It’s a statement that many thought wouldn’t be heard again this season after Dak Prescott's gruesome leg injury: the Dallas Cowboys are in position to qualify for the NFL playoffs in Week 17. Heck, that’s a sentiment that just weeks ago would’ve incited a mocking hysteria from Cowboys Nation.
The team’s chances a month prior to their Philly face-off were nearly invisible – their forecasted odds of getting over the hump were just below one percent (0.9) following a disquieting Week 13 Tuesday night loss to Baltimore. The next week, they were even worse: 0.8 after their winning expedition against Cincy. But, as the old sports adage repeats, “that’s why they play the games,” and Dallas’ odds slowly began to escalate with each passing game as they stacked wins like bricks on their voyage to a tie atop the NFC East’s totem pole.
They took care of their required duties this past Sunday by bouncing back from a hiccupped start vs. their green counterparts to siphon away a victory, and quell any chances Philly had of returning to postseason competition in early 2021. All that’s left for their portion of necessary business is a closing foray with New York, which secures playoff bidding should (and this is a huge should) Washington succumb to the Eagles later that night.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys have given themselves a shot, and for a season that’s been rife with misfires, it’s substantially more than fans could've envisioned after the unfortunate events that opened the year. They're firing on all cylinders right now, and could very well cannonball their way right into January football.
And they have a host of playmaking hitmen that can help them get there. These were the most potently lethal sharpshooters from Sunday’s wafare with Philadelphia.
3. Ezekiel Elliott
Zeke must’ve heard the rumblings emerging from the Cowboys’ fanbase clamoring for more touch opportunities in favor of his backup, Tony Pollard. Pollard was effective last week against San Fran, damaging their top-ranked defense in multiple areas of the matchup. He was deadly as a primary ball-carrier behind center, and also flashed the scope of his versatility in a number of pass-catching and kick return situations.
Pollard stamped a season-high 69 total yards (12 carries) into Mike McCarthy’s brain in the tilt – a brazen message to his signal-caller that he was worthy of a greater contingence in terms of chances. But the other side of that coin had direct correlative dependence on what his fellow tailback did in his return appearance from the injury shelf. And if Elliott’s dominance Sunday is any inclination of what’s to come in the future, Pollard’s going to have to remain content with playing the waiting game.
Zeke looked hungry as ever throughout the matchup.
He hit holes with a seismic burst that yielded recollections of his highlights from year’s past, and defenders looked none to eager to meet him at the point of attack. His stat-line backs that theme to a tee with 19 carries, 105 yards, and a season-high 5.53 yards per attempt.
Ezekiel Elliott had 11 missed tackles forced on runs in Week 16— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 28, 2020
Most in a game by anyone this season pic.twitter.com/Dm718gXbQw
Zeke’s been fielding questions left and right surrounding his inconsistent play after what many thought would be his takeover season wilted away like the winter trees. Sunday, he took all outside resignations and knocked them miles out of the park with a few swings of the bat. He ran all over Philly’s frontline, and certainly won’t be running from the spotlight anytime soon.
The display was a resolute message from #21 to all who's eyes remain centered on the star: I’m here to stay. And at least for now, his job as primary ball-handler is secured.
2. Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton’s stretch of recent outings is infinitely greater from a production standpoint than the expectations Jerry Jones imparted upon him when initially inking him to a one-year deal to be the team’s backup. He’s put up high-caliber starter numbers in a few, and he just may have positioned himself for a lead role elsewhere if Dallas fails to retain him next season.
Dalton checks all of the boxes of the NFL’s unwritten QB1 starter kit.
Maturity and leadership? Check. Locker room mediation? Check. Command of the football? Shoot – he’s been double-checking that category as of late. Dalton looks like a wizard with the pigskin in command of Kellen Moore’s high-powered offense, and with the receivers he has at his disposal, this newfound comfortability is a sight to behold for Cowboys fans across the globe.
Each of his prime weapons got their pieces of the pie as Dalton tossed out treats like Halloween candy, and spurred his troupe to glory. He didn’t miss many targets compiling a 73.33 completion rate, his second-highest of 2020, and his 134.7 quarterback rating set a stark outlier for a new season-high. He connected on 22-30 attempts with seven different beneficiaries, spreading a bountiful wealth all around the field.
And boy did he cash out to the tune of 377 yards through the air and three touchdowns.
It was the Red Rifle’s best standalone performance all year. He won’t need an exact repeat if he's going to lead the charge in Dallas’ takedown efforts of New York this upcoming Sunday. But to wipe out the Big Blue, the Cowboys are going to need a massive showing from the savvy redhead.
1. Michael Gallup
Have yourself a day, Michael Gallup.
The Cowboys’ receiving corps is comprised of arguably the best group of pass-catchers football has to offer. One of their exemplary wideouts is a multiple-time Pro-Bowler. The other is their latest first-round draft selection, and a man who’d garnered a significant draw from cameras and news outlets long before he stepped foot in Texas. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb’s presence can make it feasible to forget about the less-dazzling option that rounds out the monster trio.
But Michael Gallup’s a capable 1,000-yard receiver, and despite some inconsistent outings from #13, he’s stayed the course, remaining one of the bright young pass-catchers in today’s league. Gallup’s seen multiple 100-yard games throughout his young career, but had only surpassed one touchdown just once prior to Sunday’s foray.
That game was a doozy, a three-touchdown ransacking of Washington’s secondary in Dallas’ final matchup of 2019-20. And nearly a year to the exact date, Gallup registered the second multi-score outing of his three-year tenure. He seems to have a special relationship with division rivals, and no love was lost towards a familiar conference foe Sunday.
He carved circles on Philly’s undermanned backline, reeling in six Dalton-sponsored assists to the tune of 121 yards – and of course – two touchdowns.
Jim Schwartz is renowned for his defensive adjustments as games wear on, but even he was rendered helpless as Gallup ran roughshod all over his game-plan. Gallup had a similar performance to this one early on in Week 3. He pulled in the same number of receptions for a grand 138 yard total vs. another bird foe – the Seattle Seahawks. That was undoubtedly his premier 2020 outburst prior to their Eagles battle. This one though, especially in lieu of a squared touchdown total, has to take the “best game” cake for #13.
Now, we may not see a repeat breakout from Gallup in the near future – he still splits field time with two of the league’s most harmful deep threats. Heck, any one of the three had ample grounds to make their case for appearance on this list Sunday. They were unstoppable.
But this week, Michael Gallup is star numero uno. The limelight is firmly in his grasp.