The Dallas Cowboys aren’t giving up on their playoff dreams quite yet.
At 6-6, the Cowboys still face an uphill battle, but at least they’re still a contender.
“We know our margin is very tight. It’s going to take 10 wins to get in,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Control what we control, but understand where we’re at. That’s what we play for. I believe we’re in the hunt.”
As Witten put it, the Cowboys have to win out to have any hope. And even that might not do it.
The Philadelphia Eagles have all but clinched the NFC East title, leaving the Cowboys chasing one of two wild-card spots. They have to jump several teams to get there, too, and early-season losses to other contenders put them in a precarious spot should it go to a tiebreaker.
If the playoffs started today, the Carolina Panthers (8-3) and Atlanta Falcons (7-4) would be the wild-card teams. The Seattle Seahawks (7-4) and Detroit Lions (6-5) are also ahead of the Cowboys going into this weekend’s games.
In other words, the Cowboys will have to jump at least three teams and possibly four should the Green Bay Packers (5-6) win this weekend. The Packers won the head-to-head match-up against the Cowboys earlier this season.
“Yeah, we need to win out,” defensive tackle David Irving said. “That’s what we’re fighting for. You can’t look two weeks ahead, three weeks ahead. You’ve got to look at who’s next and focus on them 100 percent and come into the game and find a way to win.”
Added quarterback Dak Prescott, “We’re never counting ourselves out. I’m never counting this team out, we never counted ourselves out. Anyone in this organization has [not] counted ourselves out.”
The Cowboys appear to have gotten back on track Thursday after a dismal stretch. They had lost three consecutive games by 20-plus points and failed to score double-digit points over a three-game stretch for the first time in franchise history.
But the offense responded with Alfred Morris posting his first 100-yard rushing game since the 2015 regular-season finale (when he was with Washington), and Prescott throwing multiple touchdowns for the first time in four weeks.
Defensively, they snapped lengthy takeaway and sack droughts.
“The biggest thing that we try to emphasize to our team is to focus on what’s in front of you, the task at hand,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Whatever happened before in the last play, the last game, is done – good, bad or indifferent. Focus on what we need to do.
“Our team did a good job of that this week. They did a good job of that tonight.”
The Cowboys should be favored in their next two games at the 2-9 New York Giants on Dec. 10 and at 5-6 Oakland on Dec. 17. If they can win those two games, that would set up a pivotal showdown against Seattle on Christmas Eve when running back Ezekiel Elliott returns from a six-game suspension.
The season finale is on New Year’s Eve at Philadelphia, a game that might not mean much as far as playoff positioning for the 10-1 Eagles.
There’s a chance the Cowboys could run the table, although it’s a long shot. And, again, even that might not salvage their playoff hopes.
But for now they can dream.
“That’s a good way to say it. You’re talking to a dreamer,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It’s not hard for me to look at the way we played, the way we answered the bell, the way we answered the bell in the second half with the players we’ve got. We do get [injured linebacker] Sean Lee back, and we will have players back as we look ahead. No, it’s not hard for me to dream.
“Now the reality is that any of these teams, they play their guys, too. Any of these teams in the NFL can beat you, but I think we’ve got a good chance as I look ahead certainly no farther than our next ball game. We’ve got a good chance to be better after this game.”