Other teams’ castoffs rise to occasion for Cowboys

Posted Sunday, Nov. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton There is more than a little irony that for the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps the most widely known pro football team on planet Earth, some of the biggest contributors Sunday may as well be named Who’s This and I Don’t Know What.

“That’s the kind of guys I play with,” said Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, one of the recognizable few. “We’re the no-name guys.”

Most of their lockers are clustered in the same corner of the AT&T Stadium locker room, beneath nameplates that attempt to place a uniform number with a face.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden dresses in that corner. As do the likes of fellow linemen Caesar Rayford, Jarius Wynn and Everett Brown.

Except there is no Everett Brown, actually. The nameplate left off his first name’s final “E.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these are your Dallas Cowboys. They survived a visit from the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday on the strength of a last-minute touchdown drive, a brief display of timely, no-name defense, and the fact that the NFL doesn’t take off for spelling errors.

“We’re playing with guys that haven’t played much this season,” Hatcher said. “We’re just putting pieces together. That shows you what kind of team this is.”

It does. It’s become, as veteran Hatcher called it, a team with a no-name defense. A defense that allowed Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson to gallop and dazzle for 140 yards, yet still escaped with a 27-23 victory.

Brown joined the team only last Monday. Defensive end George Selvie arrived early in training camp. Wynn came two weeks ago after being discharged by the San Diego Chargers.

As a defense, they are leading the NFC in turnover ratio and misspelled nameplates. And that may be enough.

“I think it gives us an edge,” Brown said. “We’re all playing for the opportunity.”

Everette-with-an-E’s opportunity came last Monday morning. He was home in Charlotte, N.C., waiting for the phone to ring after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of training camp.

“I got the call that morning,” Brown said, “and by Monday evening I was a Dallas Cowboy.”

For the Cowboys’ defense, that’s been the standard itinerary for most of the season. Hayden is one of the exceptions, having joined the team in January after sitting out the 2012 season.

His chance to shine came early in Sunday’s third quarter, when teammate Selvie yanked the football loose from quarterback Christian Ponder in the Minnesota end zone. Hayden pounced on it like a rock star.

Almost too much rock star, actually. His touchdown celebration included an air guitar windmill that would have made The Who proud.

“That was playing the guitar and smashing it afterwards,” explained the six-year veteran.

“After a sack, that was going to be my dance. I figured a touchdown was as good a time as any.”

The two quick touchdowns seemed to awake what, to that point, had been an uninspired Cowboys effort. The Vikings, however, marched briskly down the field on their very next possession, and the outcome remained in doubt as Minnesota, leading by three points, took over in Cowboys territory with 4:29 to play.

A longstanding football truism says that when the game is on the line, you want your best players on the field, deciding the result. For some reason, though, Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier didn’t put the ball into the capable hands of Peterson to run down the clock and seal the victory.

On first down, instead, Ponder tried a long pass that fell incomplete. Three snaps later the Vikings were punting, giving the Cowboys their final chance.

The Vikings were forced to punt only three times Sunday. But the Cowboys’ assembled motley cast stopped Minnesota when it had to.

Defensive tackle Wynn is on his fourth NFL roster in five years. Selvie is playing on his fourth team in four years.

Hayden was a sixth-round draft pick in 2008 by Carolina. The Cowboys are his third NFL team.

His rock-hero touchdown dance likely earned him a brief spotlight on SportsCenter. But with DeMarcus Ware injured and Jay Ratliff gone, Cowboys fans should get used to seeing Hayden, Wynn and the revolving door gang.

Hayden has a nameplate above his locker, but his distinguishing characteristic is an upper body almost covered in tattoos. The one below his neck, written in script, reads, “With God all things are possible.”

Opportunity has knocked.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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