The Dallas Cowboys (11-5) took a little too long to wake up in a 25-22 loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals (11-5) on Sunday, as the team lost its chance at the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs due to self-inflicting penalties and inconsistent offensive production.
Dallas' offense also suffered a huge loss right before the second half, as wide receiver Michael Gallup had to be helped off the field after scoring a 21-yard touchdown for the Cowboys' first points on the afternoon.
He was quickly ruled out for the rest of the contest, with owner Jerry Jones saying afterwards that the wideout had suffered a season-ending ACL tear. An MRI on Monday confirmed the injury.
"I'm close with everybody on the team, but (Gallup) is like my brother off the field," Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said after the game. "One of my closest friends. I just got to help him like he helped me ... when I was injured."
A fourth-year wideout, Wilson made a handful of big plays while filling in as the No. 3 receiver during Gallup's seven-game absence earlier this season. Now, he's in position to be thrust back into that role permanently headed into the playoffs.
On Sunday, Wilson came up huge as the Cowboys tried to mount a comeback in the second half. He tied tight end Dalton Schultz for the team lead in receptions (six), while also catching his fourth touchdown of the regular season.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Wilson brought Dallas within one possession with a two-yard score, as Dak Prescott found him in the back of the end zone on a critical third-and-goal.
Wilson spoke on his connection with Prescott moving forward.
"I think it's just repetition," he said. "We've been here together for a minute now and every time he throws it, it's my job to catch it."
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If Sunday was any indication, it might be Wilson's job to throw it, too.
With Dallas trailing 25-14 with just over six minutes remaining, Wilson took a backwards pass before stepping into a deep throw that sailed down the right sideline towards running back Tony Pollard, who was left all alone.
The throw, which was the Cowboys' longest pass of the day (31 yards), came just one play after the wideout had kept the drive moving with a crucial conversion on fourth down.
"On that one, I was just making sure everyone went with the decoy because I couldn't really see over the line," Wilson said. "I saw Tony and I wish I could've got it to him a little faster so he could've scored."
The Boise State product has completed both of his pass attempts this season for 57 yards. (Wilson was a high school QB, as was his father, Cedrick Wilson Sr., who also played QB at Tennessee before converting to receiver and playing in the NFL.)
Another catch by Wilson two plays later set up the Cowboys for an Amari Cooper four-yard touchdown catch. And with a two-point conversion needed to bring it to a three-point game, Wilson came through once again.
Despite the loss, the Cowboys' final drive on offense was made possible by the timely playmaking of Wilson. If his overall usage against a playoff team like Arizona says anything, it's that there's more in store over the next two weeks.
"We just started clicking and executing the plays that were called," he said. "If we do that we're a dangerous offense, we just got to keep it going."