Gil LeBreton

Sandlot play keeps Cowboys sizzling

You’ve seen that play before.

Usually, though, it’s on a sandlot, and the guy throwing the football has diagrammed it with rocks and bottle caps.

But when you’re hot, you’re hot — even when you’ve been hibernating through the NFL playoffs for most of the past 18 seasons.

If you don’t believe the Dallas Cowboys are blazing, you probably didn’t see the play, a Tony Romo third-down prayer Sunday that was answered in overtime in stunningly acrobatic fashion by the increasingly spectacular Dez Bryant.

Three plays after the 37-yard catch, the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey kicked a 49-yard field goal to defeat the Houston Texans 20-17.

“Obviously, it was the play of the game,” coach Jason Garrett said of Bryant’s catch.

Owner Jerry Jones elevated the praise even higher.

“It ought to go down with some of the really great plays, because of the stakes,” said Jones, owner for the past 26 seasons.

The stakes, indeed, were meaty. The Cowboys had to lapse into overtime to avoid ultimately squandering a 10-point, fourth-quarter advantage. That, coupled with next week’s difficult visit to the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, easily could have relegated the Cowboys to their now-customary .500 treadmill.

“This was a good Houston team we were playing,” Owner Jones said. “We’re a team that’s trying to build, and it would have been a setback to lose the game today after having that big effort last week.

“This wasn’t the Super Bowl. It wasn’t the playoffs. But in those circumstances, I think it was as key a play as you could hope for.”

Facing third-and-8 in overtime, Romo escaped to his left and, with the Texans’ pass rush arriving, flung the ball skyward off his wrong foot into the same general zip code as the well-covered Bryant. Dez leaped, climbing just high enough over Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph to pluck the football off his shoulder.

“I’ve seen a lot of clutch catches,” Garrett said. “But certainly that ranks up there, when you think about overtime and Tony giving him a chance to climb the ladder and make that play.”

Just the way the Cowboys practice it, Bryant insisted.

“If the ball is in the air, I’m going to try my best to come down with it,” Bryant said. “The crazy thing about it is we practice these situations every Thursday, and it came up.”

Practice it? Really?

The Cowboys spend part of Thursdays’ practices having Romo fling off-balance, 40-yard passes to receivers trying to out-leap opponents?

Really?

“I out-fought him,” Bryant said. “I just had to come down with it and try to put us in the best situation to get a ‘W.’ ”

That will go down as the day’s most dramatic play. But Romo executed another that drew similar gasps. In the third quarter, he somehow pivoted to elude the onrushing clutches of Houston’s J.J. Watt, and fired a missile to teammate Terrence Williams streaking into the end zone.

“One for the ages,” Garrett described that Romo play.

When you’re hot, you’re hot.

A year ago, the Romo escape from Watt and the overtime, acrobatic leap by Bryant were plays that would have been happening against the Cowboys, not for them. A year ago, DeMarco Murray’s first-quarter fumble might have prompted Garrett to pull the plug on the day’s running plans.

A year ago, come to think of it, there would have been no way that the Cowboys defense held a visiting quarterback to 154 yards passing and no touchdowns, as it did Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick.

“It’s just got an unbelievable spirit about it,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Since Day one when we got together, coming off the three years where we fell short in Week 17, we had the mindset of, ‘We’ve got to go prove it. We’ve got to go do it.’

“When we went back and reflected on some of those games, there were games just like this, games that were close and we were right there in it, and one way or another we found a way to lose.”

Not this season, though.

The Cowboys have won four in a row. Prayers are being answered. Stakes are being embraced. Leads are no longer being squandered.

Plays are working, whether they’re originating from the playbook or Romo’s and Bryant’s imaginations.

Hear that sound?

It’s not the stakes. It’s the Cowboys’ sizzle.

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