By Dwain Price
One of the mega-hit songs of the 1970s written and performed by the Bee Gees from the Saturday Night Fever motion picture soundtrack was Stayin’ Alive. That song was certainly apropos for what has happened to the Dallas Cowboys over the past three weeks.
With the outcome of their season hanging in the balance, the Cowboys took a cue from the Bee Gees and danced all over the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday, winning to the tune of 37-17 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The victory increased the Cowboys’ record to 6-9 and kept alive their razor-thin playoff hopes.If the Cowboys win their final regular season game this Sunday at the New York Giants, and the Washington Football Team (6-9) lose or tie Sunday’s road game in Philadelphia, the Cowboys will clinch the NFC East and shuffle off into the playoffs and host a postgame game on the second weekend of January. But if the Giants beat the Cowboys — or if Washington defeats the Eagles — Washington will represent the NFC East in the playoffs.
The Cowboys kept hope alive this past Sunday by scoring 34 of the game’s final 37 points while eliminating the Eagles from playoff contention. In racking up a whopping 513 total yards, the Cowboys looked very impressive while avenging a 23-9 loss to Philadelphia earlier this season.
Quarterback Andy Dalton passed for a season-high 3377 yards and three touchdowns, receivers Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper each caught passes totaling 121 yards, receiver CeeDee Lamb had one touchdown reception and ran for another, and running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for over 100 yards for just the second time this season. For now, the Cowboys can only hope that their game against the Giants won’t be this season’s swan song.
“At the end of the day you want to be playing your best football in December and going into January, and for us it feels like we’re doing that right now,” Dalton said. “You just got to get an opportunity to get in the playoffs, because it’s not always the team with the best record in the regular season that wins the Super Bowl. Like I was saying earlier, it’s the hottest team.”
And boy, are the Cowboys hot right now. The only NFL teams that have a current active winning streak longer than the three in a row the Cowboys have stitched together entering the final weekend of the season are the Kansas City Chiefs (10), Green Bay Packers (five), Baltimore Ravens (four) and Buffalo Bills (four).
For those fans who wanted the Cowboys to “tank” the season when they were 3-9 and running around haphazardly like a ship without a rudder, Elliott has a strong message.
“If you gave up five-six weeks ago, we don’t even want you on our side,” said Elliott, who rushed for 105 gritty yards on 19 carries against the Eagles. “Right now we’re playing really good football and I think we’re catching fire at the right time.”
After the Eagles busted out to a 14-3 lead early in the first quarter, the Cowboys indeed caught fire at the right time. That includes scoring a touchdown on their last possession of the first half and scoring a touchdown on the game’s first possession of the second half.
That pivotal two-step turned a 17-13 deficit into a 27-17 lead for the Cowboys, and they never looked back after that.
“That’s a Whataburger double with cheese in our books,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s something that the guys were screaming about on the sidelines, so it was great to finally hit one of those.
“Getting a touchdown going (into halftime) and coming out (of halftime) is obviously a huge momentum swing for your football team. So I think that was a big sequence for us.”
What also was a big sequence for the Cowboys was their ability to connect on the homerun ball. Cooper had a 69-yard reception, Gallup caught a 55-yard pass and Lamb negotiated a 52-yard catch.
That’s the first time this season that any NFL team successfully executed three pass plays that covered 50 or more yards in the same game.
“I think for us we were clicking and we got a bunch of different guys involved,” Dalton said. “Early on Michael Gallup had several big plays, and then later on Amari gets a couple of big ones, and CeeDee gets involved.
“When you can spread it around and guys are making plays all over the field, it obviously gives you the chance to go down and score a bunch of points. Fortunately for us we were able to get that done. With the talent that we have at receivers, we can do some really good things in the passing game.”
Cooper had four receptions for 121 yards and said of the talented core of Cowboys’ wide receivers: “We all have the potential to go out there and just dominate a game, and it just feels good when we’re all able to do it in the same game. And I think that’s something that we can consistently do.”
Certainly, Cooper didn’t receive any disagreements from Gallup.
“After my first catch of the game, which was just a little 10-yard in-route, Coop literally ran up to me and he was like, ‘This is your game,’ “ said Gallup, who had six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. “It was just great to be out there and have a good time.
“Everybody was eating, everybody was having a great time and it was a fun game and we needed it.”
Following the game’s early troubles when the Eagles scored 14 points on their first two possessions of the game, the Cowboys also needed their defense to step up. And they definitely did rise to the occasion as veteran cornerback Anthony Brown had an interception at the goal line and rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs also picked off a pass from Eagles rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts.
In addition, linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered a crucial fumble by Hurts with the Eagles driving in the Cowboys’ territory late in the game.
“I think it just shows how resilient we are,” defensive end Randy Gregory said. “We’re hard workers, we take pride in our work and I think we’ve been a lot more consistent in our play.
“Guys were making plays, guys were stepping up. It’s not like we don’t have that ability. I think it’s always been there. Guys just have to go out and seize the opportunity.”
The Cowboys will try and seize another opportunity this Sunday against the Giants. The Cowboys-Giants game kicks off at 12 noon, while the Washington-Philadelphia game starts at 7:20 p.m.
Thus, if the Cowboys are able to dethrone the Giants, they will have to wait seven or eight agonizing hours before they find out if they’ll advance to the playoffs for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
“I like how our football team is playing right now,” Elliott said. “All we’ve got to do is we’ve got to win next week, and we need a little help from the (Philadelphia) guys we just played.”
In other words, the Cowboys know they need to continue doing what they’ve done the past three games. Just stay alive.