HomeFootball DirtCowboys feel playoff-ready after unusual victory over Lions amid road struggles

Cowboys feel playoff-ready after unusual victory over Lions amid road struggles

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys didn’t have it easy in finishing off their first 8-0 home season in 42 years.

The 20-19 victory over Detroit in a matchup of playoff-bound teams came after a controversial call from the officials.

Regardless, the nature of the game has Mike McCarthy feeling good going into his third consecutive postseason in four seasons as coach of the Cowboys.

“These are the kinds of games that character is enhanced and the adversity advancement that you need, and you train all year for,” McCarthy said. “We’ve had a bit of an unusual year, just because of the margins of victory at home.”

And an unusual finish for a team that won its first seven home games by an average of nearly 25 points before hanging on to extend the winning streak at AT&T Stadium to 16 games.

Dallas won after the Lions had what appeared to be a winning 2-point conversion pass to offensive lineman Taylor Decker negated by a penalty.

Decker was ruled to be an ineligible receiver. The Lions, from coach Dan Campbell to quarterback Jared Goff, insisted he wasn’t. And they weren’t happy about it.

Eventually, the NFC North champs lost when a third 2-point try was an incomplete pass short of the end zone.

The Cowboys (11-5) still have a chance to win the NFC East, which would mean starting the playoffs at home. But they need a loss from Philadelphia.

The clearest scenario for Dallas is to beat Washington in the regular-season finale next week and hope the New York Giants upset the defending division champion Eagles.

“We love playing at home,” said McCarthy, whose team was coming off losses at Buffalo and Miami. “But I do think being on the road the last couple of weeks, we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Receiver CeeDee Lamb had career highs with 13 catches for 227 yards while breaking Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin’s single-season club records for receptions and yards from 1995, when the Cowboys won the most recent of their five Super Bowl titles.

Lamb has an NFL-leading 122 grabs for 1,651 yards, the latter giving him a 10-yard lead over Miami’s Tyreek Hill for most in the league before Hill played Sunday. Irvin had 111 catches for 1,603 yards.

The passing game as a whole is clicking, too. After a 92-yard touchdown toss to Lamb in the first quarter, Dak Prescott threw the go-ahead TD to Brandin Cooks midway through the fourth quarter and finished 26 of 38 for 345 yards, overcoming an early interception.

Lamb has at least one touchdown in eight consecutive games, a club record, and Cooks has go-ahead TD catches in the fourth quarter in each of the past two weeks.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The running game is getting worse, with the Cowboys facing the prospect of needing it in an outdoor wild-card game if they don’t win the division.

Tony Pollard didn’t get into positive yardage until the second quarter and finished with a 3.1-yard average (49 yards on 16 carries).

The Cowboys finished with a 2.9-yard average with backup Rico Dowdle inactive because of an ankle injury. Dallas’ 61 yards were its second-fewest of the season.

Pollard has reached 80 yards rushing just once in his debut as the lead running back after the Cowboys released two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott in a cost-cutting move in the offseason.

“Happy New Year,” McCarthy shot back at a reporter when the third question in his postgame news conference after the wild finish to the game was about the rushing attack. “The run game was clearly not the highlight of our performance tonight.”

STOCK UP

The defense was back to creating takeaways after going without one in the trips to Buffalo and Miami. Donovan Wilson’s interception with 2:05 remaining was the second of two and gave the Cowboys a chance to run out the clock. A penalty kept the offense from doing that.

STOCK DOWN

Second-year receiver Jalen Tolbert was burned on a fake punt for the second time in four games. The first was a pass from the punter against Philadelphia, then a pass from the up back against the Lions.

INJURIES

LG Tyler Smith strained the plantar fascia in a foot and wasn’t sure after the game what the severity of the injury would be. His injury came after LT Tyron Smith returned from a one-game absence with a back injury. Undrafted rookie T.J. Bass replaced Tyler Smith after filling in for six-time All-Pro RG Zack Martin two weeks ago in Buffalo.

KEY NUMBER

35 — Brandon Aubrey broke the single-season franchise record of 34 field goals with two against the Lions. Every field goal extends the rookie’s NFL record for field goals without a miss to start a career.

NEXT STEPS

Even if the Eagles still lead the Cowboys by a game in the NFC East going into the final week, Dallas can overtake Philadelphia. The Cowboys and Eagles split their two meetings, and the first tiebreaker after head-to-head is division record. The Cowboys would finish 5-1 in the NFC East with a victory over the Commanders, and the Eagles would be 4-2 if they get upset by the Giants.

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