LANDOVER, Md. — And just like that, the 2023 regular season is in the books and, despite how things looked at some of the more challenging parts of the campaign, the Dallas Cowboys have secured their second NFC East title in the past three years, as well as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff bracket that guarantees Dak Prescott and Co. will have home field advantage at least until the NFC Championship Game.
The caveat here is a glaring one, of course, in that they'll need to defeat the incoming Green Bay Packers on Super Wild Card Weekend at AT&T Stadium to earn the right for a second playoff game by way of the NFC Divisional Round, and Prescott is already locked in on that goal.
Having finished with a 12-5 record for three seasons in a row, it's now about making a deep playoff run, and the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback wants exactly that this time around.
"Very ready," he said. "Coming off of the past years, understanding the team that we have, knowing that coming into this season that we had a team that could compete, and we wanted to put ourselves in this position, and to stay in the moment each and every moment and not look forward to this. But, now, it's upon us, and we've got to take it one game at a time — with the same attitude that we came into this game with; and the same attitude that we've taken in every home approach.
"… Tomorrow's not promised, in that sense. … We've gotta make sure we give everything we can, in each and every moment."
They certainly did in the regular season finale against the Washington Commanders, manhandling their division foe to the tune of 38-10 to control their destiny in the playoffs, and not requiring another loss by the Philadelphia Eagles (one that arrived, nonetheless) to ensure it.
"I mentioned it weeks ago: it's about running our own race and controlling what we can control," said Prescott. "The latter part of the year had that stretch where we didn't handle it the way we would've liked to have handled it — losing a couple of games back-to-back — but getting back home and winning that one, we knew it was important to come back on the road and finish the division.
"… We finished things in our way, to our expectations and to our standards."
As mentioned, the path to the NFC Championship now goes through Dallas [and San Francisco], and it creates a massive advantage for the Cowboys when considering they've won 16 straight in Arlington and are the only team in the NFL to go undefeated at home in 2023.
But while that's a fact of the matter, the Cowboys are taking nothing for granted.
"It's huge — the atmosphere the Cowboys' fans have created these last two years," Prescott said. "I can you this [though]: we can't lean on that. We've got to lean on our preparation. We've got to commit to studying these guys, executing and playing our very best; and playing to our standard."
When posed a similar question about home field advantage, head coach Mike McCarthy loudly echoed what his franchise quarterback had to say on the matter.
"I don't think about it," said McCarthy. "We set the goal back in April, and magnified it in training camp. We understand that the body of work and the things we needed to accomplish — we did a good job. We should be proud of the No. 2 seed and the divisional championship, and I'm proud of that, but most important is playoff time.
"We need to play our best football. It doesn't matter who we play or where we're playing, and that has to be our mindset. … It's really about how you're playing. It's about the team that is playing the best time of year."
Entering the playoffs on a two-game win streak that includes a much-needed statement victory on the road will certainly play a big part in the momentum they have heading into the tournament, and with everything on the line from here on out, they'll need their best and nothing short of it in January and, potentially, February.
For the Cowboys and their Super Bowl-winning head coach, it's all about what's right in front of them, and nothing more.
"Our goal is to work and get hot, and go get this wild card [win] and go from there," said McCarthy.
He's exactly right.