ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)First, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys lost to Jacksonville. Then, Philadelphia quarterbacking counterpart Jalen Hurts was all but ruled out with a sprained throwing shoulder.
The pizazz is just about gone for a Christmas Eve clash between NFC East rivals that could have been a last-ditch bid by Dallas to take the NFC’s top seed from the NFL-leading Eagles (13-1).
Instead, Dallas would be a long shot to catch Philadelphia even with a victory Saturday. The Cowboys backed into a playoff spot last weekend hours after their 40-34 overtime loss to the Jaguars.
”For me, the loss definitely dampers it,” quarterback Dak Prescott said of making the playoffs. ”Now it’s about building that momentum to feel confident about where we are at the end of the 17 games.”
One loss by defending NFC East champion Dallas (10-4) or a Philadelphia victory in the final three games clinches the division title for the Eagles, who won the first meeting in October.
Philadelphia has a two-game lead over Minnesota for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. None of the above matters to Eagles coach Nick Sirianni.
”You have to do what you have to do to win this game, and that’s always our sole focus,” he said. ”You’ll never get that out of me where I’m saying, `Hey, let’s think about in three weeks here.”’
Hurts injured his right shoulder in last week’s 25-20 victory over Chicago, but stayed in the game.
The MVP candidate was ruled out Thursday, clearing the way for Gardner Minshew’s first start since a meaningless regular-season finale against the Cowboys last season.
Both teams were all but set with their playoff seedings going in that meeting last January, and the same is essentially true this time.
Still, the Cowboys could use a boost to their psyche after blowing a 17-point lead in the second half at Jacksonville. The New York Giants beat Washington last Sunday night to hand Dallas a playoff berth.
”If anything, it’s about making a statement to ourselves,” Prescott said. ”This is about … proving it to ourselves in all three phases that we’re a hell of a team and we can go get it done against one of the best teams in the league, whether they’re in our division or not.”
Prescott has the most interceptions in the NFL (10) since returning from a broken thumb in Week 7 after missing five games.
The first of his two picks against Jacksonville helped spark the Jaguars’ rally and was a poor decision by the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year, who protected the ball well in that debut season.
The second, which turned into Rayshawn Jenkins’ game-winning return in overtime, bounced out of the arms of receiver Noah Brown. Prescott remains adamant about not second-guessing himself.
”Not to brag, but I’m pretty mentally tough,” Prescott said. ”I’m sure not hesitant or scared to say I’m struggling a little bit. So when something like that is happening, it’s about knowing who you are.”
DALLAS IN DALLAS
The Eagles should get a boost with the expected return of tight end Dallas Goedert, and Minshew will be glad to see him.
When Minshew started in place of an injured Hurts last season in a win against the New York Jets, Goedert had 105 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Goedert was activated off the injured list this week after missing five games with a shoulder injury. He was hurt in Philadelphia’s only loss of the season, in November against Washington.
Without Goedert, Hurts and the Eagles became fully reliant on wideouts A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Now, the passing game will go through all three top targets again.
”No matter who plays quarterback for us, Dallas Goedert is a weapon for this football team,” Sirianni said.
TIME FOR HILTON
Receiver T.Y. Hilton appears set for his Dallas debut just shy of two weeks since signing as a free agent. He had been unsigned all season after a 10-year run with Indianapolis ended.
While top Prescott target CeeDee Lamb is one of the best stretches of his career with three 100-yard games in the past six, the other receivers haven’t had much of an impact. The Cowboys hope Hilton can give them a deep threat.
”I thought he’s picked up the language very well,” coach Mike McCarthy said. ”T.Y. has played a ton of football. It’s more just getting on the same page with the quarterbacks.”
MILES TO GO
Miles Sanders is having a wonky season for a 1,000-yard rusher.
Yes, his 1,110 yards rushing made him the first Eagles running back to hit that milestone since LeSean McCoy in 2014. But every game that seems like a breakout performance has been diminished the next week when he’s been almost invisible.
The latest example: The fourth-year pro had 144 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago against the Giants, then just 11 carries for 42 yards against the Bears.
Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen didn’t give Sanders a carry until the second quarter against Chicago.
”We have to get him some touches early,” Sirianni said. ”I think he’s doing a really nice job of being decisive. I think he’s doing a really nice job of being physical.”
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