It was a great win. There were big plays and more drama than most of us wanted. Along the way, several Dallas Cowboys memes took some mortal blows. The Cowboys are 2-0 this December. Tony Romo never came close to choking. Dallas did not fold under serious pressure when the went from being up 21-0 to being behind 24-21.
Best of all, it took place against the Philadelphia Eagles, of egg throwing fame. In their house.
The coaching staff will undoubtedly give out several game balls, but I try to keep it to one (although I am not above cheating now and then). There were a lot of stars tonight. Tony Romo was calm, cool, and deadly against the Philly secondary. Jason Witten was back with a vengeance, keeping the second touchdown drive alive with three third-down catches to move the sticks. And Dez Bryant had one of the best games of his career, catching three touchdown passes for the first time and making two other huge catches on the gut-check drive to retake the lead after Philadelphia scored 24 straight points.
But those are the stars. We expect them to rise up and carry the team when it needs them to. They have done it often enough before.
In this game, the game ball is not going to one of the offensive stars. It goes to a defender who was involved in two of the most crucial plays of the second half, both of which snuffed out Eagles drives and led to Cowboys points.
As time was running out in the third quarter, Dallas had just retaken the lead on that drive I mentioned. The Eagles were also rolling at that point, and with only 39 seconds until the change of quarter, they kept their famed rapid pace going. They got off three plays before the clock expired - but the last play was a pass from Mark Sanchez that deflected off Zach Ertz' hands and into the chest of J.J. Wilcox. He then made a very athletic grab of the ball, getting clear possession of it before it hit the ground. Four plays later, Bryant had his third and final touchdown of the game, stretching the lead to 11 points.
Wilcox was not through, either. After the Eagles shaved three points off the lead with a field goal, they forced a three-and-out on the Cowboys, stuffing DeMarco Murray on a third-and-one play. They had over eight minutes to work with, and the Dallas defense was spotty all night. They had to come up with a play, and Wilcox did. On the second play of the possession (including one play wiped out by an offensive holding call), Sanchez completed a 14 -yard pass to Brent Celek that would have been a first down. Wilcox made the tackle, but instead of riding Celek down underneath him, he managed to twist himself underneath the receiver so he could not be down by contact. He then ripped the ball free for Kyle Wilber to recover. The Cowboys turned that into a Dan Bailey field goal that made the final score 38-27.
Turnovers are not things you can plan for. There is a certain element of chance in them, although Rod Marinelli certainly coaches his players to work for them. Coming up twice with takeaways that snuffed out Eagles drives and led to points for his own team was a huge contribution for Wilcox. He is still learning to play safety after having only been in the position his last year of college. In this, the biggest game of the season for Dallas, he made plays that the Cowboys might not have been able to win without.
That's worth a game ball.