How the Dallas Cowboys Saved Their Season in 155 Seconds

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How the Dallas Cowboys Saved Their Season in 155 Seconds
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It's not always possible to pinpoint an exact moment at which a season turns. Sometimes, those moments don't exist, and sometimes seasons only change shape in gradual fashion. But I have a feeling that if the Dallas Cowboys end up making a run and getting back into the playoffs this season, a 21-point stretch from the second half of Sunday's victory in Philadelphia will be looked at as the clear turning point. 

The entire stretch spanned 155 seconds, or about two and a half minutes. In that window, the 'Boys stormed back from a seven-point deficit to take a 14-point lead, which they'd never surrender. Three touchdowns were scored, one from each phase of the game.

Let's take a look back at what happened during that frenzy and draw some sweeping conclusions in the process.

 

Third Quarter, 0 Minutes and 0 Seconds Remaining: Cowboys 10, Eagles 17

The Cowboys have a 3rd-and-4 on the Philadelphia 30-yard line. They had converted only one of their last six third downs at this point, and Tony Romo hadn't completed a touchdown pass of more than 26 yards since Week 1. 

But Romo had a four-receiver set with Cole Beasley and Kevin Ogletree in the game, and the Eagles appeared to be entrusting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to cover Dez Bryant without safety help. 

Romo recognized that opportunity to his right prior to the snap. 

What's great about this play is that Romo clearly hasn't lost confidence in Bryant, who's had an inconsistent, frustrating season. He actually throws the ball when DRC is still with Bryant stride for stride.

Rodgers-Cromartie stuck with Bryant right through the route, thanks in part to pass interference. But Romo still put the ball in the perfect spot, where only Bryant could come down with it. And for once, Dez stepped up and made a clutch catch. 

The touchdown gave the Cowboys all the momentum to end the third quarter, and the defense and special teams would feed off of that.

 

Fourth Quarter, 13 Minutes and 35 Seconds Remaining: Cowboys 17, Eagles 17

Four plays after an Anthony Spencer interception was negated by a Morris Claiborne penalty, the Cowboys force the Eagles to punt from their own 29-yard line. They hadn't scored on a punt or kick return since the 2010 season and had just two 20-plus-yard punt returns all season to this point.

The Eagles hadn't allowed a kick or punt return touchdown in 71 games, and Dwayne Harris had retrieved three punts earlier in the game for a grand total of 14 yards.

But Harris had something this time...

He had a wall of blockers on a left return and saw a clear chance to go all the way down the left sideline. 

His blockers came through...

Including Danny McCray on the last man to beat, punter Mat McBriar...

And the Cowboys take the lead.

 

Fourth Quarter, 12 Minutes and 25 Seconds Remaining: Cowboys 24, Eagles 17

Three plays later, Dallas' defense has Philadelphia on a 2nd-and-7 from the Eagles 37-yard line. Prior to this game, the Cowboys defense had just three interceptions all season, and Brandon Carr—their $50 million free-agent prize from the offseason—had yet to pick off a pass. Only three teams in football had forced fewer turnovers than Dallas.

But Carr had solid coverage on DeSean Jackson, and he let rookie quarterback Nick Foles make a mistake. 

Jackson couldn't hang on to a bad pass...

As a result, it bounced off of Ernie Sims, and Carr was in the perfect spot. 

Touchdown, another salute, and game over.

You could see the team gaining confidence, and you could detect the spirit picking up as that 155-second rush took place. The fact that the offense, the defense and special teams all contributed can only help to bring a traditionally unfocused team together. 

If the Cowboys end up playing meaningful games in January, keep those three potential season-changing touchdowns in mind.

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