Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Dallas Cowboys remarkable turnaround results in a division championship

Dak Prescott celebrates leading the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs for the second out of three seasons. (Image via Dallas Cowboys Twitter)

By Dwain Price, NDG Sports

ARLINGTON – For the second time in three years, the NFC East title will make its home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Quarterback Dak Prescott threw for one touchdown and ran for another as the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-20, this past Sunday at AT&T Stadium. The victory was the sixth in the last seven games for the Cowboys as they clinched the NFC East championship in a season where they started off with a horrific 3-5 record.

“It’s the first tangible goal that you have with your team is that you want to win the division first, and get in the playoffs,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We accomplished that goal and (I’m) certainly proud of our group.

“From ownership, our coaching staff, our personnel, and most importantly our players. The commitment they’ve made going all the way back from this season, going all the way back to February. For a lot of guys on our team the journey certainly goes farther than that. It’s certainly something to be proud of, but hopefully the start of something.”

By winning their division, the Cowboys are guaranteed to host a first-round playoff game during the first weekend in January.

While the Cowboys’ offense struggled and gained just 232 total yards, the defense stepped up big-time in a game that pushed Dallas record to 9-6 with only one game remaining.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith scored a touchdown after he picked up a fumble and raced 69 yards to paydirt after Randy Gregory blind-sided Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, causing the fumble. Gregory also recovered a fumble at the Tampa Bay 4-yard line that set up a short TD pass from Prescott to Michael Gallup and padded the Cowboys’ lead to 27-13 with 2:23 remaining in the third quarter.

“Randy knocking it out and Jaylon picking it up and running it in was obviously a huge, huge play of the game,” Garrett said. “The other one we get a chance to pick up a fumble and give our offense the ball on the four-yard line going in, that’s a big play. It’s a one-score game at a time.

“I thought our offense did a good job on that sudden change situation, knocking it in and separating ourselves in the ball game. I thought they fought hard, they battled hard, they were around the quarterback, they stopped the run, they defended the pass with those big plays that were huge and changed the game.”

After the Cowboys were totally embarrassed last week when they were shutout by the Indianapolis Colts, 23-0, they knew it was important for them to get some clarity and regain the mojo that got them back on solid footing during their pivotal season-changing five-game winning streak.

“We didn’t play our best football last week, really took one to the chin on the road in a really important game,” safety Jeff Heath said. “This week we just wanted to come in and get better in order to win regardless of what was at stake. We just wanted to win the game.”

Unfortunately, the win was costly for the Cowboys, who lost defensive end Tyrone Crawford to a neck injury on the second play of the game. Crawford was rushed to the hospital but is now resting at his home.

“They did a scan and an MRI and reports from both of those were negative, which is a positive thing for him,” Garrett said. “From my understanding as of late was that he was leaving the hospital and going home.

“Obviously a very scary thing. He’s one of the most respectable guys around. My thoughts are with him.”

With Crawford out, the defense had to make some changes on the fly. And they wound up putting an inordinate amount of pressure on Winston while making sure the NFC East flag will fly proudly in the DFW area.

“Resiliency, that’s the word that I would use to describe this team,” Smith said. “It feels great, being high in the NFC is a blessing.

“It’s one of the first goals that we want to accomplish each and every year. Coach Garrett says it each and every day, and we were able to do that.”

Still, with the regular season finale next Sunday at noon on the road against the New York Giants, the Cowboys don’t feel this is their time to take their foot off the gas.

“Never be satisfied with being satisfied,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “We have to keep pushing each week.

“We can’t let the good or the bad keep us in the same spot. We’ve got to keep trying to reach levels that people said that it was never possible to reach at when (the Cowboys were) 3-5. We are just going to keep pushing and see where it takes us.”

As the Cowboys’ offense kept sputtering against the Bucs, Prescott kept pushing and ended up completing 20-of-25 passes for 161 pedestrian-like yards, while running back Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball 18 times for 85 yards. But the stats were insignificant considering what the Cowboys were able to achieve after they were sitting in a very dark hole during the midway point of the season.

“We got the job done,” Elliott said. “It’s just crazy. I was thinking about, probably like seven or eight weeks ago everyone was writing us off and now we’ve clinched the division title and our spot for the playoffs.

“So now we’ve just got to enjoy this, celebrate, but then get ready to go back to work.”

And go back to work knowing they need only three wins in the playoffs to reach the coveted Super Bowl.

“It’s great to win our division and make the playoffs, but this team’s got a lot more football left and I think the guys really believe that,” right guard Zack Martin said. “It’s been a great group to play with all year and I think everyone’s on the same page that we’re not done yet.”

 

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