Spagnola: Overcoming A Litany Of Frustrations To Keep Opportunity Alive

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –Sean Lee hit the nail right on the head.

         That is, after he hit about every Giants player with a ball in their hands, coming back from a 3¾-game strained hamstring-caused absence to make, and get this, 18 tackles – one a huge one on a Giants' reverse for a loss – one interception and one pass defended.

         Half expect the poor Giants to accuse him of having some sort of mental telepathy for how he was diagnosing plays in much-needed Cowboys 30, Giants 10 here at a chilly MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon.

         Sooo Capt. Lee, go ahead, hit that proverbial nail:

         "You can't let past frustrations ruin opportunities ahead of us."

         Never were words so profound uttered after a game, all-encompassing, too.

         First, he was referring to his own frustrations over the games he missed, these injuries seemingly dotting his career.

         Then he was talking about the Cowboys' plight coinciding with his injury and Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension, the Cowboys going from a 5-3 team to 5-6 during the month of November, putting their playoff aspirations on thin ice.

         And on top of all that, his reference took into account the first three quarters of this game, tied at 10 thanks to the Cowboys dropping four passes, missing two 50-yard field goals, allowing a busted coverage on a blitz to set up the Giants' lone touchdown with a 35-yard completion, too many offsides penalties all game long and their inability to sustain a passing game for three quarters

         All qualifying in Lee's lingo as "past frustrations."

         Forget about it, right?

         Just what Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has been saying for the past couple of weeks, telling his team these games aren't going to be perfect, that teams are going to score touchdowns, but that there are times you have to "stick your foot in the dirt" and that "no question you will have to overcome adversity."

         Well, the Cowboys stuck their foot Sunday in some MetLife artificial dirt for sure.

         We can start with Dez Bryant. He had two early drops in the game, one on a deep 50-50 ball that actually hit him in the facemask, saying, "I relaxed on that one, that's on me."

         Yet, with the Cowboys actually trailing 10-3 and the first half dwindling to a close, Dallas was facing a second-and-6 at the 50. Giants safety Landon Collins inched up to the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott saw it. So did Dez

         "We made a sight adjustment on the play," Dak said.

         Dak fired a quick pass Dez's way. The cornerback, Brandon Dixon, was out there on an island. And when Dez broke his arm tackle …

         "I knew exactly what was going to happen," Dez said. "When I saw the safety come down, I already knew in my mind I was scoring. I swear I knew that was a touchdown."

         Indeed, he knew, his 50-yard, catch-and-run tying the score at 10, having put those drops out of his mind.

         Then it was the Cowboys offense. Through three quarters Dak had thrown for 174 yards, but 50 of those came on Bryant's TD. All they had to show for eight full possessions against the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL was 10 points.

         "But you have to keep playing, keep battling, be persistent," Garrett would say.

         And the Cowboys did, finally knocking the door down. On their ninth full possession, they began making plays. First Cole Beasley, catching the Giants in an all-out blitz, spinning out of his short route to go 54 yards to the Giants 20.

         "I knew it, I knew it, here it is," Beasley said of reading the Giants defense. "And I broke my route off a little early."

Then on the very next play, with the Cowboys going with their heavy formation (three tight ends) that screams run, Jason Witten ran one of his patented routes down the hash, faking out and going in with no safeties in sight for a 20-yard touchdown reception, 17-10 Cowboys with 7:38 to play.

         The Giants had yet to learn their lesson trying to control the Cowboys' passing game by blitzing. After a defensive stop, the Cowboys were facing third-and-3 at their own 19. They went empty, sending Rod Smith, being utilized as the nickel back all game, into the right slot. Here came the blitz … again. Smith broke wide open on a quick slant, taking probably a five-yard pass 81 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, 23-10 Cowboys (Bailey then missing his first extra point … ever).

         Ball game, just 4:08 remaining.

         And as if Lee hadn't done enough already with his 18 tackles, he intercepts an Eli Manning pass at the 21, and three plays later Smith romps 15 yards for another touchdown, the Cowboys totaling a season-high 20 points in the fourth quarter.

         Suddenly, an ugly game turns into a 20-point victory.

         Suddenly, a struggling passing game ends up with Prescott throwing for a career-high 332 yards while averaging 11.1 yards per attempt – the team's most since 2010 – three touchdowns and finishing with a 137.1 QB rating after having gone the previous four games throwing for no more than 179 yards.

         And with Smith and Alfred Morris chugging away, the Cowboys rushed for 122 yards against the worst rushing defense in the league, giving them 304 in the past two games, their best stretch during Zeke's suspension that has only one game remaining.

         Maybe best of all going forward, aside from winning two straight to push their record to 7-6 and keeping playoff hope alive – barely – might be the Cowboys posting a huge yellow caution flag about blitzing their offense as much as the Giants (2-11) did with interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo unable to save this sinking ship.

         That, right there, is how you stop the blitz: You beat it with big plays. That will discourage a defense from continuing to do so, and at least give the next opponent some pause about being so aggressive.

         "Actually, hope they keep coming," Prescott said, finally the Cowboys taking advantage of a team blitzing as much as they've been over the past five games without Zeke on the field. "If the guys come, we've got to beat it."

         There you go, the Cowboys persevered. For sure on offense throwing the ball. For sure on defense with Lee back, limiting an opponent to the fewest points since Lee and Zeke last played together on Nov. 5. Individually, Dak, Dez, Witt, Beas and them into the perseverance mix.

         And as an entire team, the prospects of running the table the final five games of the season still is on the table. It's just now the table has shrunk nearly in half.

         "Nothing's changed, nothing's changed from before the game to now," Dak says, knowing they still must win the final three to have a wild-card chance.

         Yep, opportunity still lies ahead. 

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