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Spagnola: Trying To Figure Out These Cowboys


ARLINGTON, Texas – OK, get it. The Cowboys won.

Beat the NFC North Division champion Lions, 20-19.

Notched their 11th win of the season with one game to go, now 11-5, a win away from their third consecutive 12-5 season.

They accomplished their goal of finishing 8-0 this year at AT&T Stadium and extending their home winning streak to 16 consecutive games

They remain on the heels of 11-4 Philadelphia in the race for first place in the NFC East, the Eagles playing their 16th game Sunday against Arizona.

And at least they did not let down some 93,000 people coming here Saturday night, the franchise turning back the clock to celebrate the Ring of Honor induction of two-time Super winning head coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Johnson.

And Jimmy didn't disappoint, playing to the raucous crowd during the halftime celebration, giving them one more for posterity's sake a jubilant "How 'bout those Cowboys."

But really, after this one ringing in their ears probably was their own, "What about these Cowboys?"

And get this too: To their credit, the Cowboys survived.

Survived the Lions gaining 420 yards.

They survived giving up 125 yards rushing.

They survived for the second consecutive week losing the ball inside the five-yard line when scoring touchdowns seemed inevitable.

They survived a tripping penalty and a near damning neutral zone infraction wiping out what had appeared to be a game saving interception.

They survived only racking up one sack for the fifth consecutive game.

They survived scoring no more than 20 points now in three consecutive games, a somewhat troubling trend this late in the season.

And most of all, they survived Lions head coach Dan Campbell stubbornly attempting three tries at what most likely would have been the game-winning two-point conversion with just 23 seconds left in this one-point game, causing Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy to label this oddity "a two-point extravaganza."

They should get credit for all that, joyously running off the field with a victory, if not an escape, ending that two-game losing streak and not spoiling the Ring of Honor celebration that paraded out 13 Ring of Honor members at halftime, the return of at least 23 three of Jimmy's former players here for a reunion of sorts with The Triplets on hand – Troy, Emmitt, Michael – along with the likes of Ken Norton Jr., James Washington, Tony Casillas, Dixon Edwards, Nate Newton, Matt Vanderbeek and Jimmy's Fox pregame crew in tow.

Not only that, how deflating would this game have been if indeed the Cowboys did not hold on by the skin of their chinny-chin-chins since the phenomenal CeeDee Lamb did all he could to win the game all by his lonesome while breaking Michael Irvin's franchise single-season records for most receptions and most receiving yards with Mike watching on by catching 12 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown on a 92-yard catch and run, now the second longest reception in franchise history, only Don Meredith's 95-yarder to Bob Hayes in 1966 longer.

Why Lamb now has 122 receptions this season, 11 more than Mike's previous record set in 1995, Irvin telling me before the game, "He better break that record," knowing CeeDee needed just three catches to do so and campaigning for the Cowboys to quit messing around and continue getting the ball to No. 88 because that's what these 88s do.

Also going down is Mike's receiving yards record, CeeDee now at 1,651, 48 more than the previous one.

"Once again, I told y'all I'd enjoy it more if we won, and we did," Lamb said smiling along the way.

Well, so did everyone else, something those packing into AT&T will better remember this huge milestone they were here to witness than if the Cowboys had lost, sort of what happened when Emmitt broke Walter Payton's career rushing record.

Even fellow receiver Brandin Cooks, who added the Cowboys other touchdown on a honey of an eight-yard Dak throw and catch giving the Cowboys a 17-13 lead with 7:20 to play, saying, "I mean to be so young playing at a high level like this, to break a franchise record like this when we talk about some greats that played here. The guy's electric."

All this great, including Dak throwing for 345 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 103.5 QB rating. And hey, as I like to say, a win is a win is a win.

But look, despite all this, the Cowboys nearly lost to a quarterback finishing with a 67.2 QB rating, Jared Goff getting picked off twice, and would have been another time on the second two-point conversion attempt if Micah Parsons had not prematurely entered the neutral zone.

They nearly lost a third consecutive game, and in this one a defense that had played so well for the entire game nearly came apart on the final drive of the game, just as they did this past Sunday in the 22-20 loss to Miami on the walk-off field goal.

This time, after taking a 20-13 lead with 1:41 remaining the defense turned Charmin soft, allowing the Lions to go 75 yards in nine plays, taking only 1:18 to score what would have been the game's tying touchdown if Campbell had settled for a tie and probable overtime by kicking the extra point. But no, gambling Dan, as he has done the entire season leading these Lions to what now is an 11-5 record, gambled on the two-point to win not once, not twice but three times, or as Dak said, "This guy is crazy – with respect," finishing his compliment saying, "I love it, I really do."

Why the Cowboys allowed Goff on that final drive to complete – not counting the spikes to stop the clock since the Lions were out of timeouts – six of seven passes for all 75 yards, including the eight-yard touchdown to Amon-Ra St. Brown. Last Sunday it was Tua Tagovailoa driving the Dolphins 64 yards in 12 plays for the game-winning 29-yard field goal just after Dak had driven the Cowboys 69 yards in 17 plays for the then go-ahead touchdown with 3:27 to play.

"We knew it was going to come down to the last few plays," said DeMarcus Lawrence, who had another bang-up performance with five tackles, two tackles for losses, one QB hit and one pass defense, "and also (by) the grace of God, man we won."

Maybe by the grace of Jimmy Johnson, too, because during that three-try two-point attempt at the end, one the Lions scoring but called for a five-yard illegal touching penalty when the pass went to an offensive linemen who did not report (minus-five yards) for a score; on the second Goff's pass intercepted by Markquese Bell but Parsons offsides (plus five yards) and then the third Goff's pass missing a wide open tight end James Mitchell, this place had tensed up tight. Ditto Dak too.

"Everywhere . . . not settled," Dak said of where his emotions were during that elongated stretch of tries, though pointing out his thoughts were focused on going back out there to make the most of those 23 seconds to get Brandon Aubrey who stretched his streak to 35 consecutive field goals with two more in this one into field goal range.

But again, despite all this, the Cowboys won, and this time instead finding ways to lose tight games like this, they figured out how to survive.

"It was big, huge for our confidence," Dak said of squeaking by. "But it was important for us to get that 11th win. Now, it's about getting 12 and taking it week by week as we move forward."

Though leaving this lingering feeling, more like, "What about these Cowboys?"

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