EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Let's just get this part straight right from the start:
If the Cowboys don't win next weekend in their playoff game … none of this will really be meaningful. The five-game winning streak in midseason, the NFC East title they clinched last week, or the rushing title Ezekiel Elliott won even without playing on Sunday.
If they don't win next week, it will be a huge disappointment. We all know this. So all of the stuff that follows can easily be dismissed, knowing what now lies in front of them.
So I get it, this all can be meaningless.
But something tells me there were some rather "meaningful" things that occurred here Sunday afternoon against the Giants. For a game we thought would be rather boring and quite possibly rival last year's 6-0 season finale win over the Eagles, this was the exact opposite. This turned out to be a back-and-forth thriller that ended in dramatic fashion.
Obviously, getting the win didn't help the Cowboys' playoff positioning. They were always locked into the No. 4 spot. But I did find a few things that occurred Sunday that might actually be a good thing as we move forward.
1 – Injuries were minimal – The fact that this ranks No. 1 should suggest the most important part of this game. We all knew that was the key element here. A win wouldn't have mattered at all if the Cowboys had suffered an injury to a key player. While Xavier Su'a-Filo left the game and didn't return, Jason Garrett said it's likely he would've come back had the game meant more in the standings. As for Leighton Vander Esch, who sustained a kick to the shin, he did come back a few plays later. He's likely sore but will be ready for next week's game. And that's pretty much all of the injuries. It's a risk the Cowboys thought was worth taking and it paid off.
2 – Coming home with a W – Sure, the Cowboys would've still made the playoffs at 9-7, tied with the Eagles but atop the division based off a tiebreaker. Nobody wanted that. Just like a 100-yard game seems to be the standard for a good day for a running back, 10 wins is seemingly that number for a good season. Obviously, making or missing the playoffs is the bigger deal. But with that already established, finishing the year 10-6 is just different. And if you don't think it matters to you, go ask Garrett if getting to 10-6, especially after a 3-5 start, is a big deal. We all know that finishing a season 10-6 is generally viewed as a good season. And so far, that's exactly what this has been.
3. – Momentum into the playoffs – This one ranks third because it's not exactly guaranteed. New Orleans has the No. 1 seed and the Saints certainly didn't coast into the playoffs on Sunday, losing by nearly 20 to a struggling Carolina team. The Cowboys showed last week they could bounce back from a tough loss in Indianapolis, taking care of the Buccaneers. They didn't have any momentum heading into that game. So riding a two-game winning streak into the playoffs sounds nice. It's probably better than the alternative, but only time will tell if that means anything.
4 – Leaning on Dak – Maybe even more important than getting a victory, was the offense showing some life and doing it without key players. All three of the team's Pro Bowl players on offense sat out. Still, Dak Prescott managed to have arguably the best game of his career. He almost threw for 400 yards, and had four touchdowns and no picks. He was getting pressured all day long and kept coming back for more. Say what you want about his career to this point, but the throw he made to Beasley for the touchdown was one of his best individual plays so far. He showed awareness with the blitz, the athletic ability to get away from it, the presence of mind to keep his eyes up and look for his receivers while on the move, and then the arm strength and accuracy to fire the ball on the run for what proved to be a game-winning touchdown. Prescott might not be the Cowboys' best player on offense, but he was Sunday when the Cowboys were leaning on him.
5 – Curing some red-zone problems? – One game isn't going to make this offense now efficient in the red zone, especially against a struggling Giants team. But the Cowboys did have one red-zone failure that actually led to no points as Brett Maher missed a short field goal early in the game. After that, the offense figured out ways to score, using both Blake Jarwin and even Rod Smith from the goal line. Better yet, the offense found ways to score without ever getting inside the 20-yard line as two of Prescott's touchdown passes were from over 30 yards as he hit Jarwin and then Beasley for the game-winner. Let's not forget, completing a 2-point pass is also like a score and that's yet another successful attempt the offense had near the goal line. More than anything, the Cowboys figured out how to score both inside and outside the red zone and did so without some of their most talented guys.
6 – Did they find a tight end? – OK, so it's also just one game for Jarwin, but from a production standout, it felt like about eight games. Jarwin only had 20 catches for 188 yards and no touchdowns coming into the game. But after seven catches for 119 yards and three, yes THREE, touchdowns, it's almost like he is a totally different player now. Honestly, it's not as dramatic, but this game had a little bit of that Miles Austin/Kansas City breakout performance back in 2009 feel to it. The best part is that now Seattle has to focus a lot more on No. 89 this week than they would've before. Who knows if Jarwin is ready to handle that kind of attention, but with Ezekiel Elliott coming back and now Amari Cooper in the mix, that can only be a good thing.
7 – Welcome back, Bease – Long before he caught the go-ahead touchdown in what is easily one of the greatest plays of his career, Beasley was already having a really good game on Sunday. He was playing the role the Cowboys have carved out for him perfectly. He was making catches from the slot, moving the chains and even using his speed and quickness to create extra yardage. His fourth-down conversion in the third quarter was also a big play. The Cowboys need Beasley to be every bit the weapon he was on Sunday.
8 – Gallup growing up –Garrett loves to use the phrase, "He's growing up right before our eyes." That seems to be what Michael Gallup does each week. He didn't have huge numbers in this game, but had some clutch plays. Aside from the game-winning 2-point conversion, Gallup had a 24-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter that helped ignite the offense on a touchdown drive. He is providing a speed element the Cowboys desperately need. And just like Cooper, he's giving the offense something different for the Seahawks than we saw in the previous meeting.
9 – Getting Tavon back in action – While Tavon Austin might not be a difference maker for this offense, it was important to have him back on the field for this game. At least now he's caught a few punts heading into the playoffs. He's also caught a pass, went deep on another pass and had a fake jet-sweep run. It wasn't a big dose of Austin, but enough to get him acclimated again. Seattle has an aggressive defense with speed, so having Austin in the fold could be very beneficial.
10 – Defense stepped up in the clutch – This wasn't one of the better performances for the Cowboys defense. In fact, the 35 points allowed was by far the most all year. But the Giants had the ball near midfield and only needed about 15-20 yards to try and win the game. Instead, they got zero. Four straight incomplete passes by Eli Manning shut the door on the game. It was an impressive stand by a defense that had trouble making stops in the second half. Obviously, Russell Wilson will present different problems for the defense, but what they did on that final drive with applying blitzes and added pressure ended up winning the game for the Cowboys. We know this team needs the defense to be great. They weren't great all game, but just at the end.
So those are 10 things I took from this game that could be positive signs heading into next week.
Again, nothing will matter if they don't win. But maybe these 10 things will help them get that playoff W.