ARLINGTON, Texas — Kamu Grugier-Hill was right, to a degree.
The Cowboys choked twice on Sunday.
They just didn’t choke enough. In fact, it took a load of luck and a terrible call to save them from the Choking Hall of Fame.
The Cowboys blew a pair of touchdown leads in the last four minutes of regulation against the Eagles in Sunday’s battle for the top slot in the NFC East, whatever that’s worth. Amari Cooper caught a deflection off Rasul Douglas' right hand just after the 2-minute warning in overtime and jogged the last 7 yards for the winning touchdown, a 29-23 final and the last laugh in the Choker Bowl.
Grugier-Hill, a second-year starting linebacker, said last week that the Sunday’s battle for NFC East supremacy might be happening deep in the heart of Texas, but it would really come down to the bone in the Cowboys' throat for the past 23 seasons:
“I mean, look at Dallas’ history. They always choke. So, we’ll go down there and make them choke.”
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who had led his team to four straight wins — including one over the Eagles — and to the top of the division, replied:
“You know, coach [Jason] Garrett has a great saying, and I don’t know where he got it from, but winners worry about winning and losers worry about winners."
The Cowboys emerged as winners, but just barely, and not fairly. By the end of the third quarter, Prescott had thrown two interceptions and lost a fumble that cost the Cowboys a likely field goal and helped the Eagles tie the score at 9 early in the fourth quarter. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones won’t admit it but could hear his players the gagging all the way from his private box at AT&T stadium.
“There’s no question: We let 'em fool around like that with the turnovers,” Jones said.
He swore that, even then, he didn’t consider Grugier-Hill’s words particularly prescient.
“I didn’t pay any attention to that. Those are minute compared to the things I’ve heard in 30 years ... about myself; not necessarily about the Cowboys,” Jones said, laughing. “I don’t lose any sleep about that stuff.”
He’d have lost some sleep if they’d lost.
Grugier-Hill said, “No,” he didn’t regret his comments, and the choking dialogue was the final postgame question posed to Prescott.
He smiled and said, ‘Ahhhhhhh," as he walked off the podium. He’d tried to give the game away, even on the final play. He knew how lucky he’d been.
The deflection and touchdown made the Cowboys winners for the fifth game in a row, a run begun with their win Nov. 11 in Philadelphia. Now 8-5, they seized a stranglehold on the NFC East, two games ahead of the Eagles and Redskins with three games to play.
The loss will provide an endless and exquisite pain for Eagles fans during the coming cold January, especially since it was delivered in such a manner. Prescott hit Amari Cooper with a 75-yard missile with 3 minutes, 12 seconds to play after the Eagles had just tied the game with a touchdown. They would re-tie it with another, but those TDs by that particular receiver will provide a sort of pain that endures for years.
The Cowboys took a raft of criticism when, as a fading team in October, they traded a first-round pick to the Raiders for Cooper. The Eagles got a load of credit for later trading a third-round pick to Detroit for Golden Tate.
Cooper caught 10 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. Tate had one catch for 7 yards.
Maybe Cooper made the Cowboys choke-proof this year. It’s hard to choke, though, when the refs give you the Heimlich. The Cowboys choked the opening kickoff away, but the officials just wouldn’t let that happen.
Jourdan Lewis fumbled the opening kickoff and the Eagles recovered. Officials ruled him down by contact, which was wrong, and forced Doug Pederson to challenge. Officials then ruled that, while Lewis did fumble, they couldn’t definitively rule that the Eagles recovered (which also was wrong). Finally, the officials charged the Eagles with a timeout, even though the officials' stated reason why the Eagles challenged -- that the runner was downed -- proved erroneous.
A pool reporter asked referee Clete Blakeman how his crew could possibly botch such an obvious call; well, that was the essence of the question, in so many words, anyway. Blakeman they couldn’t discern a clear recovery by the Eagles, even though there were no Cowboys on the bottom of the scrum. The refs didn’t address the timeout issue.
That cost the Eagles an opening possession at the Cowboys' 18, and, in all likelihood, at least three points. Those points would have been handy 60 minutes later.
The Eagles got no help from the refs, and they got a bad-luck bounce off Douglas' hand, but they’d gotten all the help they could have asked for entering the game. The Giants destroyed Washington. The Browns beat the Panthers.
And the Eagles had the Cowboys in their grasp. Talons around their necks.
They just didn’t squeeze hard enough.
» UP-DOWN DRILL: Doug Pederson, officials trending down; Dallas Goedert trending up
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