FRISCO, Texas – So much for that unlikely tie.
Philly 27, WFT 17.
As we've always known, the NFL helps those who help themselves.
So, with three games to go, at this point the Cowboys either need to win one more game to get to 11 wins or the Eagles need to lose one more, assuring they can then win no more than nine games, for the Cowboys to clinch the NFC East title. And as we know, the two teams play each other in the final game of the season in Philadelphia.
Even Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy on Monday said they know what "11 wins would mean."
Now they do for sure.
Because wouldn't that be something if the Cowboys (10-4) lose their next two games at home to Washington coming here on a short week and to Arizona riding a two-game losing streak, and the Eagles (7-7) beat the Giants at home and Washington on the road over the next two weeks, certainly highly plausible for the Eagles the way those two division opponents have been playing.
Word to the wise: Just win Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Cut the drama.
Don't let this come down to a winner-takes-the-East ever again. The Cowboys were in a similar situation in 2011 heading into the final game of the season with the Giants, losing 31-14. In 2012 with Washington, losing 28-18. In 2013 with Philly, losing 24-22. Yep, finished 8-8 each time, their victors taking the titles.
Don't do it.
But get this: All this drama could dissolve before the Cowboys even kick off at 7:20 p.m. Sunday if the Giants should beat the Eagles in that noon game Sunday or the Cowboys get favorable results in like two of six games that would affect their strength of victory percentage that could wrap up the East for them.
But even if not, these aren't your 10-year-old's Cowboys. This team's defense, playing with a hot hand, won't let that happen. No matter the perceived struggles of the offense, struggling with forced patience inflicted by these bend-but-don't-break defenses they've been playing, too many times unable to finish drives, especially in the red zone. In the past two games, the Cowboys are 3-for-11 scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
Plus, not only is clinching the NFC East for the fourth time in eight years in sight but that No. 1 seed in the NFC is still in play, the currently No. 2 seeded Cowboys just one game behind the Packers (11-3). And because of their 8-1 NFC record, the Cowboys own the three-way tiebreaker over Tampa Bay and Arizona, with the Rams (10-4) now breathing on the Cardinals heels in the West, just one game behind on the division-record tiebreaker.
This is the time of year when so much is on the line.
"This is what it's all about," McCarthy said after not coaching in the playoffs the past two seasons. "You always want to be playing for something. I think you learn over the years what it takes from a commitment, you know, and it takes a lot out of you. That's the joy of it all, to be competing in December. I like the way this thing lays up, you know. We're fighting for a division title Sunday night. What else could you ask for?
"And just like this league does every time of year, you wake up Monday morning and everything shifts around. That's the way it goes. That's the way it always goes. Being out a year, you appreciate these opportunities that much more. Just thankful. But yeah, this is what it's all about."
Sure is, and for the Cowboys, time to take their shot.
- On The Run: Speaking of that offensive patience, opposing defenses have been challenging the Cowboys to run the ball by playing these shell coverages with two safeties mostly over the top, guarding against big plays in the passing game and betting the Cowboys will run out of downs before they run out of yards. Exactly what the Giants were doing in the Cowboys' 21-6 victory on Sunday. Said offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, "I'd say we're being tested with our patience a little bit at times lately. The game was a great example. I know the game wasn't fancy by Dak [Prescott], but thought he kept finding completions." Sure did, completing 76 percent of his passes. Now the Cowboys must make defenses pay for playing conservative fronts, one of the reasons Connor Williams is back playing left guard and Connor McGovern went back to playing the majority of his 10 snaps against the Giants at fullback. Time to punish with the run, sort of the way Philadelphia did Tuesday night to Washington, running for 238 yards on 41 carries, averaging 5.8 yards a carry.
- Double Duty: COVID's still no joke. Breakouts all over the country, so why would the NFL, the NHL or the NBA be immune to this pandemic? And when you look around, the Cowboys are somewhat fortunate (grab some wood and knock) that aside from Trysten Hill and Osa Odighizuwa missing this past Sunday's game – Osa back in the building on Wednesday – they have just two coaches in the protocol, assistant special teams coach Matt Daniels and now defensive line coach Aden Durde. Good thing that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also coaches the defensive line. And how about this? Special teams coordinator John Fassel says he likely will lean on his special teams ace C.J. Goodwin to help out with some of the game's prep responsibilities this week.
- Availability Huge: The Cowboys begin prep for Sunday's game against Washington in upgraded COVID protocol, all meetings virtual. So, the last thing they need is to lose players to Reserve/COVID, especially the way WFT did on Tuesday with their top two quarterbacks testing positive for the virus, Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, forcing former Cowboys quarterback Garrett Gilbert to start after being plucked off New England's practice squad with a Thursday night phone call, equipped with only his lone NFL start received last year after being signed by the Cowboys midseason. Guessing Buffalo's not feeling great about former Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley testing positive to end up on Reserve/COVID, the Bills second leading receiver with 76 catches not available for Sunday's game at this point at New England. Or Kansas City preparing for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh without with several players, including Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Charvarius Ward and kicker Harrison Butker.
- Tyron Priority: The Cowboys are hopeful more than anything that left tackle Tyron Smith will return this week after previously missing three games with a foot injury, and then after returning for two games reinjuring the foot against Washington and missing the Giants game. But while there is this increasing notion out there that the Cowboys need to move on from the 31-year-old Smith and invest in a replacement, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says not so fast. During his 105.3 The Fan radio segment on Tuesday when asked if the Cowboys need a quality backup, he said, "This is being reasonable. I'll take all we can get of Tyron and don't want any time without it if we can get it. So that means you'll deal with the fact that he's had times when he was down. Having said that, you've got to put an emphasis on position flex, which means a tackle that can both ways or tackles. So, it's recognized that the swing tackle, the guys that can come in for these tackles when you don't have one are a critical position. And that's the way we'll address Tyron as we go forward – make sure we're good at swing tackle." Amen to that.
- Holiday Treats: Once again, not many are happy with the Cowboys offense of late, only twice scoring more than 27 points in the past seven games, but look at this: The Cowboys set the bar so high those first seven games of the season that they still are the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense in total yards and No. 2 in scoring, averaging 28.6 points a game, the 401 scored overall in 14 games already six more than all of last year … The Cowboys' 31 takeaways so far this season have turned into 98 points, the second highest in the NFL … This might have snuck up on us, but CeeDee Lamb already has 946 receiving yards on 70 catches but 1,024 yards from scrimmage, the only wide receiver in franchise history to eclipse that 1,000-yard mark in his first two seasons.
Had several choices for this Christmas edition of the last word, that until Micah Parsons spoke on Wednesday, talking about the Cowboys' ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, Trysten Hill, Chauncey Golston and, of course, Parsons himself.
"We're a lion pack now. There is no more lone lion," Parsons said, the former Penn State Nittany Lion doubling down on his constant mention of lions, once referring to himself on Hard Knocks by saying "The lion is always hungry."
Well, he expanded on the lion analogy, going on to say, "It's the pride now. Everybody's got to get a piece of the gazelle."
All that from what he shall be called forever more, Cowboys Lionbacker Micah Parsons.