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Spagnola: Nothing Ever Seems To Faze This Team


FRISCO, Texas – OK, look, don't sweat the first 54 minutes, 23 seconds.

The Cowboys sure didn't.

Didn't sweat the fact that they were down, 23-20, with 5:37 left Sunday at AT&T Stadium to the darn Houston Texas, 1-10-1 coming into this game, losers of seven straight and leaders for the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, knowing the Texans had the ball four yards from the goal line.

Four yards from pulling off the biggest upset of the NFL season.

See the situations, the numbers, the predicaments, the logic don't tell the story of this game with 93,843 flag-waving folks on the edge of their seats until the final second ticked off the clock.

They don't reflect just how good these Cowboys really are. So good they've now been able to win four straight, six of the last seven and at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1995-96 after their 27-23 squeaker over these highly-motivated Texans.

Pause for a moment to reflect on that, last accomplished 27 seasons ago.

You good now? OK, let's continue.

"We won the game, that's all that matters," head coach Mike McCarthy said, knowing he'll have enough to chew on Monday to keep this team focused heading toward Jacksonville next Sunday and knowing they must win to preserve the importance of the Christmas Eve game against the now 12-1 Eagles, owners of the best record in the NFL.

Because so what the Cowboys came into the game down two of their top three cornerbacks, and for a moment, the third one as well.

So what they lost their space-eating run stopper, Johnathan Hankins (neck), in a game they weren't surprised one bit the Texans ran the ball 37 times.

So what the Texans played a two-quarterback system, not only benching their previous starter for Davis Mills, but elevating one off the practice squad (Jeff Driskel) to run seven times for 36 yards.

So what the Cowboys lost their starting right tackle Terence Steele in the final minute of the first half with a knee injury (and I'm told for the season with a torn ACL and MCL) or that backup tackle Josh Ball, with just 11 offensive snaps of experience struggled playing his first NFL offensive snaps of significance, all meaning Tyron Smith can't get back soon enough.

Or that it became so bad there late in the fourth quarter that the Cowboys had no other choice than turn to 40-year-old, 18-year veteran left tackle Jason Peters to play right tackle for the first time since 2005.

Like, so what they turned the ball over three times, two of those interceptions. One on another one of those tipped balls, this one twice and lastly off Noah Brown's hands, and another with Dak Prescott getting hit while throwing.

So what a defense leading the league with 48 sacks didn't get a darn one against the Texans, the first time all season they didn't register a sack, and only a pitiful one QB hit. Or that they gave up 23 points in three quarters, most in the past four games.

Or that Dak completed just 22 of 39 passes (61.5 percent) with two interceptions, or that he just posted a 70.9 QB rating, his lowest in a victory in his last eight career wins.

But they won.

That's how good this team can be if they would just quit dumping donations into these opposing teams' charity kettles, like KaVontae Turpin fumbling the first punt of the game, leading to Houston's first touchdown, mostly thanks to the gunners letting a Texan close enough to sniff the rookie's neck. Or take backup cornerback Kelvin Joseph giving up a 36-yard reception to set up the Texans' first field goal. Or the aforementioned tipped pass interception setting up the Texans at the Cowboys' 27-yard line for a short touchdown. Or allowing the offensively challenged Texans to drive close enough in the final 40 seconds of the first half to kick a 50-yard field goal.

Just one thing after another after another.

And then came the final hurdle.

Trailing just 23-20, thanks to a Brett Maher 53-yard field goal narrowing the deficit, here the Cowboys were after the Texans interception with 5:37 left in the game, their backs to the goal line at the 4-yard line and the Texans poised to put this game away. And darn if this defense didn't step up, creating two of three plays for minus-3 yards, and then on fourth-and-goal at the 3, Neville Gallimore and Anthony Barr sniffing out Driskel's keeper around end for but a yard gain, Houston turning the ball over on downs at the 2.

The 2 now, 98 yards away from being able to score a winning touchdown, their last chance down three with 3:20 left.

"Zack came into the huddle with a big-ass smile on his face," Dalton Schultz said of veteran Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin, exuding confidence.

First play, Dak hits Schultz for 21 yards, then he runs for 9 and drills Schultz for another 13.

Could you feel it at that point?

"Oh yeah," Schultz said. "You guys could feel it."

And on they went, Dak completing six of seven passes for 79 yards and running twice for 15, accounting for 94 of the 98 yards, his final completion an 18-yarder over the middle to Schultz to the Houston 4.

And even after a severe hit from the blindside on Michael Gallup caused Dak's near 2-yard TD pass to fall incomplete, there the Cowboys were third-and-goal at the 2, 46 seconds left in the game, still down three.

"We told them, Zeke is going to handle his business," Dak said of in the huddle before the ensuing play, making sure the offensive line understood "just do your job and he'll run through them all."

And again, now you understand how much Ezekiel Elliot means to this team, because I'm guessing they couldn't conceive, nor not a single person standing in AT&T either, Zeke ever being denied on the next carry.

"No doubt, no doubt," Zeke said of just knowing he was about to score a rushing touchdown in a sixth consecutive game, only the third Cowboys running back to do so, the other two named Tony and Emmitt. "Inside zone, the third time."

And by gosh score he did, Zeke running right over center and right guard for the touchdown, then leaping up and sprinting toward the Salvation Army Red Kettle as if he was jumping in again, but knew better, saying, "Didn't need another $14,000 fine," only faking the jump.

Cowboys 27-23, but 41 seconds remaining. Then if that wasn't enough drama, surviving Mills' desperation Hail Mary from his own 46, Israel Mukuamu wrestling the ball away from Trevon Diggs for the interception.

Look, this kind of stuff doesn't happen unless you're a special team. Goal-line stand from the 4-yard line? Seriously? An 11-play, 98-yard drive consuming 2:39 off the clock for the game-winning touchdown? Certainly a daunting task, to say the least, with the game on the line. Just isn't common, and is why so many on Thursday night were in utter awe of what newly acquired Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield did on his 98-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in the final seconds.

See, all this – all of it, as illogical as it seems – as if no hurdle is too high for Team Resiliency.

"Who cares what happened in the last 58 minutes?" Dak said of his message in the huddle, standing in his own end zone, needing binoculars to see the distant goal line before commencing that final drive, the 18th game-winner of his career, and finishing with a season high 284 yards passing.

"Let's go get a win."

And let's remember two things, and Schultz reinforced this by saying of the close shave against the team with the worst record in the NFL, "That's this business, that's the NFL."

He's right. No matter who the opponent is, it's darn hard to win the four consecutive games the Cowboys have. And you know what? No matter how lousy your record is, it might be even harder to lose the eight consecutive games the Texans now have. Go ask the 1989 Cowboys. As bad as they were, and believe me they were bad, they couldn't manage to lose them all, 0-8 Cowboys going into RFK on a Sunday night to beat the Redskins, 13-3, for their only win of the season.

"You know this is football, I'm not trying to make excuses," McCarthy said. "I get what's on my chest and the expectations, I get that. It's about winning.

"And we got it done today."

No sweat. They won.

Well, thanks to the last five minutes.

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