Cowboys seek steady roll to playoffs after up-and-down start
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott wasn't particularly distressed about the three-game losing streak that followed a 3-0 start with Dallas carrying lofty expectations.
It's a matter of timing for the star quarterback, particularly since the Cowboys had a three-game skid later in the one year out of three they missed the playoffs with Prescott.
After bouncing back with a 37-10 blowout of Philadelphia for control of the NFC East, Dallas (4-3) goes into the open week and the nine games remaining afterward looking to replace the see-saw with a merry-go-round that stops in the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons.
The Cowboys next play at the New York Giants in another division game in their only "Monday Night Football" appearance Nov. 4.
"I have a weird way of looking at things," the star quarterback said before beating the Eagles. "Yeah, the timing, it's never good to lose three, never ever, but if there ever was an ideal time I'd say it's now."
Even though Prescott and fellow 2016 rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott are young players in their fourth seasons, they've experienced just about everything short of making a run to the Super Bowl.
In a remarkable debut that included the first of Elliott's two NFL rushing titles, the Cowboys set a franchise record with 11 straight victories and had a first-round bye before losing the first postseason game for Prescott and Elliott in the divisional round to Green Bay.
When Elliott was suspended six games over domestic violence allegations halfway through his second season, Dallas lost the first three games without him. The Cowboys had to win all five remaining games to return to the playoffs, falling short when they lost in Elliott's return.
Now they've run the gamut of emotions less than halfway through a season that started with players, coaches and the front office believing they had a team capable of ending a nearly 25-year stretch without the proud franchise even reaching the NFC championship game.
"I think what we're really fortunate to have here is a young team that's hungry ... but also a group that has a lot of experience," said center Travis Frederick, who was a rookie the year before the Cowboys made the first of three playoff trips in five years.
"It's a unique mixture. I think that experience is something that we can lean on in situations like this. I think guys are pretty level-headed, pretty even keel through those ups and downs."
The first three wins were over teams that entered this week with just three victories between them in the New York Giants, Washington and Miami — and one of those was the Redskins beating the Dolphins.
The first two losses were against a pair of one-loss division leaders in New Orleans and Green Bay, followed by what the Cowboys hope is their low point this season — a loss to the previously winless Jets a week before New York was blown out by New England.
The victory over the Eagles with the teams tied atop the NFC East was thorough. Elliott led a dominant run game, and Prescott was efficient except for an overly aggressive throw with a big lead in the fourth quarter.
"I'd like to think the way we approach it every week is providing some sort of inspiration and motivation for our team," coach Jason Garrett said. "That is something we take pride in. Try to get our guys' minds right, their mentality right to play their best football."
The defense had been mediocre enough through six games that Dallas was the only remaining team in the NFL that hadn't started a possession on the opponent's side of the 50-yard line.
That changed immediately against the Eagles with fumbles on Philadelphia's first two possessions, leading to a 14-0 lead for the Cowboys. Dallas forced four turnovers — three of them by Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
"I think a big win for us, going into the bye week, I think a big confidence boost for our locker room," right guard Zack Martin said. "But I think we're very aware that that's just one game. We still have a long way to go."
During the open week last year, the Cowboys gave up this year's first-round draft pick to get No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper in a trade with Oakland. Dallas did it again this year, although with not nearly quite as bold a move and with the focus on defense instead.
A person with direct knowledge of the deal says the Cowboys acquired defensive lineman Michael Bennett from New England for a conditional late-round pick in 2021. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because the deal hasn't been announced.
After the loss to the Packers, Prescott acknowledged the Cowboys might have "sniffed ourselves a little bit too much" coming off the 3-0 start.
But when asked after the embarrassing loss to the Jets if he still thought he had a great team, Prescott responded swiftly, "I know we have a great team. I know it."
Now the Cowboys are looking for the consistency to show it.