Hilton’s quick hit with Cowboys may be spark for larger role

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — T.Y. Hilton took his time before settling on Dallas in free agency after the receiver’s 10-year run with Indianapolis ended.

The 33-year-old wasted little time making an impact for the Cowboys, his first catch from Dak Prescott a 52-yarder on third-and-30 in last week’s 40-34 victory over Philadelphia.

The game-altering grab in the fourth quarter with Dallas trailing by a touchdown could quicken the process of getting the speedy receiver acclimated with the Cowboys as the playoffs loom.

“Coaches have been telling me since I signed here they were going to be taking it slow, be on a pitch count,” Hilton said. “Whenever they’re ready to turn me loose, I’ll be ready.”

Hilton debuted for Dallas 12 days after signing, sitting the first game at Jacksonville before playing on Christmas Eve against the Eagles.

It’s not a stretch to say Hilton’s first Dallas catch kept Philadelphia from clinching the top seed in the NFC, since it sparked a 13-0 finish for the Cowboys in the last half of the fourth quarter.

The victory kept the defending NFC East champion Cowboys (11-4) alive in the division race for a visit to Tennessee (7-8) on Thursday night. The Eagles can clinch the bye and the division with a victory over New Orleans on Sunday.

For now, the 52-yarder caught in stride on a go-route is Hilton’s only catch, and came on one of his 12 plays. Both those numbers should go up, and maybe quickly.

“Trust,” Prescott said of what his first connection with Hilton could mean. “Some could say it could be dangerous in the sense. But a guy that goes out there is able to make that play and knowing that he’s gonna make that play or it’s gonna be an incompletion, just that confidence.”

Hilton had planned to sign with a team for training camp after 9,743 yards receiving with 53 touchdowns and four Pro Bowls with the Colts.

When that didn’t happen, Hilton slowed things down to spend time with family and wait for the right opportunity. He said the phone calls picked up about two weeks before he chose Dallas.

The Cowboys had a high-profile pursuit of free agent Odell Beckham Jr., who tore an ACL while winning the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams last February. Hilton signed within days of Beckham’s Dallas visit ending without a deal.

“It was all there,” owner/general manager Jerry Jones said of Hilton’s debut. “His experience, his speed, to turn around and make that play, that’s exactly what he thought he could get a chance to do. He’ll add a dimension to this thing that just opens it up a little more.”

Hilton adds a dimension to the Tennessee game as a former longtime AFC South opponent of the Titans. Suffice to say there will information sharing on both sides, with an uncommon opponent on a short week.

“It definitely helps as we prep, but it doesn’t help that he’s still an explosive receiver and can go out there and catch bombs out there,” Tennessee safety Kevin Byard said. “We know what he can do.”

Byard made sure to mention No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb, who has four 100-yard games in the past seven in his first season as Prescott’s top target.

Lamb had two touchdowns against the Eagles, and Michael Gallup’s toe-tapping sideline catch in the end zone was a big play as well. Both could benefit from a larger role for Hilton.

“You believe in the guy who says this is what he’s gonna do because he went out there and proved it before,” Prescott said. “That’s just a veteran who knows the system, who knows football, who’s been around.”

NOTES: LB Micah Parsons was listed as limited for a walkthrough practice Tuesday with a right hand injury. The hand was wrapped, but Parsons said there wasn’t a fracture. … RB Tony Pollard, who just made his first Pro Bowl, missed practice with a thigh injury, but Jones said on his radio show he expected Pollard to play.

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AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed from Nashville, Tennessee.

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