first Cowboys quarterback to total a combined 841 yards passing in consecutive games. Plus, Tony Pollard taking a swing pass 21 yards for a touchdown. Jason Witten catching five passes for 33 yards, including snatching that huge third-down conversion of 11 yards on that final touchdown drive. And Jarwin two for 38.

All this erasing yet another false start to the game, Zeke losing a fumble on the second offensive play of the game, setting up the Lions for a short 28-yard touchdown drive. Then, too, the Cowboys settling for a Maher field goal after driving to a first-and-goal at the 9, not to mention the defense allowing former Cowboys practice squad running back Bo Scarbrough to gain 44 yards on his first seven carries and bully his way in for a touchdown from 5 yards out.

"That's the essence of what we try to do on offense," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "You know, attack different ways. You have complete faith and confidence in everybody. And obviously, we love throwing the ball to Coop. Coop is a big-time player and has been for us. But we love throwing the ball to Gallup. We love throwing the ball to Cobb. We love throwing the ball to (Tavon) Austin. We love throwing the ball to Witten and Jarwin, and all those guys and obviously our backs.

"So Dak's job is to assess what we have going on, what the play is, overlay it against the coverage or throw it to them and throw it to the right guy. He's done a really good job of that, and guys have done a really good job on the other end making plays."

Allowing the Cowboys to close just in time.