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Spagnola: Making enough plays just in time


ARLINGTON, Texas – For some reason, with 14:17 left to play here Thursday night at AT&T Stadium and the Cowboys trailing the Seattle Seahawks, 35-27, Jimmy Johnson was ringing in my ears.

This game was getting away. Time was running short. The Cowboys had no answer for the Geno Smith led Seahawks offense, already having scored five touchdowns. The Cowboys were kicking too many field goals and had been trailing for 25 minutes, 27 seconds.

Trailing for the first time at home this season, where they had been 5-0 while winning each game by at least 20 points to stretch their current NFL-high active winning streak to 13 straight, their three-game winning streak also in jeopardy. Just sensing something was off.

Then it came:

"Who's going to make the play? Who's going to make the play?" Jimmy would exhort his boys back in the day, sort of his personal inspiration anthem.

Well, DeMarcus Lawrence makes a fourth quarter, fourth-and-1 stop, the first time in the entire game the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs, handing the ball over to the Cowboys offense for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive.

Well, tight end Jake Ferguson made an All-Pro touchdown catch, cutting back in front of safety Jamal Adams on second-and-7 for a 12-yard grab to give the Cowboys a 36-35 lead at 4:37, followed by veteran Brandin Cooks sprinting open in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion. Why, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday morning that he asked Ferguson before the game how he was feeling, and said Fergie's response was "dangerous … dangerous."

Then the defensive front, having sacked Smith but one time after he had been sacked 13 times over the previous four games, pressured the QB into a fourth-and-4 errant throw, a rarity since Smith finished with 334 yards passing, the most by any quarterback this season against the Cowboys' second-ranked pass defense.

Well, there was Jourdan Lewis with a pass breakup in each of the Seahawks' final two possessions.

Well, rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey continued his perfect streak, nailing a 32-yard field goal, his fourth of the game and now his record 26th straight to start an NFL career, giving the Cowboys a six-point cushion with still 1:43 to play.

And finally, at last, with Seattle having moved to the 50-yard line on their final possession, and still 1:11 left in the game, a crowd of 93,367 on its towel-waving feet, on fourth-and-2 Micah Parsons did what Micah Parsons does, crashing into Smith, forcing an incompletion.


Cowboys 41, Seahawks 35.

That's how you win. Making plays.

"Clutch, you know, clutch plays," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said, then added, "excellent, excellent win."

You bet your last dollar it was.

But not just any win. Finally, at last, having played three games in 12 days, mission accomplished. The Cowboys did what they absolutely needed to do following that 28-23 loss to the 10-1 Eagles before meeting up with them again on Dec. 10 right here at AT&T Stadium if they were going to stay in the race for the NFC East title.

Just win. Win. Win. Win. Four of a kind.

Get to 9-3. Stay on the heels of them Eagles until you yourself can do something about that now 1.5 game deficit, Philadelphia having to first play the 8-3 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday while the Cowboys kick up their feet for a well-earned three straight days.

And please understand what these Cowboys had to do to overcome these pesky but now 6-6 Seahawks having lost their third consecutive game and fourth in the past five. Because this was no pushover, not like the previous five wins at home against teams with losing records.

Why, the Seahawks totaled 406 yards, the most against this third-ranked overall NFL defense since San Francisco piled up 421 in that 42-10 spanking. They totaled 25 first downs, tying for the season's previous high by the Niners. No quarterback had thrown for more than 268 yards until Geno's 334. Oh, and D.K. Metcalf's 73-yard touchdown reception became the longest play against the Cowboys this season while turning in the NFL's fastest speed along the way.

And on top of all that, making matters significantly more difficult, the Cowboys were flagged nine times for a season-high 127 penalty yards, and that doesn't account for like five penalties that were declined.

That bad, along with the 35 points allowed, second to only San Francisco's 42.

Yet, they won.

"I think it's a huge win," Cooks said. "It was a dog fight. … It just shows the resiliency at the end of the day."

Think about this: Until this game, with the exception of the three-point win over the Chargers (20-17), the other seven margins of victories for the Cowboys were by 40, 20, 35, 23, 32, 23 and 35 points. But this one, the Cowboys had to put their big-boy pants on.

And who knows, maybe they had been watching how the Eagles are going into Sunday's game with 10 wins. They beat the Patriots by 5, Vikings by 6, Washington by 3 and 7 while giving up 30 points in each game, Cowboys by 5, Kansas City by 4 and then Monday night Buffalo in overtime by 3. Just finding ways to win.

Well, a couple of guys put on some XXLs.

Take Dak. Hadn't been sacked in any of the three previous games. Well, under duress the majority of the night, he's sacked four times and hit another seven. But darn if he didn't complete 29-of-41 attempts for 299 yards and three touchdowns, pushing that touchdown total over this four-game winning streak to 13 with one interception.

And CeeDee Lamb. Why, 12 catches for 116 yards and a TD. Oh, and another 30 yards on two end-around runs.

Tony Pollard. A brutal 68 yards on 20 carries but kept plugging along and notching a touchdown for the third consecutive game.

And this Ferguson. Not only that go-ahead touchdown grab, but a total of six for 77 yards, now with five touchdowns, second among tight ends this season. His seven career scoring grabs also matches Jason Witten for the second-most tight end touchdown catches in their first two seasons, and Ferguson still has five games to play.

"You see big-time players making big-time plays," is how Dak put it, without mentioning his own three big-time touchdown throws.

And even though the defense gave up those 35 points, even though the Seahawks scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions – they did miss a field goal on a seventh – and never punted, with the game on the line, the defense got the Seahawks out on downs with three consecutive stops on fourth down. Exactly what Dak told the defense to do after they took that 38-35 lead.

"I know how good you all are," Dak revealed of his sideline words, leaving out a few choice ones. "To flip the switch. Lock your focus in and go get it done. Like Micah, go make a play. (Jourdan Lewis), (Jayron Kearse), (Stephon Gilmore), (DaRon) Bland, whoever. Go make the play. Don't wait around, go make the play. I've seen you do it over and over again. I expected that, I really did. I said that in the sense of, I trust you all.

"Guys making plays when needed."

Dak rockin' his inner Jimmy Johnson.

Now, it's on to Philadelphia. The Cowboys have earned the right to make this NFC East tussle important. Could still be two games back. Who knows, maybe one game back.

"I'm sure on Sunday I'll be hanging out at the house, watching that game," Dak said. "I'll use it as a little film study. When that game's over, first thing Monday morning, trust me, I'll be watching the game from the last time we played them through all the games they've played in the last month.

"I'm excited for it, I really am with the way that we are playing, our understanding of how that game went the last time and that we get to get that bunch here at home. There are a lot of things to be excited about and most importantly is us taking another step in getting to where we want to be."

Let the excitement begin.

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