The Dallas Cowboys are at the survive-and-advance mode of their season.
They don't have to win pretty. They just have to win. Period.
Aesthetics be damned.
And with that intro, consider Sunday’s 30-10 victory against the bad New York Giants before a largely disinterested crowd of 78,125 at MetLife Stadium.
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“To me, the biggest part of this game was the finish,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s always a huge emphasis for us. Finishing plays, finishing drives and ultimately finishing the game. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game.
“It seemed like it was 10-10 for a long time, but you just keep banging away.”
It was a borefest for the better of three quarters, featuring penalties, execution breakdowns and dropped passes galore before the Cowboys wore the listless Giants (2-11) down with 20 points in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
It was the expected outcome considering the injury-riddled Giants have few healthy playmakers, fired their coach leading into the game and flip-flopped quarterbacks twice in the past two weeks.
But for the Cowboys, it goes down as another notch on their belt in their quest to win out and keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Cowboys (7-6) have won two consecutive games after ending a three-game losing streak with a 38-14 victory against the Washington Redskins.
They still need lots of help to overcome the Carolina Panthers (9-4), Seattle Seahawks (8-4), Atlanta Falcons (8-5), Green Bay Packers (7-6) and Detroit Lions (7-6) in the chase for two wild card playoffs spots.
The Cowboys are at the back of the pack and have a long hill to climb even if they win their remaining three games.
But that is the charge. Now the Cowboys, who won their 500th regular-season game in franchise history, have a little momentum and renewed hope.
They get the reeling Oakland Raiders (6-7) next Sunday before suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott returns for the final two games, starting with a crucial Dec. 24 showdown against the Seahawks.
But there is also much promise in the undeterred and unfazed play and presence of quarterback Dak Prescott, who passed for a career-high 332 yards and three touchdowns.
The performance came after the worst month of the season for the second-year quarterback, who went from having the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history to a monumental November funk.
Prescott had four consecutive games passing for less than 200 yards and had five interceptions. He showed signs of life with two touchdowns in the victory against the Redskins, but still passed for a career-low 102 yards.
The Cowboys hope to continue to build on what Prescott called a confidence booster for himself and his teammates.
“It’s confidence any time you are doing well and you are growing and your are feeling yourself and you are growing off what you are your teammates are doing,” Prescott said. “It’s good for us moving forward. We know what position we are in. Nothing has changed. We know where we are and what we’ve got to do. We are hungry and motivated to keep going.”
On Sunday, it was a matter of Prescott finally getting a little help from his receivers. He had completions of 50 yards to Dez Bryant, 54 yards to Cole Beasley, 20 yards to Jason Witten and 81 yards to running back Rod Smith.
The Cowboys only had three passing passing plays of 50 yards or more in the first 12 games combined.
The three plays of 50 yards-or-more were also the most by the Cowboys since at least 1994, per the Cowboys public relations staff.
“He was outstanding,” Garrett said Prescott. “He kept playing through some situations. He just kept his poise, threw underneath when he needed to and when the time came and they heated us up and there was a chance to make a play down the field, he cashed in on it. I thought Dak did a really good job of recognizing it (the pressure), giving Dez a really good ball, giving Beasley a really good ball and at the end of it, Rod Smith a good ball where he could catch it in stride and go make a play. In each of those guys, the run after catch was huge. They made a guy miss and then got going.”
The turning point came when Beasley took a short pass 54 yards on a third-and-2 play to set up the touchdown to Witten, breaking a 10-10 tie with 7 minutes, 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“They blitzed. We saw it. Same with Beasley. They blitzed. We saw it,” Prescott said.
The flood gates would soon open for an offense that has struggled mightily over the past month.
It was third and 3 on the ensuring drive when Smith took a slant 81 yards to the house, burning a blitzing defense and a safety focused on Bryant.
Smith then followed with a 15-yard touchdown run after linebacker Sean Lee intercepted an Eli Manning pass.
“The big plays have eluded us, especially lately,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “It was big for that. We have been putting a lot of emphasis on it. We started to show signs of it last week, especially in the second half. We talked about that. We felt the trend was going in the right direction. You’ve got to just stick with it. You can’t force that. Big plays come when playmakers make big plays.”
Much has been made of the lack of chemistry and cohesiveness with Prescott and Bryant.
Their disconnect played out perfectly in the first half with Bryant dropping a pass on the opening drive. The Cowboys would overcome it and get as close as a first-and-goal at the 4. But they eventually had to settle for a field goal after a run for 1 and two incompletions to Terrance Williams.
Bryant has six touchdowns this season and is still a reputable red zone target. But he got no opportunities.
But it was the next time the Cowboys got the ball that proved to be most galling.
On a second-and-6 from the Giants 35, Prescott tossed a ball down the right sideline that hit Bryant in the hands then the helmet. But instead of a first and goal inside the 5, the ball fell to the ground for another drop from the team's No. 1 receiver.
Beasley dropped a pass on the sideline on the next play and then kicker Dan Bailey hit the right up right on a 53-yard field goal.
The Cowboys had four drops in the game, including two by Bryant, who has 10 for the season.
“It happens. We move forward,” Prescott said of the dropped passes.
The negativity and lack energy pervaded the entire team as the Giants soon went 68 yards on eight plays to a take a 10-3 lead when Eli Manning hit Rhett Ellison for a 1-yard score with 2:07 left in the half.
Prescott remained unflappable and undeterred, completing passes of 10 yards to Terrance Williams, 11 to Bryant and 4 to Rod Smith.
Then the Bryant magic appeared. He caught a slant, broke a tackle and ran 50 yards to the end zone to make it 10-10 at halftime.
Bryant’s play at the end of the first half was a precursor to the game-breaking big gainers that broke the game open in the fourth.
The Giants double-teamed Bryant on those crucial plays late, allowing Beasley and Smith to make their play with one on one coverage.
But it was mainly about Prescott staying focused and patient through the funk of the last month and the early struggles on Sunday.
“Dak’s patience is the key,” Linehan said. “This guy has got ice water in his veins. He never gets rattled by anything, which tells me he is very mature for his age. A lot of guys would be wondering or questioning how am I playing. He never goes there. He just keeps working. He stayed patient the whole game. That was the key to us being able to break it open in the second half.”
Prescott’s patience and presence gives the Cowboys reason to hope again.
Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr
Dal—FG Bailey 21, 7:14.
NYG—FG Rosas 39, 12:50.
NYG—Ellison 1 pass from Manning (Rosas kick), 2:07.
Dal—Bryant 50 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 1:38.
Dal—Witten 20 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 7:38.
Dal—R.Smith 81 pass from Prescott (kick failed), 4:08.
Dal—R.Smith 15 run (Bailey kick), 2:57.
Total Net Yards
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Dallas, A.Morris 19-62, R.Smith 6-47, Prescott 6-13. New York, Gallman 12-59, Darkwa 10-29, Vereen 6-23, Shepard 1-(minus 9).
PASSING—Dallas, Prescott 20-30-0-332. New York, Manning 31-46-2-228.
RECEIVING—Dallas, R.Smith 5-113, Bryant 3-73, Beasley 3-59, Te.Williams 3-25, A.Morris 3-23, Witten 1-20, Hanna 1-16, K.Smith 1-3. New York, R.Lewis 7-46, Gallman 7-40, Engram 4-54, Ellison 4-20, Vereen 3-24, Shepard 2-16, Darkwa 2-15, Powe 2-13.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Dallas, Bailey 53, Bailey 50.