Cowboys visit Eagles in final postseason tuneup (Jan 01, 2017)
The Dallas Cowboys are NFC East champions and clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles will miss the postseason for the third consecutive season and are trying to avoid their second double-digit loss campaign in the past 12 seasons.
In other words, there is nothing at stake and the game is virtually meaningless for both squads when the Cowboys (13-2) visit the Eagles (6-9) on Sunday (FOX, 1 p.m. ET).
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While that connotation accurately fits the labeling of the final-week contest, Dallas rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott bristle at such chatter.
The two youngsters — Prescott is 23, Elliott 21 — strongly resist suggestions that Sunday’s game doesn’t matter.
“No game is meaningless,” said Prescott, the quarterback who has passed for 3,640 yards and 23 touchdowns against four interceptions. “There’s quality reps against a quality opponent that’s in our division that we’ll play for years to come that I’ll face off against. So any reps that I can get against a good team to make myself better to get some momentum going into the playoffs, I’ll take it.”
Elliott points out that it is a 60-minute football game between two NFL teams. He doesn’t understand why there would be a lesser value placed on the competitive battle between two NFC East rivals.
“You guys say ‘meaningful games,'” Elliott said to reporters. “Every game is meaningful. It may not matter if we win or lose, but it matters in the total grand scheme of things. We’re trying to stay sharp so we can go into these playoffs like a high-octane machine. We’re not looking at them as games that aren’t meaningful. Every game is meaningful.”
Elliott has a personal accomplishment at stake as his 1,631 rushing yards rank third in NFL history for a rookie behind second-place George Rogers (1,674 in 1981) and record-holder Eric Dickerson (1,808 in 1983).
Elliott needs 178 yards to pass Dickerson, an output that seems unlikely for two reasons: Elliott’s season high is 159 and his workload is expected to be diminished to give veteran Darren McFadden more carries.
Regardless, Elliott said he isn’t consumed with catching Dickerson.
“Like I’ve said, I’ve learned through experience that you don’t focus on that,” Elliott said. “You focus on going out there and winning ballgames and good things happen. Good things come with that.”
Not enough good things happened this season for the Eagles, who dropped seven of eight games before defeating the New York Giants 24-19 on Dec. 22.
Philadelphia’s season began to slide when it faced Dallas for the first time Oct. 30. The Eagles were 4-2 and held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead before collapsing and the Cowboys rallied for a 29-23 overtime victory.
“It was a game where we had a 10-point lead and let it slip,” Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins told reporters. “We went into overtime and didn’t come out with the win. It was one of those games where we had to learn how to finish. It’s just small plays here and there.
“Some of the plays they earned, as we go back and watch the tape. But there are a couple of plays here and there where we could have helped ourselves. That’s one of those lessons that you learn.”
Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz learned lessons all season while passing for 3,537 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yet he was also intercepted 14 times and his 78.2 quarterback rating ranks 25th in the NFL.
Wentz wilted after a strong start and has 11 interceptions against only five touchdowns in the past eight games. But he silenced durability concerns and will become the first Eagles quarterback to start all 16 games since Donovan McNabb in 2008.
“I think it says a lot about his toughness,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich told reporters. “It says a lot about his preparation in protection areas. It says a lot about how well the offensive line has played, and I think it says a lot about (the fact) he has a good internal clock.”
Philadelphia running back Ryan Mathews (neck) is out so veteran Darren Sproles and rookie Byron Marshall will handle the bulk of the ball-carrying duties. Receiver Jordan Matthews, who had only 39 total receiving yards in the past two games, continues to deal with a sprained ankle but is expected to play against Dallas.
Perhaps the biggest mystery with the Cowboys is whether veteran quarterback Tony Romo will see some playing time. Owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that he doesn’t expect Romo to see action against the Eagles but the plan appears to have changed and coach Jason Garrett was finalizing plans to give both Romo and third-stringer Mark Sanchez some playing time.
Romo injured his back in the preseason, which opened the door for Prescott to become the starter. Four months later, there is no debate over the starting quarterback situation..