Cowboys face short week again, still alive in NFC East race
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Another short week for the Dallas Cowboys, another chance to keep alive their chances of catching NFL-leading Philadelphia in the NFC East.
The Cowboys (11-4) visit Tennessee on Thursday night, which means the one victory needed by the Eagles to dethrone the defending division champs can't happen until three days later.
“For me, it’s about worry about what you can control,” quarterback Dak Prescott said after a 40-34 victory over the Eagles on Saturday that delayed Philadelphia clinching the NFC's top seed at least one more week.
“Obviously, I want the title and that would be great, but it would be getting into distractions that don’t really pay us anything forward.”
Dallas is about to finish its second stretch of three games in 12 days this season. The Cowboys almost always get the first because they play on Thanksgiving every year.
This second stretch has been different.
Dallas blew a 17-point lead in the second half and lost at Jacksonville on Dec. 18 but clinched a playoff spot anyway a few hours later when the New York Giants beat Washington.
Six days after that, the Cowboys rallied from 10-point deficits in each half to beat the Eagles and split the season series. Dallas would hold the tiebreaker with a 2-0 finish if the Eagles lose their last two games.
Now, it's a five-day turnaround to face the Titans (7-8), who are in the unusual position of playing a meaningless second-to-last game before a finale against Jacksonville with a playoff spot on the line.
“If it wasn't there, if it was there, we still have to keep our foot on the pedal,” safety Jayron Kearse said of chasing the Eagles. “We have a whole other season in three weeks. You want to go into that postseason with momentum.”
The connection between Prescott and No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb is the best it has been in their three seasons together.
Lamb has four 100-yard games in the past seven after getting to triple digits in a half for the first time in his career against the Eagles. Lamb finished with 10 catches, one off his career best, for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Bob Hayes is the only Dallas receiver with more 100-yard games in his first three seasons with 13. Lamb has nine.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Through Week 14, the Cowboys had the second-best pass defense in the league at 182 yards per game. Trevor Lawrence threw for 318 yards in the Jaguars' 40-34 overtime time in Week 15 before Gardner Minshew had 355 yards passing filling in for the injured Jalen Hurts for Philadelphia.
Part of the problem is the pass rush. Dallas was leading the league in sacks before the current three-week stretch with just one sack.
WR T.Y. Hilton's first catch in his Dallas debut was a 52-yarder on third-and-30 when the Cowboys trailed by a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter against the Eagles. It sparked a 13-0 finish.
Hilton went unsigned after a 10-year run in Indianapolis before agreeing to a deal with the Cowboys less than two weeks before his first game.
The 33-year-old played 12 snaps against the Eagles. That number figures to go up, perhaps substantially.
CB Trevon Diggs' streak of games without a pass breakup is at a career-worst five after the second consecutive 300-yard day surrendered by the Dallas secondary.
Last year's NFL interceptions leader with 11 has been stuck on three this season since Week 7, and he seemed to acknowledge a subpar showing against the Eagles by tweeting “bad ball on my part” after the game.
Rookie DE Sam Williams has been cleared to return from a concussion after emerging relatively unscathed from a scary car crash Thursday and missing the Philadelphia game. Williams' Corvette was heavily damaged after another vehicle collided with his.
“My first thing was like, ‘Thank you, God,’ because it could have been worse,” Williams said Monday in the locker room. “I was thinking about my son and his mom. I could have been gone like that fast without seeing them and saying goodbye or anything."
800 — Tony Pollard (988 yards rushing) and Ezekiel Elliott (829) are the first pair of Dallas backs to surpass the 800-yard mark since Calvin Hill (942) and Walt Garrison (818) in 1969.
The fate of the finale against Washington on Jan. 8 will be decided by the Philadelphia-New Orleans outcome on New Year's Day. If the NFC East race is over, there's a strong chance the Cowboys will be locked in to the fifth seed and a road wild-card game against the NFC South champion.
Even if Dallas doesn't have anything to play for, there's a chance Washington will be in the playoff hunt. That would make for some intriguing decisions with the Cowboys and some of their starters.
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