LANDOVER, Maryland — It must have felt like an early Christmas gift for Cowboys Nation.
And for running back DeMarco Murray, the emotions he felt in the final go-ahead drive made him the poster child for this wildly improbable, come-from-behind, season-saving victory.
On third-and-goal at the one yard line, Murray tried to reverse field when Washington initially had the play stopped. Murray lost nine yards on the play setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 10 yard line.
The 2013 season (and probably a few jobs) were on the line for the Cowboys.
Quarterback Tony Romo properly diagnosed the zone coverage in front of him. He bought time in the pocket, gave a nod to Murray and hit him near the front corner of the end zone for the touchdown, as the Cowboys erased a 9-point fourth quarter deficit to beat Washington 24-23.
"And what you have to do in that situation is buy a little time, because there aren't many holes in the zone initially," said head coach Jason Garrett. "You have to give your guys a little chance to wiggle free, and Tony was able to do that. DeMarco did a great job giving him a throw[ing lane] and getting in the end zone."
"I mean, it was a great decision by Romo," Murray said. "Offensive line gave him plenty of time back there; I was able to get open, and, you know, he hit me right there."
Romo led the game-winning drive that covered 87 yards in 9 plays and 2-and-a-half minutes. It was jump-started by a 51-yard hookup between Romo and rookie Terrance Williams.
"I don't think anybody was nervous," said receiver Dez Bryant, whose 17-yard reception set up the Cowboys with first-and-goal at the four on the game-winning drive.
"We just knew we had to make a play," Bryant said. "Tony did a Houdini; that's exactly what he did."
Romo was down half as many points — three — nearly a year ago when the Cowboys took over the ball with about three minutes remaining at FedEx Field. That drive ended with an interception that ended the Cowboys' season and let Washington win the division.
This time, Romo had the right stuff.
"Today felt like the last two years," the Dallas quarterback said. "It was the same — NFC East, you're on the road. You lose, you're probably done; you win, you stay alive. So, we're started our playoffs today for sure."
The playoffs Romo alluded to continue Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, a game that's just been moved to prime time.
It will be the third straight NFC East winner-take-all regular season finale for the Cowboys — a chance for this group of Cowboys to differentiate themselves.
"You make it out of games like this; it just shows what us players are capable of," Bryant said. "We don't quit. We don't want to quit. We're not going to quit. We don't have a losing mentality."
"Our guys just scratched, clawed, fought individually, collectively, within a group, across the groups, units picking each other up, and that's what this thing's all about," Garrett said. "It's about will; it's about belief; it's about determination. I think we showed a lot of that today."
The win not only keeps the Cowboys playoff hopes afloat, it snaps a four-game losing streak over the last two Decembers.
"You just have to keep getting yourselves there, and when your team is good enough, you'll knock down that door," Romo said.
When asked if he thought this team was good enough, Romo said they were on Sunday.
Which for Cowboys fans doesn't say much about next week, because with this team, you just never know.