Cowboys aim to clinch NFC East at New York (Dec 11, 2016)

BY AP • December 10, 2016

The Dallas Cowboys have already clinched a playoff spot, becoming the first team to punch their ticket to the NFL playoffs.

A victory Sunday over the New York Giants (8-4) would lock down the NFC East title and keep the Cowboys (11-1) on the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the conference, which guarantees every Dallas postseason game would be played at AT&T Stadium.

Oh yeah, the Cowboys also have payback on their minds.

The Giants are the only team to beat the Cowboys this season, doing so 20-19 in Week 1. Dallas has run off a franchise-record 11 consecutive wins since to forge the league's best record.

"I'm looking forward to it a lot personally, and then I know this team (is)," Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott said. "They're the only blemish on our record right now. And just to be able to go up there at their place and be able to do what they did to us the first game, we're excited for the opportunity."

Prescott's first start in place of injured Tony Romo wasn't necessarily rookie-like. The fourth-round pick completed 25 of 45 passes for 227 yards, without a touchdown or interception.

Prescott has progressed considerably since. He's the league's third-ranked passer and he has thrown for 19 touchdowns against just two picks.

"I watched the tape, and I shake my head sometimes at the things I did or the throws I didn't make because I wasn't trusting it," Prescott said of his first NFL game. "But I've definitely grown a ton since then, just being able to see the defenses faster, recognize what's going on, knowing and making confident decisions, and letting the ball go."

Fellow rookie and NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott ran for only 51 yards on 20 carries in his debut. It remains his lowest total of the season.

"It does seem like it was forever ago because we've been through so much more as a team, and we've grown so much. It does seem like it was a long time, but we have to use it as a learning experience."

The Giants prevailed in the opener on Eli Manning's touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 6 minutes left. It remains the only scoring catch this season for Cruz, who has seen his role reduced in recent weeks.

Cruz and coach Ben McAdoo met this week to discuss the receiver's role. Cruz expects to be a bigger part of the offense against Dallas.

"We had an honest conversation between both of us," Cruz said. "He laid it to me straight and I gave him my thoughts as well," Cruz said. "I think it was productive and it ended well. It was a conversation that I guess needed to be had and we had it.

"And now we can turn the page and move on."

McAdoo wants to see more consistency out of the offense. The Giants haven't totaled 300 yards in either of the last two weeks or scored at least 30 in any game this season. On Saturday, they activated dual-threat running back Shane Vereen, who has been out since Week 3 with a triceps injury.

"When you have been as inconsistent as we have on offense, it's a challenge," McAdoo said. "Victor, like everybody else, including myself, wants to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem, so my door is always open for any of these guys that want to come in and have a conversation."

New York's defense took a hit this week with Jason Pierre-Paul's surgery for a sport hernia. The defensive end is out up to six weeks, meaning he can't return until deep in the playoffs.

The Giants plan to have Pierre-Paul back on the field ... this season.

"JPP is an X-Man. He's a mutant," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "Dude came back from blowing his hand off in four months. He blew his hand off and was playing in a football game four months later.

"I mean, that is a mutant to me, so I think the guy is going to be back. The better we are, the deeper we get into January and February is the ultimate goal, of course. Hopefully we can get him back."

The Giants plan to fill the Pierre-Paul void by committee, with defensive ends Romeo Okwara, Owa Odighizuwa and Kerry Wynn, and pass-rushing linebacker Devon Kennard possibly taking on bigger roles.

The Cowboys have only faced two teams -- Washington (112) and Philadelphia (110) -- more than they have faced the Giants (108) in the regular season.

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