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Merry Christmas, Cowboys

From goat to hero -- it's a fine line. Ask Jason Witten.
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The Dallas Cowboys will have their annual team Christmas party tonight. Psst, I know what they’re getting: A gift-wrapped 28-27 victory over the Detroit Lions. If there was any doubt about this being a magical season of destiny, it was erased yesterday afternoon at Ford Field.

In this holiday spirit of giving, the overly generous Lions handed the Cowboys numerous presents. The two shiniest came in the fourth quarter, when reliable kicker Jason Hansen pushed a 35-yard field goal wide right (he’ll make that kick 19 out of 20 times) and, later, when greedy linebacker Paris Lenon tried to scoop-n-score. Instead, Lenon muffed what should have been an easy, game-ending fumble recovery -- there is no “I” in team, but there is one in Paris -- into a comical, inexplicable muff that gave quarterback Tony Romo and Dallas’ offense one last chance.

Kyle Kosier alertly pounced on Lenon’s gaffe, Romo hit Marion Barber on the ensuing fourth down, and Jason Witten, who earlier had fumbled at Detroit’s one-inch line, made amends with his franchise-record 15th catch, a 16-yard touchdown on a post pattern that allowed his team to make its second unfathomable escape this season (remember Buffalo?). And the only stat more impressive than Witten’s 15 catches were, considering his relatively anonymous three grabs for 21 yards, Terrell Owens’ zero pouts.

Detroit executes either of those fundamental plays, and Dallas is sitting at 11-2 with home field in the NFC playoffs in limbo. Instead, the Cowboys moved to 12-1 and were able to break out celebratory hats and T-shirts by winning the NFC East for the first time since 1998.

A division title is nice and all, but after this one won’t anything less than a Super Bowl appearance be an absolutely revolting disappointment? Witten, whom I’ll have much more on in this week’s paper version of Unfair Park, sidestepped being the scapegoat to become Dallas’ latest hero. “I was sick, I felt like the goat,” Witten said of his seemingly fatal fumble. “But Tony had confidence to keep coming back to me and we somehow came up with a special win.”

Considering the Buffalo comeback, the Washington Redskins throwing into the end zone on the final play of a five-point win, quarterback Brett Favre getting injured during the showdown with the Green Bay Packers and yesterday’s most fortuitous events, the Cowboys have enjoyed more than their share of luck. Here’s hoping they haven’t used up in December what they may still need January. --Richie Whitt

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