NFL teams with a virtually stuck playoff standings often rest their starters before the playoffs. That was not the case for the Cowboys on Saturday night.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and most of the rest of the frontline offense stayed in the game until the start of the fourth quarter. Their last practice ended with Prescott throwing his fifth touchdown pass of the game, which broke Tony Romo’s franchise record for touchdown passes in one season.
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Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that in addition to getting the win, the team wanted all 48 active players to enter the game. But he also said he felt it was important for the team to establish “the pace and the timing before the playoffs”.
“We talked about it on Sunday after last week’s game. We all clearly felt it was the best thing, ”said McCarthy. “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 it’s exciting. It was the right thing for us to do, and I’m happy with how it turned out. “
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It wasn’t until 12:44 remaining in the game that quarterback Cooper Rush came on for Dallas. The Cowboys were leading 37-20 at that time. They ended up winning 51-26.
The Cowboys’ fate in the playoffs was almost certain before Saturday. They came into the night as the NFC’s No.4 seed. To move up to third, they would need the Rams to lose to the 49ers, the Buccaneers to beat the Panthers and the Cardinals to lose to the Seahawks on Sunday. To reach the No.2 seed, they would need wins from the 49ers, Panthers and Seahawks.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Rams are 3.5 point favorites, the Cardinals are 5.5 point favorites and the Buccaneers are 8.5 point favorites in their respective games.
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McCarthy’s decision to leave the starters contrasted with the fact that Eagles coach Nick Sirianni put a number of attacking starters to rest, including quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The most notable advantage for the Cowboys was that Prescott set the team record for the number of touchdown passes in a season with his 37th, surpassing Romo’s mark set in 2007. Elliott, on the other hand he had the chance to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the first time since 2019. He did so in the second half.
Prescott ended the game playing 21 of 27 passes for 295 yards, five touchdowns and no turnovers.
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The Cowboys (12-5) lost their previous game, falling to the Cardinals 25-22. The loss ended a four-game winning streak. Dallas has been the NFL’s No.1 offense this season, but there were concerns after the game against Arizona that it was down. Prior to that game, the Cowboys had only scored over 30 points twice in their last six games, although one game was a 56-14 beating of Washington in Week 16.
If the playoff pitch remains as it entered on Sunday, Dallas would face the Cardinals again in the wildcard round.