FRISCO, Texas – For the first time this year – in the last week of the regular season – the Cowboys no longer control their playoff destiny.
Last Sunday's 17-9 loss at Philadelphia put the Eagles (8-7) in control of the NFC East in Week 17. To clinch the division and make the postseason for the second straight year, the Cowboys (7-8) need a win Sunday at home against Washington (3-12) and an Eagles loss on the road against the New York Giants (4-11).
"I guess the biggest thing that you're always trying to preach to everybody is we're always trying to focus on controlling what we can control," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "And that's what we try to continue to instill this week with our team. We can control how we practice this afternoon. That's where our focus is. That's where our attention is."
Garrett scheduled a later practice Wednesday to accommodate the Christmas holiday, but told reporters via conference call that team focus has been good this week despite the disappointing loss in Philadelphia, the team's fourth in the last five games.
A win last Sunday would have clinched the division. But the Cowboys did not score a touchdown for only the second game this season, and the depleted Eagles were able to hang on after jumping out to a 10-0 first quarter lead.
Defensive end/captain DeMarcus Lawrence said complete focus for 60 minutes is the key because "it could be two or three crucial plays that can hurt you." Indeed, last Sunday was the team's sixth loss this season by one score.
"It's all about keeping our thoughts ahead on the Washington Redskins and making sure we finish this game out strong," Lawrence said Monday. "…It's all about finishing this game out strong because I'm a believer and I've still got hope."
"One thing you have to keep understanding is it's about what we do today," Garrett said. "Win, lose or draw yesterday, that one's done and you've got to get on to the next challenge. The challenge is to prepare the right way to go play our best football on Sunday."