'Tis the season for giving … and the Dallas Cowboys were gladly accepting gifts.
In a battle of heavyweights, the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles landed blow after blow in a game that seesawed back and forth throughout the day. It was Dallas, however, who sent the fans home with the perfect Christmas present, a 40-34 victory over their NFC East rivals.
Four takeaways that led to 20 points were truly the difference in the outcome. Three of those were posted in the second half with two coming in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Dallas defense didn't exactly dominate, as they again didn't record a sack and Jalen Hurts replacement at quarterback, Gardner Minshew, threw for 355 yards.
Still, they got the job done when they needed to.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Dak Prescott's day couldn't have started much worse, but he shook off his early mistake to carry the Cowboys offense. The quarterback finished with a season-high 347 passing yards and three touchdowns for an impressive 124.3 passer rating.
The primary beneficiary of Prescott's performance was wide receiver CeeDee Lamb who had 10 catches for 120 yards with the Cowboys rushing attack collectively grounding out 115 yards. In all, the team totaled 419 offensive yards and also came out on top in the time-of-possession battle, 32:18 to 27:42.
The day got off to a disappointing start, to say the least. After giving up a 48-yard completion down to the Dallas 11-yard line on the third snap of the game, the Cowboys defense hunkered down and kept the Eagles out of the end zone. Instead, the visitors settled for a 25-yard field goal.
However, the Dallas offense turned right around and handed Philadelphia that touchdown. After moving out to the Cowboys' 47-yard line, Prescott tried to dump a pass off to tight end Dalton Schultz, only to have Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat leap high to snag the ball, shake off Prescott's tackle attempt and rumble 42 yards for the score and an early 10-0 Philly lead.
Finding themselves in a hole, the Cowboys offense finally decided to join the party, going on an extended 14-play, 75-yard drive that ate more than seven minutes off the clock. Getting in rhythm, Prescott completed all five of his pass attempts for 37 yards and scrambled twice for another 23 more.
Ezekiel Elliott then capped things off with a 1-yard charge off left tackle to the goal line. The score marked the eighth straight game that Elliott has earned a rushing touchdown, tying Emmitt Smith for the longest such streak in team history.
Thank you, Jayron Kearse. On the first play of the second frame, the Cowboys safety somehow hauled in an interception by coming up behind the receiver and securing the ball between his right arm and chest. His first pick of the season gave Dallas possession at Philadelphia's 47-yard line.
The Cowboys overcame a 10-yard sack on a flea-flicker attempt and benefited from an illegal contact penalty by the Eagles on fourth-and-8 – thanks to the veteran savvy of T.Y. Hilton in his debut – before Prescott found a wide-open CeeDee Lamb at about the 6-yard line. The receiver then spun untouched into the end zone for the 36-yard score and a Dallas lead, 14-10.
Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived when Philadelphia responded with a 10-play, 74-yard drive of its own. The Eagles got deep into Dallas territory through the air, but then ran the ball five straight times up the middle to finish the series, the last of which was a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line for the touchdown.
At this point, though, Prescott was firing on all cylinders and quickly guided his team right back down the field. When his pass to Michael Gallup in the sun-soaked, back-left corner of the end zone fell incomplete on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, that snapped a streak of 14 straight completions. With that, Brett Maher came out for the chip-shot 21-yard field goal to even the score.
But Dallas would still go into the locker room at a deficit. Only 1:49 remained in the half when Philadelphia took over, but that was enough time for the Eagles to get into field-goal range. Kicker Jake Elliott provided the three-point advantage with a 47-yarder, the score 20-17 at the break.
The Cowboys opened the half with a jolt when KaVontae Turpin exploded out of the end zone and returned the kickoff 56 yards. But a holding call negated the effort and Dallas soon punted for the first time.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, picked up right where it left off, adding another seven points to its tally. The 10-play, 77-yard series ended with a Minshew pass on fourth-and-3 at the Dallas 14-yard line to a wide open DaVonta Smith in the end zone.
Maher kept the Cowboys within striking distance, this time with a 47-yard field goal that slipped just inside the left goal post. This came after the Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line, Elliott darting around the right end for a 22-yard pickup.
The Eagles then obliged with their second gift of the game. A mishap on an attempted handoff put the ball on the ground with Kearse there to scoop it up, giving Dallas possession at Philadelphia's 31-yard line.
Five plays later, which included a 21-yard completion to Schultz, and the Cowboys had tied the game once more. The touchdown came on third-and-12 when Prescott threw a dart to Gallup on the right side of the end zone, the streaking wideout keeping his feet inbounds for an impressive score.
As the clock ticked over into the final quarter, the Eagles were on the move again, traveling the 75-yard distance in 13 plays. Minshew connected with Smith three times during the drive for 44 yards, a 9-yard toss to the receiver providing the score.
Dallas certainly wasn't going away, though. After escaping near disaster when center Tyler Biadasz recovered a Prescott fumble, the quarterback threw a 53-yard bomb to Hilton, his first catch as a Cowboy, on a third-and-29. Three plays later, Prescott found Lamb in the corner of the end zone to tie the game yet again.
And then when they needed it most, Dallas got another turnover. Philadelphia was marching, but cornerback DaRon Bland ripped the ball out of the hands of receiver Quez Watkins, the rookie's fifth pick of the year setting the Cowboys up at their own 40-yard line.
Back to work went Prescott. The quarterback fed Schultz for 16 yards, Lamb for 10 and Noah Brown for five more to reach the Eagles' 29-yard line. There the drive stalled, but Maher continued his perfection with a 48-yard field goal to give the Cowboys the lead with 2:24 left on the clock.
Could they hold it?
They did more than that. So much more.
On the Eagle's first snap, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins popped the ball loose from running back Miles Sanders with linebacker Anthony Barr coming out of the scrum with the prize. The Cowboys offense couldn't reach the end zone, but they did add three more points, Maher's kick good from 26 yards.
That gave Dallas a six-point lead with 1:41 remaining and the Eagles starting at their own 75-yard line with one timeout in hand.
Again, could the Cowboys defense hold the lead?
Does Rudolph have a red nose?
Minshew and company quickly worked their way down the field, an eventual 22-yard pass to Smith moving the Eagles down to the 19-yard line. And after three incompletions, Philadelphia lined up for a fourth-and-10 with 20 seconds left.
Thanks in part to a Dallas timeout that gave the defense a quick breather, the pass rush pressured Minshew into a last-gasp heave into the end zone, the ball falling incomplete and the win secured.
With the victory, the Cowboys locked up the fifth seed in the playoffs and kept their hopes alive for capturing the division crown. And perhaps more importantly, they proved they're ready to face the big boys in the postseason.