EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Talk about prepping for the postseason in style.
To be honest, the word "style" doesn't even do justice to the Cowboys' regular season finale. For a game that was essentially meaningless, it certainly delivered its share of fireworks in a 36-35 shootout that sent the Cowboys into the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
"I don't believe you could've drawn that up – for our fans or for the players – and created a better way to step into the playoffs," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
How could anyone have seen this coming, when the game plan was outlined from the start? Prior to kickoff, the Cowboys confirmed that Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin would sit this game out to rest up for the postseason.
Missing three Pro Bowlers, not to mention the NFL's rushing champion, who would have guessed the Cowboys would blow up for 419 total yards and 36 points?
"I know that Jason and the coaches had planned to literally work on the passing game – especially the intermediate stuff," Jones said. "I didn't think we would have, in light of the circumstances, I didn't think we'd have that exciting a ball game, as it turned out."
It isn't going to change anything about the Cowboys' playoff aspirations, but it's hard to deny that this game could have an impact moving forward. Dak Prescott threw for 387 yards, leading the Cowboys back from a 35-28 deficit with a 4th-and-15 touchdown bomb to Cole Beasley – not to mention a clutch two-point conversion to Michael Gallup.
The Dallas defense might not have enjoyed a banner day, allowing 30 points for the first time this season, but the Cowboys did get some late-game experience in holding off a rally from Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley.
"If you just saw the sideline when they were on offense those last four plays, it was like no other part of our season," Prescott said. "Just the intensity, everybody focusing and how bad we wanted it. This meant a lot to us."
All in all, the Cowboys deserve some credit here. They hedged their bets, to borrow a phrase from Jones, by resting some of their top players. Other guys saw some rest, as well, as DeMarcus Lawrence exited the game in the second quarter.
But the Cowboys played Prescott and plenty of others all the way through. They got through it healthy, and they managed a win that's bound to boost their confidence as they prepare for the postseason.
"I wouldn't give anything for those last two quarters," Jones said. "I wouldn't give anything for this team and Dak to have experienced that comeback. Handle that adversity, come back, make those plays."
Exhilarating as it was, though, the Cowboys will be quick to put it behind them. They entered Sunday's game without any idea who they'd be playing on wildcard weekend, but results around the league took care of that for them during their flight home.
With a 27-24 win against the Arizona Cardinals, the Seattle Seahawks locked up their positioning as the NFC's No. 5 seed – assuring them a Saturday night rematch against the Cowboys this coming weekend.
The Seahawks picked off Prescott twice and held the Cowboys to one touchdown in a 24-13 win back in September. Of course, things have changed since then. That game happened before the Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper, sparking their current 7-1 run. It also happened at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, rather than the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys have only lost once all season.
"It's going to be good, if we get them, to be able to get them at home," Jones said. "When we play them up there, we know we have our hands full, as well as playing a great team and great coaching."
The Seahawks are plenty hot in their own right. Heading into next weekend, Russell Wilson and Co. have won six of their last seven games, with the lone misstep being an overtime loss to a divisional rival in San Francisco. They also have the benefit of experience, with 2018 serving as the sixth time they've made the postseason in the last seven years.
Thanks to Sunday's heroics, though, the Cowboys have the benefit of momentum. With the regular season finally concluded, time will tell if that serves them in the playoffs.
"I think we've managed to step in here, and I think, frankly, we were razor sharp," Jones said. "I wouldn't, in any way, ask for any more than we got out of this game today to be ready for the playoffs."