FRISCO, TX — Another week, another round of adversity the Dallas Cowboys will need to overcome in order to land on the correct side of the win-loss column, and the stakes are as high for their looming rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles as they could possibly be at this point of the season — Mike McCarthy working his way back from an emergency appendectomy.
Prior to McCarthy going under the knife on Wednesday, the Cowboys' head coach voice his excitement for the stretch of football to come, describing it as "playoff caliber without the playoff consequences", intimating how Dallas can use their remaining gauntlet as a sharpening tool.
"This is when the real football begins," said quarterback Dak Prescott on Thursday, mirroring McCarthy's view on the challenge to come. "That's why, a couple weeks ago, I said I haven't done anything. This team hasn't done anything, in a sense."
That's both true and also not entirely, because they've gone from a humiliation in Week 5 to being the No. 1 offense in the NFL, Prescott being a frontrunner for MVP honors, DaRon Bland making history, so forth and so on, en route to a four-game win streak and a 9-3 record.
And because they've handled business as of late, winners of six of their last seven, they're within striking distance for the lead in the NFC East and a possible path to the top seed in the NFC.
"These are the moments we've prepared for," said Prescott. "Not that we didn't for these past games, because we need all of these games, but this is the stretch of the season that — when you look at the schedule — you have to be excited about."
They'll have to first avenge themselves against the Eagles, however, a team looking to avoid their first two-game losing streak of the season on the heels of being demoralized and battered by the 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field.
Up next comes a visit to the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, where Dallas owns a 14-game win streak, and the 15th would give them the lead in the division by virtue of a 4-1 record (Eagles would be 3-1 in the NFC East).
It's a game the Cowboys have to have for several reasons, one of which includes a brutal two-game road trip to come that takes them to the icy confines of Buffalo and then to the humid blanket that is Miami.
"We're getting better and that's the main and important goal, but what's in front of us is everything that we want and want to accomplish, and it starts with this stretch in December leading into January — to take that momentum into the playoffs and go for what the real goal is," said Prescott. "It's just continuously about building and making sure these guys [are] focused, and the details and discipline matter more than ever.
"And the communication has to be at an all-time high. … From both sides of the ball and being complimentary of one another. … It's about understanding that this is when we really have to count on our brotherhood and everything we've built, for these moments ahead of us."
There's no lack of motivation in Dallas this week[end], but it's also fair to believe what McCarthy is battling through while still being available — four days later — for the biggest game of the season thus far will resonate in a major way throughout the coaching staff and locker room.
"We're just glad he's healthy, at the end of the day, but this week has enough motivation and things entailed within — I guarantee you Mike would say the same thing." Prescott explained. "That's why I alluded to him being pissed off probably, but this team — the discipline that we have, the emotional intelligence that we have — we understand he's gotta take care of that. That's part of being a human.
"That's a credit to the way he coaches us when he tells us to take care of the things away from here, so that when we come in we can all focus on the same goal. Everybody understands what this week means."
By all accounts, the Cowboys have had some of their best practices heading into their matchup against the Eagles, and McCarthy has already begun reaching out to Prescott and others to dissect film over the telephone as he recovers from his appendectomy.
It's that level of dedication at each level that gives the Cowboys a great chance at protecting their home field against the latest invasion of birds.
"It'll be a good gift to him," said Prescott. "When we get this one like,' You got that taken care of, and here's your big dub.'"