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The Dallas Cowboys entered Sunday’s game against Arizona as healthy as they had been all season.
Then Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup hightailed down the left sideline on a go route, planting off his left leg as he spun to grab a 21-yard pass from Dak Prescott before falling firmly into the end zone.
Teammates began celebrating their first touchdown of the day, scored in the final 2 minutes of the first half of a 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But Gallup remained lying on the ground, clutching his left knee.
A Monday MRI revealed what he and the Cowboys had feared: The fourth-year starting receiver tore his left ACL, a person with knowledge of the test results confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not publicly authorized to disclose the results.
Gallup will miss the remainder of the Cowboys’ regular season and postseason.
The injury is a blow for a talented player whose health this season has clouded the buildup to his expected free agency in March.
“That’s a very difficult blow,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan Monday afternoon. “I know he was looking forward to what free agency was going to bring and hopefully right here in Dallas. We know we have our (cap) challenges here, but no one thinks more of Michael Gallup than the Dallas Cowboys, his teammates, the coaching staff and the organization. Just a class act all the way.
“He’ll come back strong and better than ever and ultimately Michael will get his.”
The Cowboys selected Gallup in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft out of Colorado State. He has competed in 55 games since, starting 43, and caught 193 passes for 2,902 yards and 15 touchdowns in that stretch. Gallup’s best career year came in 2019, when he posted 1,107 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He recorded 843 yards and five touchdowns last season despite Prescott’s Week 5 season-ending ankle injury and a downtick in targets (113 to 105) when the Cowboys selected fellow receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the 2020 draft.
This season, Gallup suffered a calf strain in the opener at Tampa Bay that sidelined him for eight games. With the ACL tear concluding his season, he is set to free agency after a nine-game campaign that included 35 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns.
Teammates lamented the loss of a teammate whose smile brightens the Star and whose athleticism improves their red-zone efficiency.
“What he does out there is amazing,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said, his head lowering when asked about Gallup in postgame interviews. “MG is a tough soldier and you know he’s going to…get better from it.”
Gallup was helped off the field by trainers, careful not to put weight on his left leg. He was examined in the sideline medical tent before promptly being ruled out of the game ahead of halftime. Receiver Amari Cooper said Gallup told him he “felt it pop before he caught the ball.” Prescott spoke to Gallup at halftime, describing the emotions as “tough.”
“Sick about it,” Prescott said. “He’s a guy that I love. You can’t get any better teammate than MG.
The Cowboys would not score again in the third quarter, mounting a fourth-quarter comeback that narrowed their deficit to 25-22 but ultimately was not enough to overcome struggles including offensive inefficiency and drive-killing offensive line penalties.
The Cowboys face the Eagles on Saturday night in their final regular-season game before returning home to host a wildcard matchup, which could return Arizona to AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys’ offensive production remains robust, their 29.9 points per game (helped some by end zone-happy defensive and special teams plays) top of the league and their 405.8 yards per game second only to the Buccaneers. But efficiency and rhythm have eluded this offense most of the second half of the season. Cowboys running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard managed just 25 total rushing yards vs. Arizona, while Prescott’s passes missed receivers high and low Sunday.
Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson would likely start in place of Gallup, Wilson arguably the Cowboys’ most valuable player against the Cardinals as he caught a touchdown pass, a 2-point conversion attempt and all six targets for 35 yards. Wilson also completed a 31-yard pass in the fourth quarter that gave Dallas needed momentum on a touchdown drive.
The Cowboys' receiving corps has fallen short of expectations this season but still boasts Lamb and Cooper in addition to productive tight end Dalton Schultz. Lamb has caught 77 passes for 1,057 yards and six touchdowns while Cooper has caught 63 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns.
“We have a very deep wide receiver corps,” Cooper said. “Hopefully those guys can step up, and I know they will.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys' Michael Gallup injury: WR out for season with torn ACL