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Originally published Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 1:52 AM

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LB Spencer suddenly sacking for Dallas Cowboys

Anthony Spencer finally got the validation he was doing things right for the Dallas Cowboys.

AP Sports Writer

IRVING, Texas —

Anthony Spencer finally got the validation he was doing things right for the Dallas Cowboys.

In the second quarter of the 11th game, on Thanksgiving Day against Oakland, the linebacker got his first sack of the season. The second came late in the same game with predecessor Greg Ellis, who had 20 1/2 sacks the previous two seasons, on the other sideline with the Raiders.

"It made me feel like I was doing the right things, like I wasn't really doing the things that I was doing before wrong," Spencer said. "It made me feel that I was doing things right the entire season, but it just wasn't coming."

Spencer has had five sacks in the past four games, all of them Cowboys victories as they wrapped up the NFC East title and posted their first playoff victory in 13 seasons. He was the NFC defensive player of the week after two sacks and a forced fumble in the regular-season finale.

"Everybody had been sort of criticizing him, telling him what he needs to do," Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "He's been getting to the quarterback, getting pressure. Earlier in the season, he wasn't getting sacks. But now he is. ... He's making a lot of plays."

At the right time for the Cowboys, who go to Minnesota on Sunday to face Brett Favre and the Vikings.

There were several near-misses on quarterbacks for Spencer early in the season, though the 2007 first-round pick insists he never doubted himself or heard any of the critics.

Instead, he kept getting encouragement from coaches and teammates.

"Everybody felt like I was in the right place, just not at the right time," Spencer said.

In the game before getting his first sacks, Spencer had one taken away when officials reviewed a play when he pushed Washington's Jason Campbell out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage and ruled Campbell threw the ball away just before being tackled.

But Spencer did get the game-clinching interception late in that 7-6 victory. The first sacks came four days later, and now he keeps adding to his total.

"It's more confidence than anything. That, and he just kept doing what he was doing," coach Wade Phillips said. "The production wasn't quite there, especially in the pass rush. But he had been getting there. He had been getting by his guy. ... His persistence has made a difference."

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Ellis was the longest-tenured Dallas player when he was cut during the offseason after 11 seasons. Ellis had flourished opposite Ware, but he was gone largely because the Cowboys felt that Spencer was ready for an expanded role.

Ellis started and played in passing situations last season and the year before. The only time Spencer had started before this season was the first six games as a rookie when Ellis was injured.

Now Spencer is starting and staying on the field, which was an adjustment after splitting so much time for two years.

"He wasn't in game shape," inside linebacker Bradie James said. "He had never played an entire (NFL game) until now. ... You have to play the game to get in game shape. And so his first couple of games, that's what he was doing."

But James was quick to add that Spencer was close to getting quarterbacks even then.

"He's had several sacks taken away from him due to penalties or somebody messing up," James said. "He's just continued to press forward and lift his game up a notch."

Spencer made the same transition with Dallas that Ware did after he was a first-round pick in 2005 - from college end to an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Ellis also made that switch, after eight seasons in the NFL, though he returned to his original position for Oakland.

"You're on the field to make plays and the more plays you make, the more confidence you get out of it," said Spencer, who hadn't played linebacker since high school. "You build confidence like that. That's what's been happening."

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