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LANDOVER, Md. — When the Dallas Cowboys stepped on the field against the Washington Commanders in Week 18, having already defeated them handily at AT&T Stadium, they did so understanding just how important it was to reach out and grab their own fate — destiny being in their control for the regular season finale.
With the NFC East and the No. 2 overall seed on the line, something that guarantees they'd play at home in their first two playoff games if they win their first one, a team that went a perfect 8-0 in Arlington and 3-5 on the road couldn't afford to be anything but competitive.
And they'd have to do it without two starting offensive linemen, no less, due to both Tyler Smith and Zack Martin being ruled out due to injury and illness, respectively.
In the end, the only thing that mattered was the drive the Cowboys displayed to overcome some early struggles to flat-out manhandle their division rival — sweeping them en route to the NFC East throne and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Dak Prescott, QB
It was a surgical start to the battle for Prescott. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback went a perfect 6-for-6 on the Cowboys' opening offensive drive and that included finding Jalen Tolbert for a touchdown to punctuate it. He'd battle through a tip-drill interception in the second quarter to find CeeDee Lamb over the middle for Prescott's second touchdown of game — deleting the interception entirely, at least as far as the scoreboard was concerned. Though there were some miscues here and there, Prescott effectively moved the ball at-will against the Commanders, bolstering his claim in the race for league MVP by tacking on more points as the game wore on.
CeeDee Lamb, WR
The master class being put on at wide receiver by Lamb in 2023. What's even more impressive is he's also putting on a show as a running back this season, when given the chance. Let's focus on the WR portion for now, though, considering he now owns two single-season franchise records, effective last week, and he went on to produce 12 catches on 12 targets for a perfect reception percentage when targeted. The hottest wide receiver in the league is firing on all cylinders ahead of Super Wild Card Weekend.
Tony Pollard, WR
It was a bit of a bounce back game for Pollard, who (along with the rushing attack on the whole) had a bad day at the office one week ago versus the Lions. But, against the Commanders, Pollard looked decisive and his vision was on-point. The veteran running back had 54 rushing yards on 10 attempts (5.4 yard average) at halftime and another 16 receiving yards on two catches to go along with it; and don't forget about his touchdown to TD that gave the Cowboys a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. And passing the 1,000-yard mark certainly doesn't hurt, either.
Jourdan Lewis, CB
Picking up where he left off last week, Lewis continues to show he's back in prime form after returning this season from a career-threatening foot injury suffered in 2022. His interception against the Lions was a marvel in the making, and when he stripped the ball away from Brian Robinson, Jr. on Sunday evening, it gave the Cowboys great field position to try and build a 14-0 lead. Though the offense couldn't make it happen, Lewis did his job, and continues to.
Donovan Wilson, S
Speaking of someone who's keeping the good times rolling, Wilson joins Lewis in the turnover party over the last two weeks. He had an interception against the Lions that helped lead to a narrow victory in Week 17, and in Week 18, he was back at it — taking the ball away from Sam Howell on a pass intended for Curtis Samuel in the second quarter; and that led to Dak Prescott and the offense getting a touchdown to make it a 21-10 contest at halftime.
DaRon Bland, CB
The league's leader in interceptions was clearly tired of being left out of the party in the first two quarters against the Commanders. In the third, with Sam Howell desperately trying to orchestrate an unlikely comeback at home, it was Terry McLaurin going deep down the left side with the hopes of getting a big play; but Bland had other plans. He'd made an unbelievable adjustment at the final moment to grab his ninth interception on the season — solidifying why he is still not one opposing quarterbacks should want to target in the playoffs.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
As it stands, and we'll see if this changes via alternate status, but Lawrence was not named a Pro Bowler in 2023 and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why. He's not only had another outstanding season to all those who are actually paying attention, but as both a run defender and a pass rusher, but also in … coverage? On Sunday, he had a critical pass break up at the line of scrimmage before then pressuring Howell on the next play into throwing what became an interception by Wilson. That's cinema.
Jalen Tolbert, WR
He's been quietly simmering all season, boiling up a time or two in 2023 to remind opposing defenses that he's not to be forgotten. The former third-round pick served the latest reminder to the Commanders when he grabbed the aforementioned touchdown to give the Cowboys an early lead in what turned into a blowout contest on the road, and a much-needed one for Dallas. Tolbert's stealth will likely be key for the Cowboys in the playoffs, as teams key in on trying to stop Lamb, Cooks and Jake Ferguson.
Brandin Cooks, WR
It was Tolbert who put them up early, but Cooks who likely drove the dagger into the heart of the Commanders. The speedy wideout got off to a fast, no pun intended here, start for Prescott in helping to establish the passing attack on the first drive. After then moving more to Lamb as a target, and with the Commanders then keying that way, Prescott made them regret forgetting about the presence of Cooks — a five-yard dot of a pass to the back of the end zone on a streaking Cooks giving the Cowboys a definitive 35-10 lead in the third quarter. Lamb and Cooks are quite the dynamic duo heading into the playoffs.
Peyton Hendershot, TE
Hello there, Peyton Hendershot. Having spent the majority of the season on injured reserve, Hendershot returned to the mix but was the centerpiece of a bad tripping call against the Lions that put the game in jeopardy, an infraction that should've been called on Aiden Hutchinson instead. In Washington, Hendershot shook it all off and burst through the would-be blockers on a punt attempt to deliver a blocked kick that put the Cowboys in position to score, and they did, with a 35-10 dagger in the third quarter.
Jake Ferguson, TE
When Prescott needed a big play, Ferguson was present and accounted for. Time and again against the Commanders, the second-year tight end was able to take this targets and turn them into chain-moving receptions, even when they were difficult. On one play across the middle, he effectively tore a catch away from a defender and, on another play, he displayed both finesse to make a man miss before getting physical to rack up some dirty yards after contact. This is what Ferguson has been all season in a breakout Year 2 for the former fourth-round pick.