Is a division title worth a first-round pick? If so, then the people who castigated the Dallas Cowboys for paying such a high price for Amari Cooper may owe Jerry Jones an apology.
Cooper, the 24-year-old wide receiver whose hotly debated acquisition has spurred a revival in the Cowboys’ offense, had 217 receiving yards, including a shocking play in overtime in which he plucked a tipped ball out of the air and ran it into the end zone, securing a 29-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles that all but settled the N.F.C. East title for Dallas.
RT to celebrate the #DallasCowboys get the HUGE WIN! @amaricooper9 for the OT TD🙌 pic.twitter.com/NCk5tXeMxr
The No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft, Cooper was terrific in his first two seasons for the Oakland Raiders, but saw a sharp decline in his statistics last year. That decline continued in his first six games with the Raiders this year, but since the October trade, in which Dallas gave Oakland a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, Cooper has been phenomenal. Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, took a lot of heat for giving away such a high pick.
After Sunday’s huge performance, Cooper has 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns since he joined Dallas, with his arrival bringing balance to a team that previously relied far too much on Ezekiel Elliott’s running.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Cooper told Fox’s Erin Andrews in an on-field interview just after he made the game-winning catch. “When I was young and thought about playing in the N.F.L., this was the experience.”
By dispatching the defending Super Bowl champions, the Cowboys have now won five consecutive games and are in firm control of the N.F.C. East, a division that seemed to belong to the Washington Redskins just a few short weeks ago.
Sunday’s game saw Dak Prescott, the Cowboy’s quarterback, struggle a bit with turnovers. He completed 42 of 54 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
But the Cowboys, thanks to a team-record 62-yard field goal by Brett Maher, and a great deal of exceptional play from Cooper and Elliott, endured Prescott’s uneven performance.
Elliott, who remains the centerpiece of the team’s offense, survived a neck injury in the second half, and finished the day with 28 carries for 114 yards.
But Sunday belonged to Cooper. He caught 10 of the 13 passes thrown his way, scoring three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder late in the fourth quarter, and the shocking overtime grab on a ball that was deftly defended by Philadelphia’s Rasul Douglas, but hung in the air just long enough for Cooper to grab it.
“I just stayed with the ball, and thank God,” Cooper said.
The Eagles, who had shown signs of life in recent weeks after a tough start to the year, were able to answer many of Dallas’ apparent knockout blows, and forced overtime when Carson Wentz hit Darren Sproles for a 6-yard touchdown with 1 minute 39 seconds remaining.
But the Cowboys won the coin-toss in overtime, and Dallas marched down the field, getting a key 12-yard reception from Cooper on a third down, and a huge 4th-and-1 conversion from Elliott. All of that served to set up the game-winner, which came with just 1:55 remaining in the overtime period.
With the win, the Cowboys have a two-game lead over Philadelphia and a three-game lead over Washington with three games left in the season. They will try to keep the win streak going next week when they travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts.
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