The Dallas Cowboys’ young football team has developed a defiant edge during the last couple of seasons.
Perhaps it’s because of the way head coach Jason Garrett steadfastly rejects all questions that stray from the weekly process mindset. Or maybe it’s because over the last two seasons the Cowboys have fought through multiple mini-losing streaks and gone from missing the playoffs in 2017 to winning the NFC East in this campaign.
Whatever the answer, it’s not a group that sits back and indulges the narrative of fans or the media.
“Outside the locker room and inside the locker room have been two completely different messages all year long,” Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said following the Cowboys’ 36-35 victory over the Giants on Sunday. “People outside the locker room think one way and we think a different way.”
At first glance, Dallas was sending mixed messages in New York on Sunday. Garrett said healthy players were going to play against the Giants. But then running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was not listed on the team’s injury report, was inactive for the game. He joined starting offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin on the sideline.
Elliott’s absence seemed like a signal that the regular-season finale was not being approached as a must-win. And why should it be? The Cowboys were going to host a Wild Card round playoff game and then, if they win, go on the road the next week regardless of what happened in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
But then the active Cowboys played as if their careers were on the line the entire day versus the Giants.
Prescott, who even the TV announcers kept guessing would take a seat at any moment, went the entire way and passed for 387 yards with 4 touchdowns. He made the play of the game when he converted a fourth-and-15 by hitting Cole Beasley for a 32-yard touchdown. Prescott followed that by tossing to Michael Gallup for the game-winning two-point conversion.
That sends the Cowboys’ QB into the playoffs looking like one of the most dangerous weapons of any team in the tournament (somewhere short of the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes but definitely on par with some of the other remaining passers).
“Sometimes people get down, ‘Hey (Prescott) takes sacks’ but one thing you have to understand when you have a mobile quarterback like that, there’s a lot of good plays he makes too,” Garrett said in response to Prescott’s heroics at the end of the Giants’ game. “Certainly, that was as good a play as I’ve ever seen him make and Bease made a big-time catch on the other end of it.”
Now the Cowboys will focus on a home playoff game against the Seahawks on Saturday evening at AT&T Stadium.
Elliott will be back on the field and it’s a good bet that offensive linemen Smith and Martin will join him. On his Monday conference call, Garrett said everyone except defensive lineman David Irving will be practicing this week. Presumably, that includes defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, who was carted off the field on a stretcher a little over a week ago. Tests on Crawford’s neck revealed no structural damage, though he did sit out practice last week.
The Cowboys players strutted out of the locker room on Sunday, satisfied that they had defied critics by posting double-digit wins in the regular season.
But if Dallas can’t grasp a playoff victory at home over Seattle, it will give voice to their critics outside the locker room.