It took just one go route for T.Y. Hilton to cement himself in the laundry list of Cowboys lore.
When signed, Hilton was always meant to be a third-down, clutch-option receiver that the offense could go to in tough times, mainly supplementing what Dallas already had at receiver. This was certainly the case as the Cowboys trailed the backup-quarterback led Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth quarter while staring down the barrel of a third-and-30.
Kellen Moore had been reaching into his bag all night but went with a simple scheme that proved effective, get T.Y. Hilton the ball deep. Hilton danced off of the line of scrimmage and made more than enough room from his defenders for Dak Prescott to drop a 52-yard gift right into his breadbasket. Just in time for the season.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that there are some, even in the Cowboys organization, who are disappointed that Odell Beckham Jr. is not going to help Dallas in its eventual playoff run. It may even be true that the acquisition of T.Y. Hilton was met with some lack of motivation by fans because it was an undercut of the star celebrity (Beckham) that was all but promised.
Luckily for the Cowboys, Hilton performed exactly to the role that he was signed for — a veteran playmaker that knows how to make clutch catches when his team needs him most. Hilton was never intended to be a top-3 option ahead of receivers who have been in the system for an entire season, but a crutch to be leaned on in dire situations like the one the Cowboys found themselves in on Saturday evening. Without Hilton’s reception, Dallas is in the hole with the game on the line faced with a fourth down and 30.
He may not be the thousand-yard receiver he was a few seasons ago while a member of the Indianapolis Colts, but he brings a lot of talent and experience to a Dallas receiving corps that is not doing so hot outside of the No. 1 threat Ceedee Lamb.
Among current Cowboys receivers before week 17, Michael Gallup and Noah Brown ranked 105 and 110 respectively in separation rank (out of 121 eligible players). This stat isn't the end-all-be-all, but when it comes to defensive backs like the ones that the Eagles boast, it’s not a head-scratcher to find out that Hilton’s one catch eclipsed those two receivers’ total yards by triple.
Hilton also baited Darius Slay into a penalty just by jumping off the line of scrimmage and pressing into him. Hilton being guarded by Slay says enough about the threat he brings, but to embarrass the Eagles’ star in his first reps as a Cowboy spells trouble for the rest of the league.
Big Players get Big Moments to Shine
It may have been his first catch of the year, but there are plenty of reasons for Hilton to be out in the slot for arguably the biggest play of the game - Dak Prescott’s trust in the veteran.
That trust was expanded upon in the postgame presser after the come-behind win.
Dak Prescott on throw to T.Y. Hilton: “I knew he’d go make a play. Third-and-30, go find T.Y.” pic.twitter.com/AqBP0s3YEf— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 25, 2022
Still, there’s also a reason that Hilton continues to play at the ripe age of 33. Not many would have batted their eyes if he would have hung up his cleats after the team he spent nine years with let him walk, but Dallas fans are sure glad he didn’t. Instead, he believed that he still is one of the best receivers in the realm of professional football.
“I can still play. If you don’t think I can play, then that’s on you. I can still get open,” Hilton said to media after the game. “I don’t have to be fast. I can be slow. I can still get open. But I’m still fast. Double [CeeDee Lamb] and leave me, whatever you choose, you’re in trouble.”
Hilton can pay homage to Lamb for the double-team, but even in limited snaps, he made his made his presence as a weapon known.
All in all, that single catch to help beat the Eagles may be worth the $600,000 that Jerry Jones and company spent in guaranteed money for Hilton. Proven production at a much cheaper cost than the many millions someone else may have been asking for.