Cowboys have to believe they can reach the NFC championship game. Because results show they can't

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys already have lost to both teams from last season's NFC championship game.

With nine games to go, they are left with maintaining hope they can go that deep in the playoffs for the first time since the 1995 season.

Dallas (5-3) is two losses behind NFC East-leading Philadelphia after the Eagles' 28-23 victory Sunday. That's where the Cowboys finished last season, which sent them on the road in the playoffs in yet another failed attempt to get past the divisional round.

“What is it, November?” coach Mike McCarthy said. “A lot of football left, in my opinion.”

There was progress for Dallas.

The Cowboys were on the Philadelphia 6-yard line in the final minute of a game that was tight most of the way. The 42-10 loss last month to San Francisco, which lost to the Eagles in the NFC championship game last season, was decided before the fourth quarter.

“We were inches away,” Prescott said. “We are getting better. I can promise you that, and we are going to continue to get better. We are getting better and we’re OK. We're damn sure OK.”

The Cowboys do get another shot at the Eagles at home in prime time on Dec. 10. That ends a five-game stretch with four at home, starting Sunday against another NFC East rival, the New York Giants (2-7).

The only road game is at one-win Carolina, which means it would behoove Dallas to win all four going into the Philadelphia game to have any hope of overtaking the Eagles and staying at home to start the playoffs.

Then again, one of the reasons for the two-loss gap is the Cowboys lost in Arizona, the only victory for the Cardinals this season.

“Run our own race, run our race,” Prescott said, repeating one of his themes for this season. “When we start checking tickers and worry about who these guys got, what they’ve got going on, we’re getting out of our lane, and probably not taking care of things we need to be focused on. I know Mike’s got the same message of, ‘Run our race.’”

WHAT'S WORKING

Prescott's passing game is rounding into shape after a middling start to the season.

The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year's second consecutive 300-yard game — and first two of the season — coincided with three straight 100-yard receiving games for CeeDee Lamb.

After a sub-80 passer rating in three of the first five games, Prescott has three consecutive triple-digit showings, with eight touchdowns, one interception and a 71% completion rate.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Tony Pollard's first year as the lead back after the offseason release of Ezekiel Elliott and coach Mike McCarthy's stated desire to run more in his play-calling debut with Dallas have not been a bonanza for the running game.

Pollard is averaging less than 4 yards per carry after being above 5 each of the past two seasons as a complementary back to Elliott, a two-time rushing champion. The Cowboys are middle of the pack in rushing offense after finishing in the top 10 the past two seasons.

STOCK UP

The Cowboys couldn't have dreamed the kicking game would be this strong after moving on from Brett Maher, who missed four consecutive extra points in the wild-card win at Tampa Bay last season.

Brandon Aubrey, a 28-year-old rookie from the USFL and former Major League Soccer prospect, has set an NFL record with 19 consecutive made field goals to start his career. The record-breaker was a 51-yarder against the Eagles.

STOCK DOWN

The Cowboys finally are playing with the offensive line they thought they would have going all the way back to training camp last year. Because of injuries, it didn't happen until Week 5 this season.

Now the question is cohesion, because Prescott has been sacked at least three times in five consecutive games, the longest such stretch of his career.

A neck injury to LT Tyron Smith caused a one-game interruption for that projected starting five, and now the Cowboys have to see how RT Terence Steele bounces back from a woeful showing against the Eagles. He was a big reason for Philadelphia's five sacks, including Josh Sweat's critical 11-yarder in the final minute.

INJURIES

Dallas is awaiting the return of LB Leighton Vander Esch after his latest neck injury. He will be eligible to come off injured reserve soon, but that doesn't mean he will be back on the field right away.

KEY NUMBER

8 — The number of 100-yard games for Lamb in the past 14 games going back to last season, including the playoffs. He has blossomed into the No. 1 receiver the Cowboys thought they stumbled on when he fell to them at No. 17 in the first round of the 2020 draft. Lamb has set a career high in yards receiving each of the past two games.

NEXT STEPS

The next three games are against teams currently with losing records (Giants, Carolina, Washington). Dallas probably needs a sweep because the following five are against teams currently with winning records (Seattle, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Miami and Detroit).

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL