One more win and a little help from the New York Giants, that’s all the Cowboys are asking for on Sunday.
The Cowboys (12-4) travel to Washington knowing a victory over the Commanders (7-8-1) and rookie quarterback Sam Howell could keep Dallas home for the first round of the playoffs. To seal the deal, the Cowboys need the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) to lose to the Giants. If everything breaks magically, the Cowboys could even wind up as the NFC’s top seed.
Washington might be unrecognizable since the teams gathered in Week 4. The Cowboys beat the Carson Wentz-led Commanders, 25-10. Since that Oct. 2 game, Wentz went to injured reserve with a broken finger, Taylor Heinicke led a 6-1-1 run to steer Washington into playoff contention. And then Wentz steered Washington out of the playoff picture with three interceptions in a 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns last week.
With only pride on the line, the Commanders are giving fifth-round rookie Howell an audition before another offseason arrives with the franchise facing uncertainty stretching from ownership down to the quarterback.
“We feel that this is an opportunity to give Sam a chance to show us what he’s capable of,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said. “I think the opportunity is gonna be a good one for him to go out and play football and just kinda show us.”
Howell led the NFL in passing in the preseason with 547 yards. He’s otherwise an unknown to the Cowboys.
“He has a live arm. He really does,” Rivera said. “He took command pretty early on right from the beginning.”
It will be the first extended work Howell receives with the first-team offense and leading receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
“Terry’s fast, man. He can fly around the field,” Howell said. “He’s been so much fun to watch. And Curtis, he’s a special player. There’s not many people in this league that can do what Curtis does. I just gotta do the best I can to get Curtis the ball in space and let him do what he does.”
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy gave players space on Wednesday to come to terms with the on-field health emergency involving Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Monday night. Players were off Tuesday, and when the team convened for the first time this week, the focus wasn’t on Washington.
It was a “heavy, sensitive day” at The Star, McCarthy said.
“Let’s be honest, nobody’s fine,” McCarthy continued. “I think we all have a tendency to say we’re good. So, that’s where our mind is, and that’s where our focus is. We also know what’s in front of us professionally, but our spirituality playbook was open today.”
Linebacker Micah Parsons said Cowboys defensive players are looking at video cut-ups of Howell and have a scouting report in hand from defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
“Obviously, we don’t have a lot of looks on (Howell),” Parsons said on Wednesday. “Watching him when he was at North Carolina, being in the same draft class, I understand he has a great arm talent and deep ball.
But even with a defeat, the Cowboys are playoff-bound. Anything but a division-clinching win likely sends the Cowboys to Tampa Bay for a rematch of a Week 1 loss with the NFC South champion Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay (8-8) beat Dallas 19-3 in Week 1, the game in which quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a broken right thumb.
Prescott is back and the Cowboys are pumping out points by the dozens, putting up 27 last week at Tennessee — the minimum output over the past nine games. Prescott is also pumping out picks, with two against the Titans and multiple interceptions in five games this season.
While Prescott tries to play keep away from the Commanders, he returns to Washington where he was intercepted twice in 2021.
“Whether the interception you feel is your fault, not your fault, whether you throw it to the guy and lose out on points before half or not … you’ve gotta be able to turn the page and just move on,” Prescott said.
This article first appeared on Field Level Media and was syndicated with permission.