ARLINGTON, Texas – Amari Cooper was mad.
The Cowboys’ offense was lining up with 3:12 to play in regulation, the NFC East game against rival Philadelphia tied 16-16 courtesy of a Carson Wentz to Dallas Goedert 3-yard touchdown.
Cooper was set to run another stop route. But the Eagles secondary was poised to jump the route yet again, he believed.
“Dak, come on,” Cooper pleaded to his quarterback in the huddle.
“Just run it, bro,” Prescott said.
A hand signal from Prescott later, and Cooper converted his stop route to a go route. Prescott found him in stride.
One play, 75 yards, 11 seconds. The Cowboys jumped ahead 23-16.
“I was elated,” Cooper said.
The Cowboys’ No. 1 receiver was still elated in the aftermath of Dallas’ 29-23 overtime win to claim a full two-game lead atop the NFC East.
He had reason to be.
The 75-yard touchdown was just one of Cooper’s highlights in a 217-yard, three-score game. His yardage output was the most by an NFL receiver this season. His three go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime were the most by any NFL player in history.
Perhaps as crucially, nine of Cooper’s 10 catches moved the chains.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took pride in what he called the “golden opportunity” of acquiring Cooper from the Raiders in exchange for his team’s 2019 first-round pick near the midseason point.
“I’ve just never bought anything of quality that I bought cheaply,” Jones said. “They’ll tell you I was a madman. But you’ve got to go. You’ve got to pay for it.”
What Jones paid for was the receiver who on Sunday made the difference in the Cowboys’ fifth straight win.
In overtime, as in regulation, that outcome was not always assured.
The Cowboys hurt themselves continually, drawing 11 penalties for 111 yards. They missed on three straight red-zone opportunities. Prescott threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
In overtime, Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas, who had already picked off Prescott in the second quarter, tipped a pass on third-and-7.
But Cooper extended his arms to bring in the ball after the deflection and then raced 8 yards into the end zone.
“When it counted,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said, “we got the job done. I think that’s the identity of this offense: We go out and we get the job done.”
The Cowboys’ defense had already established its identity in recent weeks. Against the Eagles, the unit maintained a shutout for more than 38 minutes, allowed just 16 first downs to Dallas’ 32 and held Philadelphia to 1-of-9 on third downs.
But the offense hadn’t found the same stride, scoring just 13 points in last week’s statement win over the Saints and six in the first half Sunday despite posting 233 yards.
Cooper changed that.
Prescott thought back to the Cowboys’ October trade, when he heard his team was sealing the deal for the receiver he’d admired watching play for Alabama.
“I was almost astonished,” Prescott said. “If we are getting a trade like that, what’s wrong?”
Instead, it was Prescott who nearly became what was wrong for Dallas on Sunday, almost validating Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill’s jab days earlier that the Cowboys choke in big games.
But Cooper frequently bailed his quarterback out. And the receiver who has found new life since leaving Oakland loved every moment.
“This is really a dream come true,” Cooper said. “When I thought of playing in the NFL as a youth, this is the perfect example of that.
“For everything from the city, the facilities, winning, watching that defense out there, watching that offense out there. It’s a dream come true.”
Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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