The starters played, the Dallas Cowboys won, bring on the postseason!
In the days leading up to their regular-season finale at the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys talked about wanting their first stringers to get plenty of work, the offense in particular needing to find its rhythm before the playoffs begin next week.
True to their word, Dak Prescott and company played into the fourth quarter, leading the way to a 51-26 victory over their division rivals. Conversely, Philadelphia chose to rest most of its top players.
And it was a record-setting night for the Cowboys, as Prescott threw for a career-high five touchdowns, which gave him 37 for the season, a new franchise high. He completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 295 yards and a passer rating of 151.8.
Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson and tight end Dalton Schultz were the beneficiaries of Prescott's effort as each scored two touchdowns, the first time two Dallas players have posted multi-touchdowns in the same game since Nov. 23, 2006 against Tampa Bay. Wilson also set a career high with 119 receiving yards while Schultz joined Jason Witten as the only tight ends in franchise history to surpass 800 receiving yards in a season.
Ezekiel Elliott got into the act as well. He finished the night with 87 rushing yards, which pushed him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season for the fourth time in his career. And three other running backs scored touchdowns – Corey Clement, Ito Smith and JaQuan Hardy – which gave the Cowboys a new NFL record with 22 different players scoring touchdowns on the season.
While Dallas went with its starters in this prime-time matchup, that's not to say that all of their normal starters were available. The defense especially was shorthanded due to illness and injury. Out for this one was the potential Defensive Rookie of the Year in Micah Parsons as well as starting cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown, and safety Jayron Kearse.
And it showed at times as the Eagles managed to gain 149 rushing yards and 315 offensive yards overall. Then again, Dallas racked up 475 yards on offense, converted 62 percent of its third downs and scored on all five trips to the red zone. The Cowboys also set a new franchise record with 530 points scored for the season.
The game didn't exactly start off the way Dallas would have wanted. Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew and a large collection of fellow backups reached the end zone on their first drive, marching 75 yards on 11 plays. The momentum of the possession seemingly changed when a would-be interception for Kelvin Joseph instead went through the rookie cornerback's hands and into the arms of Philadelphia wideout DeVonta Smith for a 25-yard gain.
Given that turn of luck, the Eagles went on to complete the series with a 3-yard shuffle pass to tight end Tyree Jackson for the touchdown.
But the Cowboys responded with a score as well on their first possession. Prescott completed 5 of 6 passes for 64 yards, the last of which was a 15-yarder down the left sideline to a wide open Wilson.
Three more points were added before the first frame came to an end, as Greg Zuerlein split the uprights on a line-drive 48-yard field goal. His effort came after a short series that included a 27-yard pass to wideout Amari Cooper and a 10-yarder to Schultz.
The score was tied less than three minutes into the second quarter when the Eagles responded with a field goal of their own. The big blow came on a 13-yard pass to Jackson that then saw another 14-yards tacked on for roughing the passer that put Philadelphia at the Dallas 14-yard line. The defense held, actually pushing the Eagles back 6 yards, but out came Jake Elliott for the 38-yard field goal.
Another possession, more points for the Cowboys, as Wilson again got the honors. The highlight, though, came on the drive's first play when CeeDee Lamb leaped to catch a pass behind him, took two hits and then fought his way down field for what would be an eventual 31-yard gain. The final play of the series then was a 24-yarder to Wilson for the touchdown.
The seesaw affair continued with both teams managing to score again before the half came to an end. Philadelphia's came thanks to another lengthy 75-yard drive that saw the home side twice rush for gains of 18 yards before Kenneth Gainwell crossed the goal line with a 7-yard run.
Dallas matched the 75 yards, doing so in just eight plays, one of which was a nice 26-yard rush by Elliott. Schultz eventually wrapped up the possession by corralling a 2-yard touchdown pass.
Unfortunately, the only difference in those two scores was the Eagles were good on their point after attempt while Zuerlein missed his try, the sixth time this season he has missed the extra point.
Unexpectedly, the Cowboys would get another opportunity for points when Eagles punter Arryn Siposs shanked his punt to give Dallas the ball at the Philadelphia 43-yard line with only 24 seconds left. That was enough time for the Cowboys to reach pay dirt, Prescott firing a 9-yard pass to Schultz with 9 seconds remaining to give Dallas a 30-17 advantage at the break.
After scoring points on every possession of the first half, which included Prescott throwing four touchdowns, out came the Cowboys starters once again for the third quarter.
But it was the Eagles who added to their tally first after Dallas had to punt on its opening series. Philadelphia's only drive of the quarter lasted 15 plays and went 53 yards, but eventually resulted in a 40-yard field goal.
Dallas, however, would go on to reel off 21 unanswered points.
While the Cowboys scored in the fourth frame, most of the work on this 14-play, 84-yard drive was done in the third. Elliott ran the ball seven times for 25 yards with Wilson also hauling in a big 37-yard pass. Clement capped things off with an 8-yard touchdown catch along the left side.
With that, the night was over for Prescott and many of the starters, Cooper Rush taking over behind center. That didn't slow the Cowboys offensive onslaught, though. Both Smith and Hardy charged in for rushing touchdowns to set the new NFL mark.
In between those scores, Leighton Vander Esch grabbed his first interception of the year and his first since the 2018 campaign.
With most of the home fans already headed for the exits, the Eagles did add one more touchdown, a 36-yard screen to wideout Quez Watkins. But it was of course too little, too late.
Their 12th win of the season secured, the Cowboys now await Sunday's results to find out who and when they'll play in their wild-card matchup next weekend.