From watermelons to Whataburger, Dallas Cowboys find recipe to stay alive in the NFC East

ARLINGTON, Texas – Saturday night, it was Amari Cooper’s turn to smash the watermelon.

Mike McCarthy had first debuted the act a la comedian Gallagher in a November team meeting the night before the Cowboys snapped a four-game losing streak to beat the Vikings. This week, the Cowboys head coach decided to bring it back. Cooper will confirm: The treat hyped up the players who pulled off a 37-17 upset of the Eagles on Sunday.

But no, Cooper says, the melon was not hard to smash.

“It was a pretty big hammer,” he said. “With us being crazy football players, guys just really like smashing things.”

Sunday, it was the Philadelphia secondary’s turn to be mercilessly carved up by Cowboys receivers.

The Cowboys' CeeDee Lamb scores a touchdown in the third quarter against Philadelphia on Sunday. (Photo: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Take Cooper’s 69-yard slant.

Cooper had jabbed right and reversed left off the line of scrimmage with agility so crisp that Eagles cornerback Michael Jacquet fell backward trying to keep pace before Cooper caught the ball from Andy Dalton. Cooper barreled downfield after the catch so smoothly that safety Grayland Arnold was left sprawled in his wake. The receiver then duped linebacker Alex Singleton, pretending to stop his route before re-accelerating to track another 7 or so yards. Cooper’s plan to cut back in and score was foiled by Eagles cornerback Darius Slay. Even so, his 69 yards marked the Cowboys’ longest offensive play of the season.

Come for the Amari burn, stay for the stutter-step fake

69 yards = Cowboys’ longest offensive play of season:pic.twitter.com/wNc3Ihhm3t

“We were clicking,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “Our guys match up well versus anybody.”

On Sunday, they did.

Not only did Cooper catch four balls for 121 yards, but Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup caught six for 121 and rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb three for 65 — in addition to Lamb’s 19-yard jet-sweep touchdown. Each of the three carried a pass play more than 50 yards, marking the first team to achieve the feat during the 2020 NFL season. And each celebrated even more for his fellow receivers  than for himself.

In fact, after Gallup’s first catch of the day, Cooper told him: “This is your game.”

No matter that the 14-yard catch with Jacquet draped over Gallup came after two incompletions. Cooper says he “felt it in the air.” The following quarter, Gallup caught each of five targets for an acrobatic 107 yards and two touchdowns to send the Cowboys into halftime up 17-14.

Toe-tapping, high-pointing, 100-yard-receiving Michael Gallup: pic.twitter.com/KX9tQBwsNK

Gallup’s explosion was a nice primer before the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the second half, when Lamb slipped underneath and down the right sideline, catching in stride a floater he took home 52 yards.

“I absolutely love being in the same room as Michael and CeeDee,” Cooper said. “We all have the potential to go out there and dominate a game, and it just feels good when we’re all able to go out and do it in the same game.

“I think it came down to all appreciating each other’s talents [and] that those talents aren’t easy to come by. … When I see CeeDee go out there and high point a ball or that route he scored on where he showed tremendous footwork, it’s me appreciating his talent and Michael also.”

The collection of talent, paired with Andy Dalton’s arm, carried the Cowboys’ to a 377-yard passing day and 513 total yards of offense. Each surpassed the Cowboys’ production in nine prior games since quarterback Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury by at least 100 yards.

The entire performance was aided by a Cowboys defense that allowed touchdowns on consecutive defensive snaps in the first quarter before containing the Eagles to just a field goal in the second quarter and a shutout after halftime. Two interceptions and a fumble recovery (three total forced fumbles) buoyed Dallas to its third straight three-takeaway game, too.

The entire outing left McCarthy happy for a team that has won its last three games after winning just three of its first 12. The Cowboys (6-9) will travel to face the New York Giants (5-10) for their regular-season finale, each team still in contention for the NFC East title. Washington would clinch if it can beat Philadelphia next week. If the Eagles win, the winner of Cowboys-Giants will advance to the playoffs.

McCarthy said he’s not focused on what the Football Team did this week or what it will do next week. He’s dialed in on his own roster’s performance to cap off his first year in Texas, which started shakily. McCarthy’s slowly instilling his culture in a team he didn’t meet in person until early August. His lingo, however, has adjusted. Take McCarthy’s description of the game stretch when Gallup scored a touchdown just before halftime then Lamb ripped off his 52-yard home run immediately after the half. McCarthy has heralded the “double-double” phenomenon as a key to momentum since preseason.

But Sunday night, he described it more tastefully.

“That’s a Whataburger double with cheese in our book,” McCarthy said. “So there’s going to be a lot of a hamburgers flying around Wednesday. It’s something all the guys were screaming about on the sideline.

“It’s great to finally hit one of those.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

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