Postseason path all but set as Cowboys back into playoffs
The Dallas Cowboys lost a game they should have won at Jacksonville and backed into the playoffs when the New York Giants beat Washington.
Virtually locked into the fifth seed in the NFC with three games remaining, Dak Prescott and company face an intriguing finish of trying to build momentum for the postseason in games that are unlikely to have much consequence otherwise for them.
There’s little question of the need for the Cowboys (10-4) to beat NFL-leading — and NFC East rival — Philadelphia (13-1) on Saturday. Their psyche could use the boost.
After Dallas blew double-digit leads in the second half of losses at Green Bay last month and in Sunday’s 40-34 overtime loss to the Jaguars, the doubters will howl outside team headquarters.
“I’ve been the one seed and (been) knocked on my (rear) and won it from the fifth seed,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “So, like I said, we’re not supposed talk about that until we get to 11 wins and we’re not there yet.
“We just got to keep our head down and keep working, and we’ll react properly to this. It’s a very accountable locker room.”
The Cowboys’ loss to Jacksonville after leading 27-10 in the second half took the pizazz out of the Christmas Eve clash with the Eagles. Even with a win, Dallas has almost no chance to overtake Philadelphia.
It’s also unlikely that either the Giants or Commanders will pass the Cowboys in the division standings, so the final two games of the regular season at Tennessee and Washington figure to raise questions of resting starters and other players batting injuries.
There are plenty of the latter after linebacker Leighton Vander Esch left the Jacksonville game with a neck injury, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong was sidelined by a knee injury.
The Cowboys are already without two starting cornerbacks the rest of the season in Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, and one of the replacements, Kelvin Joseph, gave up the long touchdown that sparked the Jacksonville rally.
Prescott’s two interceptions followed, including the one Rayshawn Jenkins returned 52 yards for the winning touchdown in OT. Prescott’s 10 interceptions since Week 8 are the most in the NFL.
“If we would have won right there on the field goal, I don’t think that necessarily changes the lull in the third quarter, the bad things that happened in this game,” Prescott said. “We’ve got to move on. It’s not like that puts us in a better position or not.”
The offense has been clutch late in regulation the past two weeks. A 98-yard drive helped Dallas avoid an upset in a 27-23 victory against Houston. Prescott led the Cowboys 75 yards to the go-ahead touchdown with three minutes remaining against the Jaguars.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb had his third 100-yard game in the past six, but the Cowboys showed they could use recent free-agent pickup T.Y. Hilton, who was inactive against the Jaguars but probably will be ready against the Eagles.
While Noah Brown scored twice for the first time in his career against Jacksonville, the game-ending interception return came on a throw that caromed off his arm.
Michael Gallup had just one reception for 2 yards, and James Washington doesn’t have a catch in two games since making his Dallas debut. Washington missed most of the season after breaking a foot in training camp.
Tyron Smith was solid in his season debut at right tackle. The eight-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played there since he was a rookie in 2011. After Smith tore a hamstring in training camp, rookie Tyler Smith took over at left tackle. The Cowboys decided they don’t want to move their first-round pick.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore gambled on third down late in regulation by throwing instead of forcing Jacksonville to use its final timeout with a running play. That timeout played a huge role in the Jaguars getting in position for Riley Patterson’s tying 48-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.
RT Jason Peters, who was supposed to split time with Tyron Smith, limped off in the second half, but there was no indication what the injury might have been. With Tyron Smith playing back into game shape, Peters’ playing time could be reduced anyway. The veteran was added early in the season.
339 — The yards the Cowboys gave up in the second half against the Jaguars were the second most they’ve allowed after halftime since at least 1991. Dallas gave up 369 yards in the second half of a 31-30 loss to Detroit nine years ago.
The Eagles won the first meeting 26-17 in Week 6 at home, but Jalen Hurts is 0-2 at the home of the Cowboys.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL