It was Dec. 9, 2018, and the Dallas Cowboys were in the full throes of celebration after watching Amari Cooper -- whom the team had traded away a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders to acquire during the bye week -- grab the walk-off touchdown in overtime against the Philadelphia Eagles, capping a career-best day that included a monstrous 217 yards and three receiving touchdowns. It was one of the most masterful performances ever seen from a Cowboys wide receiver, but that was then, and this is now.
There can be no denying Cooper has lived up to his trade debt, and then some, and while he's also battled through lower body injuries to remain available for the team, one has to wonder if those have now taken their toll. For those that are wondering, however, Cooper says there's no reason to.
Physically, he feels fine.
"I'm good," he told media after the game. "My body is OK. I mean, you have nicks and bruises at this point in the season, but as far as anything limiting me? Nah.
Just over one year after plucking the Eagles in Dallas, Cooper was an apparition when the two sides faced off in Philadelphia on Sunday, per the stat sheet. The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was targeted a team-high 12 times but reeled in only four of them for a total of 24 yards with no touchdowns, in a game that saw him and quarterback Dak Prescott continually fail to be on the same page.
Week 16 is almost in the books and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness.
When Prescott wasn't throwing an inaccurate ball, which was often, Cooper wasn't making the catches. That made for a bad combination in a must-win game, and it led to a coaching decision that involved Cooper not being on the field for at least one -- if not the most -- critical play late in the fourth quarter.
With fourth-and-8 to go on the Eagles 23-yard line, down by 11 points and with only 1:21 remaining in the game, Cooper was pulled off of the field in favor of the smaller, speedier Tavon Austin. The move was inconsequential for Austin, seeing as Prescott never looked his way before he tossed a shot into the end zone at Michael Gallup -- who finished with 98 receiving yards on the day -- that was broken up to ultimately seal the deal for Philadelphia. The moment the ball hit the dirt, so did the Cowboys' control over their own playoff fate in 2019, and what bounced back up from the earth below were questions on if Cooper was technically benched or not.
Cooper admits he was pulled by coaches, but head coach Jason Garrett affirms it was due to his rotation with Austin, whom the Cowboys felt the Eagles would have a more difficult time covering due to his speedier skill set. Garrett and Cooper also combined to play the fatigue angle, noting the move was additionally to get Cooper some rest.
"I had just run a deep ball, so they took me out," he said.
Cooper was none too pleased with the decision, though.
"It's very disappointing," he said, frustrated. "Obviously, you want to be out there trying to make a play for the team."
He does confess, however, that he wasn't exactly blowing the lid off of Lincoln Financial Field before being "rotated" out for Austin.
"On my behalf, I know I didn't play my best game at all," Cooper admitted. "It was terrible. When you play important games like this, everybody has to come and bring their 'A' game if we really want to win. I don't think we did that tonight."
A large reason for the Cowboys failure in Philadelphia is something that's plagued them all season -- wide receiver drops. Cooper and others added to that tally on Sunday, and he explained why it's an issue.
"It's frustrating," he said. "You gotta look the ball all the way through before you run. ...I know it's a challenge for me sometimes. ...You're so anxious to score a touchdown or to get however many yards after the catch, to where you don't look the ball all the way through every time. ...It's something we have to work on as a group."
For an offense that has routinely led the league in yardage weekly, and only one week removed from hanging 44 points on the Los Angeles Rams, seeing newly-acquired kicker Kai Forbath become the only player to put up points in a season-deciding game is far from ideal. From poor execution on the field to poor play-calling from the sideline, there wasn't much of anything the Cowboys did right in Week 16, sans the strong play from Gallup, Randall Cobb and, when given a chance, Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott made it clear his shoulder wasn't the reason for his inaccuracy, but despite Elliott tearing off chunks of yardage in the second half, the Cowboys still forced a total of 44 throws on a quarterback that barely threw in practice leading into the game -- Prescott himself pointing at the lack of reps as a possible culprit for his inconsistent play. On the other end of that wire was Cooper, who himself was having a bad day, but there the Cowboys were in one scenario -- down 11 points and sitting at third-and-1 following a nine-yard gain on second down by Elliott.
Instead of again handing it off to Elliott, Prescott dropped back and attempted to hit Cooper in the flat, only to have the ball batted down. At the time, it was Cooper's ninth target of the day, and he had only caught two of them for a total of 12 yards.
Spoiler alert: Bad call there.
For his part, Cooper says the disconnects between him and Prescott had nothing to do with a lack of chemistry. Instead, he feels like the scheme didn't take full advantage of what the Eagles were giving them.
"To be honest, it wasn't nothing to do with the chemistry," he said. "The way the [Eagles defensive backs] were playing those particular routes. For example, on one of the routes, it was a curl and I beat him at the line of scrimmage; and he was like, under me. Obviously on a curl you have to stop, and he was right there. Just the way they were playing.
"We could've run more deep routes. I feel like the go ball was a good route to run tonight, but we didn't really get to it."
Whether Cooper intends to or not, the reality is that's a bit of a dig at the play calling and those responsible for it -- namely offensive coordinator Kellen Moore -- which harkens back to the aforementioned Cowboys win over the Eagles in Dec. 2018, when Cooper spoke after the game about what the Eagles were doing in the secondary and how it led to him being frustrated enough to tell Prescott to wave off Scott Linehan's play.
What happened next was a 75-yard touchdown with only 3:12 remaining in regulation, giving the Cowboys a 23-16 lead.
"These guys, there were sitting on everything," Cooper explained back in 2018 of the pivotal play change. "All the stop routes, I don't know if you noticed but we just couldn't really complete them, because they were literally giving us the go [route]. We called a stop route a third time, and I kind of looked at Dak like 'I don't want to run that', but he was like 'Just run it Coop'.
"I guess he had a second thought, and at the line of scrimmage, he gave me our go signal. Obviously, we're going to have to change it now that I've divulged that secret, but he gave me our go signal and I beat [the coverage]."
Sounds eerily familiar to how he's describing what he saw on Sunday, except Linehan is long gone and Cooper didn't ask Prescott to change any curls to deep routes. Maybe he should have, but then again, there's no guarantee even that would've worked, considering the overthrows by Prescott and the drops by the receivers. Still, like one year prior -- albeit with a different outcome -- questions about the scheme have again mushroomed for the Cowboys.
There was nothing about the Cowboys in Week 16 that gave the impression they were prepared for the magnitude of the game, with a disappointing showing from coaches and players alike.
The men on the sideline failed. The men on the field failed. The men in the suite failed. Not many outside of the absent black cat can escape blame and, to their credit -- like Cooper -- no one is trying to. Too many throws from a QB limited all week in practice that were force-fed to a poor-performing Cooper who was being asked to run routes the Eagles were predicting better than the answer to "what's 2 + 2?" all fueled the loss, and potentially the end of the Cowboys season -- unless they defeat the Washington Redskins in Week 17 and the Eagles fall to the New York Giants in the same fell swoop.
Otherwise, their entire 2019 season just flew the Coop in Philadelphia, and virtually no one did anything to stop it.