ARLINGTON, Texas – Say hello to Team Resiliency.
Down 11 presumptive starters from the start of training camp heading into Sunday's Game 15 against Philadelphia, along with four others spending a sting on IR at some point during the season?
Start off the season losing seven of the first nine games, with the tankers wanting them to give up for the sake of a higher draft choice?
Over their dead bodies.
Having to start four different quarterbacks over the course of this season, Dak Prescott going down in Game 5, rookie Ben DiNucci, considered the third guy, having to finish one game and start another after backup Andy Dalton goes down with a concussion and then the fourth guy, Garrett Gilbert, needing to start his first NFL game after being around The Star for just three weeks?
No quit after enduring a four-game losing streak through all that.
With the NFC East a veritable mess and the Cowboys still in the thick of things – barely – at 2-7 when common sense yearned for a miracle to recover?
They kept grinding.
Needing to then close out the season with what would seem to be an overwhelming four-game winning streak when they hadn't won two straight since the middle of last season?
They maintained it was just one game at a time.
And finally, after winning two straight and knowing they needed help but also to help themselves by winning the final two games of the season, yet promptly falling behind the Philadelphia Eagles here Sunday at AT&T Stadium, 14-3, when allowing the lowly 4-9-1 Eagles to score touchdowns on their first two possessions?
Think they tucked tail?
Oh no, these Dallas Cowboys continued to trudge up the year-long mountain, this season akin to trying to hike up one of those Fourteeners in Colorado – meaning 14,000 feet – where the last portion to reach the top explains why these became known as the Rocky Mountains.
Yep, these Cowboys came back to score on five consecutive possessions and proceeded to outscore the Eagles 34-3 the rest of the way for a resounding 37-17 victory to once again keep hope alive by winning a third consecutive game for the first time since the opening three games of the 2019 season.
"I think it just shows how resilient we are," said defensive end Randy Gregory, Mr. Resiliency himself, and not with just re-starting his football career this year after missing 22 games since the end of the 2018 season under suspension, but seemingly on the path to also turning his life around. "You know, we're hard workers. We take pride in our work."
And along the way, insulting common sense.
For the Cowboys are now 6-9, having won four of their past six games knowing once they fell to Baltimore 34-17 and to 3-9, they would need to win their final four games if they were to have any chance of winning the NFC East. They also knew, but were not consumed by division-leading Washington needing to lose its final three games to avoid finishing tied with the WFT for first in the division. The tiebreaker would not be kind to these Cowboys, having lost both games to the Washingtons this year.
Well lo' and behold, that Miracle on Randol Mill is teetering on reality. Not only did the Cowboys win before 30,101 with the roof and doors open at AT&T, but Carolina beat Washington, 20-13, on Sunday, leaving WFT tied with the Cowboys at 6-9 for first in the NFC East. And since the Giants also lost, getting beat by Baltimore, 27-13, they fell to 5-10 with one game to play.
That all means:
If the Cowboys beat the Giants this coming Sunday at MetLife Stadium and somehow these Eagles, now losers in six of their last seven games, beat or tie the Washingtons, then your Dallas Cowboys would be NFC East champs and playoff bound at 7-9.
But how is this for 2020 craziness? If the Giants beat the Cowboys and the Eagles beat Washington, and those three teams all finish at 6-10, then the Giants would win the NFC East tiebreaker by having a better division record than the Cowboys (4-2 to 2-4) and would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington by beating WFT twice.
So the Giants certainly have something to play for come Sunday.
And to add to this intrigue, the Cowboys-Giants play at noon and the Washingtons-Eagles just got flexed to the 7:20 start Sunday night, so no matter the outcome of Cowboys-Giants, WFT will have something to play for Sunday night.
And you thought no one cared about the NFC East.
"At the end of the day, we knew we needed to go out and play well," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said after making winning the final four games of the season the goal and also pulling out all the stops, if smashing watermelons once again Saturday night at the team meeting counts. "You know, play some of our best football. We're doing that. Obviously, we have things we need to clean up. But we look totally different today than we did two months ago. That's a real credit to our football players."
Like putting up 513 yards total offense, the fourth 500-yarder this season, but first since Game 4, the last one Dak completed.
Like Ezekiel Elliott running for 105 yards, only his second 100-yarder of the season, but second in the past five games.
Like quarterback Andy Dalton throwing for a season-high 377 yards and three touchdowns, notching a 134.7 QB rating, his highest of the season.
Like wide receivers Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper each finishing with 121 yards receiving, Gallup with two touchdowns, and that other guy, CeeDee Lamb adding two TDs himself, one receiving and one running.
And that defense, oh, that defense, even though giving up 477 yards total offense and allowing rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts to run for 69 of the Eagles' 151 rushing yards – that's two straight 150-yarders down their throats – those guys made plays, holding the Eagles to 17 points, second fewest they've given up in a season during which they've just set the ignominious franchise record for most points given up (450) with one game to go.
Three more takeaways – two picks and one fumble recovery by Jaylon Smith of the three Randy Gregory forced – giving them 10 over this three-game winning streak for a plus-nine turnover differential when they were sitting at minus-13 after nine games.
One pick for rookie Trevon Diggs, his team-leading third. And get this, one by cornerback Anthony Brown in the end zone, his second in two games, and mostly because he was forced into the slot on the nickel defense late in the game after safety Darian Thompson left with a concussion, that forcing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to move slot corner Jourdan Lewis to safety, with Brown, Diggs and Chidobe Awuzie manning the three corner spots.
And if that adjustment wasn't enough challenge in this game, early in the third quarter, with the offensive line's starting five the same for the fourth consecutive week, left guard Connor Williams, the only stable member of that offensive line, headed to the locker room with a knee issue for one whole possession, necessitating center Joe Looney moving to guard and rookie Tyler Biadiasz coming in at center.
No problem. Again. The Cowboys drove 80 yards on that possession, ending up with Zuerlein's 21-yard field goal, his third, to salvage points when sitting there first-and-goal from the 4-yard line to give the Cowboys some breathing room, 30-17.
That Dallas reached 37 on Lamb's closeout touchdown run means the Cowboys still haven't won a game this season or last season without scoring at least 30 points, encompassing their past 14 victories.
So here we are, one game to go, and the impossible long odds facing the Cowboys back on Dec. 8 after getting mauled by Baltimore of needing to win their last four games when they had only won three games all season long, but also needing Washington to lose their final three games after having just won four straight and five of seven during that stretch, are now much shorter and more believable with one game to go.
No matter this final outcome, the Cowboys have kept the faith. Give them credit for grinding away, no matter their previous ineptitude, to continue improving.
"Man, I thought it was possible … always keep a positive mindset, never thinking negative, ever," Diggs said of this turnaround. "Always keeping positive, always hoping for the best."
Said Gregory, "We've always believed we had a chance."
Which reminds me of my favorite quote from the old Christmas-time movie Miracle on 34th Street:
"Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."
Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
Nevertheless, here we go, Week 17, baby. Ain't over until it's over.