Cowboys face Washington again for playoffs

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Avonte Maddox (29), left, tries to tackle Antonio Gibson (right) of the Washington football team, during the second half of an NFL football game, on Tuesday, December 21, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

PA

The last time the Dallas Cowboys played in prime time on a Sunday, they had to figure out how to win without Dak Prescott.

Now they have to figure out how to get their star quarterback back to where it was before the calf injury that kept him from securing that victory over Minnesota.

The Cowboys (10-4) have three games to go before a near-assured trip to the playoffs, starting Sunday night at home against Washington as the NFC East executives try to complete a sweep of three straight opponents in the division. The first was Washington.

“Still a lot of growth, games left out,” Prescott said. “We took these steps and got better day by day and we will continue to do so and as I continue to say, peak at the right time. Yes, comfortable where we are and, more importantly, where we are going.

Washington is expected to have quarterback Taylor Heinicke back after clearing COVID-19 protocols on Thursday, two days after Garrett Gilbert had to start with Heinicke and replacement Kyle Allen sidelined by the virus.

Washington’s top playoff prospects (6-8) faded away with the 27-17 loss to Philadelphia in a game delayed by coronavirus. Last season’s NFC East winner was knocked out of that race and is playing again five days later.

“I’m not going to approach anything by just saying, ‘Well, I hope we can end this year with a winning record,'” said coach Ron Rivera. “No, I want to make the playoffs. I want to win in the playoffs. I want to win it all. If I could win all 20 games, I would win all 20 games. It’s just my mentality.

Prescott mentioned the turnovers as part of what was wrong with him. One was a 6 pick that gave Washington a realistic chance to erase a 19-point deficit in the final six minutes of a 27-20 win in Dallas two weeks ago.

While Ezekiel Elliott, hampered by a knee injury, and the running game showed improvement in last week’s 21-6 win over the New York Giants, Prescott has as many interceptions as he has touchdowns ( three) in the last three games, all victories despite their struggles. He had 16 touchdown passes and four picks before the calf injury.

“We’re playing good defenses,” said Prescott. “They do a good job taking out some of the things that we do very well and making us stay patient and play games underneath. It is difficult, but we accept the challenge and we improve. “

CONTINUATION OF THE playoffs

There are several ways for the Cowboys to win the division title or advance to the playoffs before playing. The first comes Thursday, with a loss in San Francisco to Tennessee and a playoff berth for Dallas.

On Sunday, a loss or tie for Philadelphia to the bottom-seeded New York Giants ends the NFC East race, and a win or tie in Tampa Bay against Carolina puts the Cowboys in the playoffs.

HEINICKE’S RETURN

Heinicke, who is 6-6 as a starter, returned to practice Thursday after clearing protocols.

“He seemed to be on top of everything,” Rivera said. “The guys obviously looked at him when he was back in the band so it was good to see.”

Heinicke was 11 of 25 for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception on Dec. 12 against Dallas before leaving with a knee injury.

Heinicke performed well against Tampa Bay and beat the Buccaneers earlier this season, the first time he saw an opponent for the second time in his NFL career. Rivera is hoping for the same sort of profit for Heinicke against the Cowboys twice in three weeks.

“I went there today and felt great throwing the ball and stuff,” said Heinicke. “I could feel a little out of breath, so coming back to that point, I think it’s good. It’s not just about jumping into a Sunday night soccer game since I’ve kind of been sitting at home for a week.

DOMSDAY 2.0?

The win over Washington was the second in three straight games with four points to go for the Cowboys. They could become the fourth team since 1990 to force at least four turnovers in four straight games. The most recent was Buffalo in 2004.

Those three games were also the first time defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and rookie linebacker Micah Parsons have played together since Game 1. Lawrence missed all 10 games in between with a broken foot.

“Having him there kind of makes us go a little faster, play a little faster, a little smarter,” said Gregory. “We have a cohesion and the guys really know what to do, and have the time and things like that. Having him there is a plus any week.

BIG QUESTION GIBSON

Washington’s biggest unanswered question is the status of injured running back Antonio Gibson. He suffered a toe injury in Philadelphia which Rivera said was “very similar” to the turf toe that derailed Gibson’s 2020 season.

Seeker JD McKissic is on the injured list with a neck injury after a scary play in the last game against Dallas. If Gibson can’t play, the bulk of the races will likely go to rookie Jaret Patterson.

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