FRISCO, Texas – There were a couple different ways to play this Saturday finale, but the Cowboys have opted for the straightforward path.
"We're going to play – we're going to play to win the game," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on Monday afternoon.
Perhaps that seems obvious, especially in the wake of a 25-22 home loss to Arizona. The Cowboys' offense was once again flummoxed in Week 17, totaling just 301 yards while struggling with their own miscues, not to mention the Cardinals' aggressive game plan on defense.
"We need the momentum and we need to go out and work on our execution," said Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones on Monday morning.
Even still, there were multiple ways to handle the situation coming out of Sunday's loss. With five losses on their record, the Cowboys will need help from multiple teams in Week 18 to improve their setting. Not to mention, Philadelphia clinched a wildcard berth Sunday night when Minnesota lost in Green Bay.
Theoretically, both teams can improve their NFC seeding with a win on Saturday, but in both cases it will require some outside help.
McCarthy has talked before about trying both courses of action – resting and playing – during his tenure in Green Bay, with mixed results. At the end of the day, he said the Cowboys have decided this is the best course of action for this team.
"There are slight odds to potentially move up, so we want to make sure we take care of business on our end and finish off and make sure that we're playing with momentum going into the game," he said.
There's also the obvious fact that resting starters is a bit harder in the NFL, where roster size is limited and only a certain number of players can suit up for games. McCarthy noted that it becomes hard to execute special teams and other aspects of a game when high numbers of players start sitting down.
"I think the thing that people need to recognize is you only have 48 players to play the game," he said. "So going up there and then you start pulling players, you're really putting stress on other players that particularly haven't maybe played that many reps at that many positions. So you have to be cognizant of that – talking about special teams and so forth."
With his players on a short week, McCarthy said he'll evaluate injury concerns as the week progresses. Specifically, he was asked about Ezekiel Elliott's status, as the veteran running back has been nursing a knee injury for much of the season. McCarthy said he'll have a better answer about those types of situations when the team resumes its practice schedule.
For now, with his staff suddenly on a short schedule, McCarthy said the focus for Week 18 is a simple one.
"Our full attention, as we start the game plan today, was to play our guys – to build a game plan to win the game," he said.