The Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East before kickoff Sunday.
After their 56-14 demolition of the Washington Football Team, they may have put themselves deep into the conversation regarding the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.
“We wanted to play a complete game, and I think we accomplished that tonight,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
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If seeing the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Denver Broncos before kickoff to allow them to clinch the division title was not good enough, the Cowboys had a day for the ages against Washington.
The 56 points tied for the third most in a game in franchise history and the most in a regular-season game since 1980. The last time they scored more than 50 points in any game was in Super Bowl XXVII in 1992 against the Buffalo Bills.
Dak Prescott had four first-half touchdown passes, throwing for an NFL-high 322 yards in the first two quarters. He was able to watch the final 17-plus minutes from the sidelines. So is the slump over?
“You tell me,” Prescott said. “I never said we were in a slump. Those were your words. So I think it would be hard for you to say that now, but, yeah, tonight was a great performance.”
Prescott became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass to a running back (Ezekiel Elliott), tight end (Dalton Schultz), wide receiver (Amari Cooper) and offensive lineman (Terence Steele) in the same regular-season game.
Cornerback Trevon Diggs intercepted his 11th pass of the season, tying a team record set by Everson Walls in 1981, on Washington’s first snap.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence recorded the first touchdown of his career with a 40-yard interception return of a Tyler Heinicke pass to give the Cowboys a 21-0 first-quarter lead. Lawrence became the 17th different Cowboy to score a touchdown this season, the most to score in one season in team history.
In the second quarter, Steele became the 18th different player to score a touchdown, catching Prescott’s fourth scoring strike of the game. In the third quarter, defensive end Chauncey Golston became the 19th when he scooped up a blocked punt by Corey Clement at the goal line.
For the first time since 2012, the Cowboys scored on offense, defense and special teams.
Micah Parsons had a second-quarter sack to up his team-rookie record to 13 on the season, inching him closer to the NFL rookie record of 14.5 set by Jevon Kearse of the Tennessee Titans in 1999. He’s not satisfied. Neither is the defense.
“We’re not alligators. We don’t get paralyzed after we eat,” Parsons said.
The Cowboys scored more than 40 points in a game for the fourth time this season, tied for the second-most games with at least 40 points in a single season in franchise history.
The Cowboys entered Sunday with a three-game winning streak but the offense’s struggles since Prescott’s return from a calf strain had raised concerns even if they had already earned a postseason bid last Thursday when the Titans beat the San Francisco 49ers.
With the Raiders’ win giving them the strength-of-victory tiebreaker over the Eagles, the Cowboys had their third division title in Prescott’s six seasons as their starting quarterback and their first since the 2018 season, but they wanted to make a statement anyway.
“I don’t know if many people knew that we clinched before the game,” Prescott said. “I didn’t. That’s kind of what my message was talking to the guys in the circle up right there [before the game], going out winning this division. I don’t know if we’re in the world or business of trying to send messages more than we’re just trying to get better, day in and day out, game after game and make sure that we’re playing our best ball and peaking at the right time heading into this tournament.”
Homefield advantage for the playoffs is in reach, but that would require the Green Bay Packers to lose at least one of their final two games and the Cowboys winning out. Because of the expanded playoffs, only the top seed gets a first-round bye.
The Cowboys remain as the No. 2 seed in the NFC because of their 9-1 conference record in a three-way tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams. If the Cowboys get into a two-way tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the defending Super Bowl champion based on the Week 1 loss.
The Cowboys close the season against the Arizona Cardinals, which have lost three straight games, next week and Jan. 9 at the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I feel like we showed ourselves that we can play a complete game but we still have a lot that we can build on,” Lawrence said. “Being able to go out there and dominate on all three phases of the game, shoot, we just got to keep building on that and get better from it.”
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