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Spagnola: T.Y. Out Runs Improbability For Catch


FRISCO, Texas – Let's set the Christmas Eve scene.

The Cowboys were trailing, 34-27, the game starting to slip away from them, 9:19 left to play. Dak Prescott is sacked, fumbles and by some heavenly grace, Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz recovers at his own 38-yard line. Eleven yards lost. Next play, Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat, same guy on the opening series of the game intercepting Dak and returning the pick for a touchdown, now sacks Dak. Nine yards lost.

Suddenly the Cowboys are facing what should be considered an impossible third-and-30 from their own 29-yard line, just 8:02 remaining and an impending punt right around the corner by all percentages.

Come on, what are the odds of picking up a third-and-30 you analytics dudes? Remember saying to myself, you're the offensive coordinator, got a call scripted on your play sheet for third-and-30?

Enter T.Y. Hilton, the veteran wide receiver the Cowboys signed 12 days earlier. First game he's playing with the Blue Star on his helmet. In fact, first game of is now 11-year career with anything but a horseshoe on his helmet, spending 10 years with the Colts. Had only played a few previous plays, one provoking a significant defensive illegal contact call on the Eagles, giving the Cowboys on what was going to be a fourth-and-8 from the Eagles' 45-yard line, five yards and a first down, leading to Dak's first touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb.

And remember, Hilton had not played in an NFL game since Jan. 9. No catches so far as a Cowboy.

"I had told them all I needed was a day or two," Hilton said for being prepared to play.

Well, he got 10, and here we go.

"The play was called, we had go (routes) on both sides," said Hilton, meaning the outside receivers were to stretch the field and basically see what happens. He was lined up outside left.

"I was thinking, Just run," and as Hilton has been telling us since his arrival, even though he's 33 years old, he can still run. "As I told you, I can run."

Well, run Hilton did.

"I just took off, man," the four-time Pro Bowl receiver said, knowing he hadn't made a catch yet for the Cowboys, "and once it took off, the ball was in the air, it was money."

Eagles cornerback Darius Slay was covering. Slay was even for a while but was getting caught looking in at Dak. He must have seen Dak stepping up from the 20-yard line and heaving the ball seemingly as far as he could.

"I was thinking, If Dak just gives me … and the ball took off," Hilton says of the developing play, one of just 12 snaps he had in the game. "Well, here we go."

Hilton drew even with Slay initially playing off, then started to pull away. He had three steps on Slay, who says he was waiting for the safety, Josiah Scott, to come in over the top. The Eagles were playing quarter coverage, with Scott lined up off KaVontae Turpin in the slot quickly curling to his right. But by the time Scott realized where the ball was going, angling over toward Hilton, now a good five yards behind Slay, all he could do was grab on to Hilton before the ball arrived at the 20-yard line.

"Ball was on the money," Hilton said here on Monday, Dak having thrown the ball 62.1 yards in the air.

"He launched it, he launched it, he really did. If my legs didn't get tangled up, I score."

Hilton came down at the 19, a 52-yard play, Dak's second-longest completion of the season and matching his second longest since a 58-yarder in Game 2 of the 2020 season, 34 games ago. Four plays later, Prescott connects with Lamb for a 7-yard touchdown. Tie game, 34-34, with 5:49 left to play.

The momentum change was palpable in the eventual 40-34 Cowboys win.

When asked had he realized Scott basically grabbed him before he made the catch, Hilton said, "Like I told you, I didn't even know I was being held until I went back and watched it. Just got to take it out of the ref's hands.

"If I don't catch it and it's not a flag, what am I going to do? Just go back to the sidelines? We needed a play, so I had to make it."

Now, about this speed.

Says his top Next Gen Stat speed had been clocked at 22.1 mph. Says this one wasn't as fast.

"I wasn't running (all out)," he said. "Never hit the next gear."

Next gear? Can't wait to see the next gear.

And this made T.Y. laugh. You know he played his college ball at Florida International University (2008-11) and was the 92nd pick in the 2012 draft. My brother-in-law played his college baseball at FIU back in the 1970s.

Just so happens to represent, putting on his FIU sweatshirt on Christmas Eve knowing he was about to watch a fellow FIU alum play for the Cowboys.

"That's crazy man," Hilton said laughing. "That's crazy."

Hey, whatever helps on third-and-30, man.

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