A burgundy-and-gold wave burst through a white-and-silver dam, sending tailback DeMarco Murray running. Ten yards away from the end zone, suddenly Tony Romo was staring down the most stressful 4th-and-goal of his career.
Having led an eight-play drive to get to this point, having been down six points in a must-win game against a storied rival and owner Jerry Jones certainly having head coach Jason Garrett's head on a platter if they lost, Romo had to win the game himself.
The narrative of the week, the season and much of Romo's career demanded he throw a game-ending interception. But with some clever pocket movement, a savvy pump-fake and a well-placed throw to a wide-open Murray, Romo single-handedly saved the game, the Cowboys' season, his reputation and his coach's job.
With this epic comeback win, all is again well in the Big D today.
What does it mean for the rest of the Cowboys' season and Garrett's and Romo's futures in Dallas? Can a last-gasp triumph over a flailing, directionless Washington team mean anything at all?
Still Waters, Deep Trouble
Jones is not known for being a patient, prudent man. The Dallas Cowboys owner has, to his credit, shown glacial faith and confidence in Garrett throughout a third straight roller-coaster ride to mediocrity.
Sitting a game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East title race, well off the NFC Wild Card pace and having just two games left to play, this game was an absolute must-win.
Wringing victory out of this matchup against a Washington team I recently called a "billion-dollar goat rodeo" should have been easy.
Romo and the offense's job got even easier when returner Micheal Spurlock returned Washington's first punt to the doorstep of the end zone. Murray punched it in, the Cowboys were quickly up 7-0 and it seemed like the rout was already on.
Instead, the Cowboys offense sputtered with incomplete passes, a drive-killing sack and a stagnant running game.
Washington sucked up 11 minutes and eight seconds of first-half clock with two long field-goal drives. It wasn't until seven minutes and 36 seconds were left in the second quarter that Murray showed his only real sign of life: a powerful 43-yard cutback-and-corner-turn that set up the Cowboys' only scoring drive between their first and last possessions.
The touchdown was a classic Romo product of athleticism and guile:
Unfortunately, the third quarter was also classic Romo.
The Cowboys' first second-half drive was cut short by fullback Tyler Clutts, whose fumble of a Romo screen pass set up Washington for yet another scoring drive. This time, quarterback Kirk Cousins, starting in place of the deactivated Robert Griffin III, hit a wide-open Pierre Garcon for a touchdown pass.
On the ensuing Cowboys drive, Romo succumbed to the popular narrative, as well as cornerback DeAngelo Hall's veteran eyes and sticky hands:
Cousins led another touchdown drive, with tailback Alfred Morris punching in the go-ahead score.
With the Cowboys down by six and the fourth quarter looming, Romo had a chance to get the lead right back.
Two incomplete passes and a sack later, the Cowboys punted the ball away again. Cousins drove Washington down the field yet again; the first play of the fateful fourth quarter was yet another Kai Forbath field goal.
Down 23-14, with Garrett all but fired if they lost, Romo took over at the start of the fourth quarter.
A Fateful Fourth Quarter
"Romo's choketastic tendencies," as Tanier put it, "is a 90% smaller deal than his bashers suggest but a 10% bigger deal than knee-jerk apologists would have you believe."
Romo buckled down and got it done, leading a 15-play, 73-yard scoring drive on which he went 4-of-5 for 47 yards. When the Cowboys defense got him the ball back, he really answered the bell: He completed three critical passes, including a 51-yard toss to rookie Terrance Williams, for a total of 83 yards.
Then came the goal-line stand, and the victory.
Though there's been much ado about Garrett and Romo's grip on their jobs—and, spoiler alert, will be for as long as they have them—Jones settled the fate of Garrett and Romo before the season started.
Jones gave Romo a six-year, $108 million contract extension, and he got Garrett two new coordinators. Though Jones has been publicly patient and supportive of Garrett this season, these moves revealed his true expectations, which were underscored by this game-day report from ESPN's Ed Werder:
Source says current expectation is Jerry Jones will fire HC Jason Garrett and coaching staff unless the Cowboys win NFC East, make playoffs.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 22, 2013
This win keeps Garrett's head on his shoulders for another week, but this level of play is simply not good enough. Even if the Cowboys win next week, the Eagles trip up and the 'Boys get back to the postseason, they don't stand a chance in the pit of vipers that is the NFC playoff bracket.
Garrett's done, regardless of Sunday's epic comeback win.
Romo's proven that even though Dallas has a lot of problems, he's not one.