And we thought it was going to be meaningless.
The Dallas Cowboys rallied to beat the New York Giants, 36-35, with a game-winning touchdown and two-point pass conversion with 1:12 remaining Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
For a game that meant nothing to the Cowboys’ playoff seeding and even less for the 5-11 Giants, it sure turned into a heart-stopping nail-biter. Dak Prescott played the whole game and turned in one of the best performances of his career. He threw a career-high four touchdown passes, including three to tight end Blake Jarwin and then hit Cole Beasley on 4th and 15 in the back of the end zone to pull the Cowboys to within a point with 1:12 remaining.
Dallas (10-6) clinched the NFC East last week and will host the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) in the wild card round at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium. Dallas’ No. 4 seed wasn’t going to change no matter Sunday’s outcome, but the Cowboys went for the game-winning, two-point conversion and Prescott hit Michael Gallup after rolling to his right to put Dallas ahead.
The late heroics were nearly overshadowed, however. A 15-yard taunting penalty on Antwaun Woods pushed the Cowboys’ kickoff back to the 20 and the Giants’ drive started on their 48 after a 34-yard return. The Giants needed only a field goal for the win, but Eli Manning threw four incomplete passes as the Cowboys took over on downs to clinch the victory.
Can you say momentum going into the playoffs?
“You watch right there at the end, just the intensity of the offense and the just the sideline and everybody pushing to get that score and how much we wanted to score and win this game,” said Prescott, who is the first player in NFL history with 20 or more passing touchdowns and five or more rushing touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. No other player has done it in his first two seasons.
“That’s huge for this team and if you just saw the sideline when they were on offense those last four plays, it was like no other part of our season. This meant a lot to us.”
1. From 3-5 to 10-6
Remember how you felt, Mr. and Mrs. Cowboys Fan, on Nov. 5? Your team had just been embarrassed on Monday Night Football at home by the Tennessee Titans. They were 3-5 and everyone in DFW had just about written the 2018 Cowboys’ epitaph. And for good reason. They were going nowhere.
But they did it. The Amari Cooper trade started to pay off, changes (including a coach) were made on the offensive line and the offense started showing signs of life. The Cowboys finished the season by going 7-1 with the only loss the forgettable shutout in Indianapolis when the NFC East title was already basically a given.
“It’s awesome man. We were down, we battled back,” said Beasley, who was referring to Sunday’s win but could have been talking about the season. “It was a back and forth game, nobody really knew which way it was going to go but we knew we had a chance. We’re going to fight to the finish, that’s the type of team we have.”
Of course, a quick exit in the playoffs will quickly and appropriately elicit a strong negative reaction, but for now, bask in the glory of one of the franchises better in-season rags-to-riches stories.
2. Blake’s Day
Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin was easily the star of the game. Jarwin caught seven passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns. He’s the first Cowboys’ tight end with three or more touchdown catches in a game since Billy Joe Dupree in did it as a rookie on Sept. 30, 1973 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Dak played a heck of a game and the o-line played really well,” said Jarwin, who is the first tight end in the NFL to score three times since Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis in Sept. 2017. “It opened up the offense for the other guys and I’m just lucky and blessed to be in that position. I’m excited for my family. I know it means a lot to them.”
3. Zeke wins title
Running back Ezekiel Elliott did not play Sunday. In fact, he didn’t even dress and was inactive. But he won the NFL rushing title regardless with 1,434 yards in 15 games. It’s his second title in three seasons. He won it as a rookie in 2016 with 1,631 yards in 15 games. He also sat out the last week that season with the Cowboys’ playoff berth sewn up. He had 983 yards last season when he was suspended for six games. Giants’ rookie Saquon Barkley had 109 yards on 17 carries and finished with 1,307. The Rams’ Todd Gurley did not play Sunday because of a knee injury and finished third with 1,251 yards.
Elliott was in street clothes on the sideline but was the team’s biggest cheerleader. He was often out high-fiving teammates as they came to the sideline
“He was definitely into it,” Dak Prescott said. “Each and every drive I’d come to the sideline he’s got something to say or as I’m going back out there he’s encouraging us. He was definitely locked in.”
4. Dak dazzles
Prescott played the entire game and made it worth it. With the start, he became the first quarterback in franchise history to start 16 games in each of his first three seasons. His 32 wins as a starting QB tie Craig Morton for the sixth-moth wins by a Cowboys’ starting QB. His 32 wins are tied for the fifth-most wins by a QB in his first three seasons in NFL history.
“We wanted him to play,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It was a good opportunity to for us to go out and try to get better. We did a great job of finishing this thing.”
5. Tank’s 10.5
DeMarcus Lawrence recorded another sack to give him 10.5 for the season, a statistical marker important to him to be considered an elite pass rusher. But he had to wait to get it. His strip sack of Eli Manning was first ruled an interception by Antwaun Woods, who snagged the loose ball off a player’s helmet in the first half. Officials, however, later changed the ruling to a strip sack and gave Woods a fumble recovery.
“I didn’t know at first,” Lawrence said. “I was really worrying.”
Lawrence did not play the second half to help his body prepare for next week’s playoff game. He didn’t play every down of the first half either, mainly showing up on third downs.
“It is a great opportunity,” Lawrence said of his second playoff appearance. “The whole world is watching and we really get to showcase our talent and our speed. The journey continues and we will keep fighting.”