A victory over the Tennessee keeps the Cowboys’ hopes for the NFC East title alive.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The ending of the toughest stretch of the Cowboys’ season is here now.
A three game in 12-day stretch concludes Thursday night when the Cowboys visit the Tennessee Titans. For the Cowboys, this game means everything and it could also mean nothing.
A victory keeps the Cowboys’ hopes for the NFC East title alive. Should the Eagles defeat the Saints on New Year’s Day, then the NFC East title goes to Philadelphia. A victory also gives the Eagles a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the NFC version of the postseason.
However, if the Cowboys win and the Eagles lose Sunday afternoon, then the regular season finale at Landover, Md., against the Commanders has meaning.
That’s if things go the Cowboys’ way.
If everything goes according to the Eagles’ plan, the Cowboys will finish the regular season as a playoff participant, with the No. 5 seed secured. It leads to a possible first round date in Tampa against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. If the Bucs can clinch the NFC South with a victory Sunday over Carolina.
This also means the Cowboys would be in line to face the Eagles in the NFC Divisional Round. In Philly. If the Cowboys beat Tampa Bay.
So if the Cowboys want to not only end this 26-year old Super Bowl drought, every victory must come away from home.
It seems like a daunting task.
“It’s fun,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “I mean, for us to get to where we want to go, we’ve got to play some tough games, against some great opponents and win them. And that’s really the only thing that matters. With the way this team is built, we’re fine if it’s on the road. If it’s in different elements. Our communication is great. So it’s not daunting at all, it’s fun. But in the meantime, we’re going stay where our feet are and worry about this Thursday in Tennessee.”
The beauty of this Cowboys’ team is its focus. Dallas can’t worry about Wild Card weekend. It can’t worry about a possible deep playoff run. It can’t worry about what might happen if this team doesn’t get it.
All it must do is focus on the main thing: Beat Tennessee.
“I think everybody understands where we are,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “The most important thing is we have to get this 12th win and then sit down and watch Philadelphia on Sunday, that’s really, anything past that is really a waste of time.”
McCarthy knew this stretch was difficult because it was coming toward the end of the season where bodies and minds are fragile.
Reduced practice times, no practices in full pads, getting to the point in meetings where the focal points were about the Titans helped. The fresher a team mentally and physically, the better.
You can’t escape the schedule, however. Remember the overtime loss in Jacksonville? No win is guaranteed.
“It’s actually very easy to stay on task,” receiver CeeDee Lamb said, “Just understanding we still have another opportunity. We have to go prove ourselves. I feel like we still haven’t. Granted we’ve done some good things this season, but it’s time to start turning it up a notch.”
Lamb added players have talked about this in pockets and it’s also implied.
Win on Thursday night and let everything else take care of itself.
And the Titans poise a threat of minimal proportions. They’ve lost five consecutive games after a 7-3 start. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is out for the season with an ankle injury. There’s a possibility star running back Derrick Henry won’t play against the Cowboys. Call it maintenance. The injury list is piling up on the Titans from left tackle Taylor Lewan (ACL), corners Kristian Fulton (groin), Caleb Farley (knee) and linebacker Zach Cunningham (elbow) among others.
Yet, this game means nothing to the Titans. The regular season finale does. That’s where Henry most likely will play. If the Titans can beat the Jaguars in Week 18, the AFC South belongs to them.
It’s quite possible Titans coach Mike Vrabel will rest some players, knowing what’s at stake in Week 18.
Of course, the Cowboys have their own goals and worries.
“That got nothin’ to do with me,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “We want to win. We’ve got to go win this football game. We’re trying to build momentum for the playoffs.”
The playoffs are coming up soon, but first comes Tennessee.
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