By Dwain Price
Dak Prescott will roll into the playoffs next week a very confident lot after putting up some pretty impressive history-making numbers during the regular season.
This past Saturday, Prescott completed 21-of-27 passes for295 yards and a career-high five touchdowns to pace the Dallas Cowboys to a convincing 51-26 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles. That gave the Cowboys a clean 6-0 sweep of their three NFC East opponents as they ended the regular season with a solid 12-5 record.
The Cowboys will open the playoffs on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington against the San Francisco 49ers. And in preparation for the matchup against the Niners, the Cowboys first made quick work of the Eagles.
For the second time in three weeks, the Cowboys hung 50-plus points on the board. (The beat Washington, 56-14, two weeks ago). And the five TD passes gave Prescott 37 for the season, breaking the franchise record of 36set by Tony Romo in 2007.
Not bad for a player who – during the second half of the season — critics repeatedly kept saying was in a slump.
“I mean, if I wasn’t in (a slump) I guess I could’ve done it a while back,” said Prescott, who tied the franchise record for TD passes in a game. “But yeah, I mean it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to get a record like that.
“I’m just the beneficiary of a lot of hard work, play-calling,offensive line protecting and a bunch of different guys making plays.”
The Cowboys certainly had a bunch of different guys making plays against the Eagles. Wide receiver Cedric Wilson admirably filled in for Michael Gallup, who is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament while catching a touchdown pass last week against the Arizona Cardinals.
Wilson had five receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. Tight end Dalton Schultz caught three passes, and two of them went for touchdowns.
In the meantime, running back Ezekiel Elliott had his best game running the ball since he rushed for 110 yards against the New York Giants on Oct. 10. Elliott rushed 18 times for 87 yards against the Eagles and finished the season with 1,002 yards yards.
Combined that with the 4,449 yards Prescott passed for this season, the 12 sacks recorded by Micah Parsons, the 11 interceptions from Trevon Diggs, and the 1,102 yards in receptions CeeDee Lamb accumulated, this marks the first time in NFL history that one team had five players achieve those starling statistics.
But none of that mattered to the Cowboys as they went into the game against the Eagles trying to get their offensive mojo back following last week’s stunning 25-22 loss at home to the Cardinals.
“We wanted to be pretty balanced – run and pass — and I thought we established that coming out of (Saturday’s game),” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The rhythm and timing going into the playoffs, we talked about this during the course of the week.
“Statistically, rhythm, pace of operation, everything we were looking to accomplish, (Saturday) we were able to get that done.”
That’s why the Cowboys played their starters – those who weren’t injured or in the health and safety protocols – against the Eagles.They felt playing them was worth the risk of someone getting injured in a game that ultimately helped the Cowboys move up from the No. 4 to the No. 3 seed.
“Every team does what they feel that they need to do,”McCarthy said. “We all felt clearly this is the best thing. The players wanted to play.
“Even the guys who didn’t play wanted to play, so I think that tells you where we are as a football team, and that’s exciting. This was the right thing for us to do and I’m glad the way it turned out.”
It turned out perfect for the Cowboys against the Eagles,because for the second time in three weeks, Prescott had four TD passes by halftime and Dallas led, 30-17. The Cowboys scored on all five of the possessions in the first half.
Corey Clement caught an eight-yard touchdown from Prescott early in the fourth quarter, and seldom-used running backs Ito Smith and JaQuan Hardy closed out the Cowboys’ scoring by darting into the end zone from the four and 22 yards, respectively, during garbage time.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said: “Just to be able to build on a win and head to the playoffs, I feel like we’re carrying the team and the momentum in the right direction.”
And that, according to Prescott, was the plan going into the game against the Eagles, who didn’t play many of their starters.
“That’s what we wanted to do was get some momentum, get into a rhythm, grab some confidence from this game and get ourselves going heading into next weekend,” Prescott said. “I think we did a good job of that.
“But we’ve got to turn the page. We can’t hang our hat on the regular season or 12 wins or winning the division, because none of it matters.”
What matters now is how the Cowboys perform in the playoffs.If Prescott can continue doing what he did against the Eagles, the Cowboys know the (Super Bowl) sky’s the limit.
“I just think it’s a hell of a year for a guy that was in a slump,” McCarthy said, referring to Prescott. “He’s a special man. He’s a tremendous leader.
Hopefully he’ll get some recognition for how he plays thegame on the field.
“He’s so consistent in his approach. What’s exciting is we have a lot of growth in front of us and him in particular, too. He’s still a young quarterback that has a lot of excellent football in front of him.”
And the Cowboys are hoping Prescott will step up and show his“excellent football” skills throughout the upcoming playoffs.
“This is what we’ve been talking about since April,”McCarty said. “We’ve had goals all along. We hit the goals — 12 wins in a season is a good year.
“But more importantly, it’s difficult to put yourself in a good position any year. So we just want to make sure that everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do.”