ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys needed the four-game winning streak they’re on to have hope of catching the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles in their rematch.
The first three victories were relatively easy, the last required a fourth-quarter rally in a 41-35 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Now the Cowboys (9-3) get a mini-break before facing the defending NFC and division champion Eagles on Dec. 10, and part of their time will be spent watching an NFC championship game rematch between Philadelphia and San Francisco on Sunday.
The Eagles (10-1) have already managed close victories over two of the AFC's best in Kansas City and Buffalo to keep what amounts to a two-game lead over Dallas, which they've had since handing the Cowboys their most recent loss, 28-23 in Philadelphia.
The Cowboys kept pace because they didn't worry about it, Prescott figures.
“The focus of running our own race is why we didn’t drop a game,” Prescott said. “We didn’t try to put our emotions in hoping that they won or lost. They pulled off some close ones, but that’s not for us to focus on or get overwhelmed about.”
The focus for the rest of this week will be rest with the Cowboys finishing the three-games-in-12-days stint they usually have around Thanksgiving, the holiday game they've hosted almost every year since 1966.
“Yeah, they’re tired,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You could see it during the week. I mean, it took them a while to get back.”
Dallas is guaranteed a third consecutive winning season in McCarthy's fourth year, and first as the play-caller. It also looks like the club will make the playoffs a third straight year for the first time since the 1990s teams that won three Super Bowls in four seasons.
The victory over the Seahawks, keyed by Prescott's third touchdown pass for the lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining, was gratifying in a number of ways for the Cowboys.
Even though Seattle dropped to .500, it counted as Dallas' first victory over a team with a winning record this season.
And it will give the Cowboys a much better feeling when they see Philadelphia again with their 14-game home winning streak, the club's longest in more than 40 years, intact.
“We know that getting this win next week and continuing this home winning streak is more important than anything,” Prescott said. “But it doesn’t mean that we won’t see them again. Whether it’s here or there, it really doesn’t matter. It’s two great teams, division rivals, and to get to where we both want to go, we are probably going to have to see one another again.”
Prescott matched his career best with a sixth consecutive game with at least two touchdown passes. He has 21 TDs with just two interceptions since one of the worst games in his career in a 42-10 loss to the Niners, who have knocked Dallas out of the playoffs the past two seasons.
The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has risen to second in the odds for NFL MVP behind Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
“My expectations, honestly,” Prescott said. “I put a lot into this game. I really think that that’s the expectations that I have for myself, the standard that we’ve created as an offense and how we’re comfortable playing this game.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
While the defense came up with three fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter to spark the rally from eight points down and preserve the lead, the NFL's third-ranked unit gave up at least 400 yards for the third time (406). Dallas allowed nine of the first 11 third downs to get converted and matched a season high from the blowout loss to San Francisco by giving up 25 first downs.
Lost among the many critical plays in the fourth quarter were two third-down pass breakups by Jourdan Lewis, both of them setting up fourth-down stops. The first fourth-down stop came when defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence got to Zach Charbonnet in the backfield with Dallas trailing 35-30.
The defense also had a problem with penalties, committing six of the nine that were enforced, including pass interference fouls covering 40 yards (Rashaan Evans) and 29 yards (DaRon Bland, who recorded his NFL-leading eighth interception but also was burned multiple times). The defense had three of the four Dallas penalties that were declined.
Tight end Peyton Hendershot (ankle) has been a full participant in practice but still hasn't been activated off injured reserve. That could come in time for the Philadelphia game.
40 — The Cowboys are the fifth team in NFL history to score at least 40 points in four consecutive home games. The most recent was Cincinnati in 2014.
Another loss to the Eagles will all but wrap up the division title for Philadelphia, which would make the Eagles the first back-to-backs winners in the NFC East since they won four straight from 2001-04. The tiebreakers favor Philadelphia at the moment.