Cowboys playoff hopes still alive

By Calvin Watkins
The Dallas Morning News/TNS

ARLINGTON, Texas - Mike McCarthy is no different than most NFL coaches. He wants his team to play its best ball toward the end of the season. The Cowboys are doing just that, winning their third consecutive game with a 37-17 victory over the Eagles Sunday afternoon.

The victory has pushed the Cowboys into the unthinkable: a potential playoff appearance. Cowboys still have to win the regular-season finale and for the Eagles to beat Washington next Sunday. All any team wants in December is a chance. The Cowboys had suffered 41-16 and 34-17 losses to the DMV, that’s DC/Maryland/Virginia. Losses to Washington and Baltimore dropped their record to 3-9.

Things looked bleak. Now we got something to talk about when the Cowboys go to New Jersey next week.

Here are five observations from the Cowboys’ win over the Eagles.

THE PLAYOFF PICTURE

Yes, we have a playoff picture. Washington strip-clubbed their way from clinching the NFC East by losing 20-13 to Carolina. The Cowboys can win the NFC East by beating the New York Giants in East Rutherford and Philadelphia has to knock off Washington next weekend. If Washington wins, it clinches the division. The Cowboys, once thought to be left for dead, are alive and well. Can we flex Dallas-New York next week to Sunday night?

MICHAEL GALLUP’S WONDERFUL DAY

While everyone marvels at CeeDee Lamb’s rookie season, Michael Gallup is the real No. 2 receiver and in McCarthy’s mind a No. 1 target. Gallup finished with six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Gallup has quietly had a productive season, but not as sexy as Lamb or Cooper’s, who reached a regular-season career-high in catches (86) on Sunday. Yet he’s a reliable threat for whoever is at quarterback.

SLOWING DOWN JALEN HURTS

The biggest challenge to the defense was the elusive Jalen Hurts. The Eagles quarterback can beat you not just with his legs, but is a smart, calm passer. The Cowboys just chased him out of the pocket, forcing him to throw several passes off balanced. Hurts finished 21-of-39 for 342 yards and a touchdown and had 69 rushing yards. Now, the defense did give up an 81-yard touchdown reception that was fun to watch as DeSean Jackson somersaulted into the end zone while trolling the Cowboys secondary. But that was the last we heard of Jackson. The Cowboys got pressure on Hurts and had some tight coverage down the field. Of course, it wasn’t a perfect effort. The Cowboys defense allowed 477 yards. But hey, the offense is carrying this team so the defense can continue to leak.

ZEKE IS BACK

The people want Tony Pollard as the starting running back. It’s not happening with Ezekiel Elliott healthy enough to play. After a 25-minute pregame workout, Elliott and his nagging calf muscle started and rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries in the victory. Elliott also caught four passes for 34 yards and looked much better than he did two weeks ago in Cincinnati when he just gutting his way through it. Pollard, meanwhile, rushed for 12 yards on nine carries. Elliott should remain the starter and if he shares snaps with Pollard, everyone should be happy with this. And when the Cowboys needed to close the game out on the ground, it went to Elliott.

KELLEN MOORE’S LAST DAYS?

It seems Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is trying to leave. He’s in the last year of his contract and he interviewed on Saturday for the head coaching vacancy at Boise State. Moore is considered a legend at Boise State, especially after a 50-3 mark over four seasons. Moore has spent the last two seasons calling the offensive plays for Jason Garrett and now Mike McCarthy. Is this it for Moore? During a pregame radio interview with the voice of the Cowboys, Brad Sham, McCarthy said he wants Moore to stay. Yet, “I don’t think it’s my place to speak on the opportunity,” he said on The Fan KRLD-FM. McCarthy also said it’s a “very unique opportunity,” for Moore. It would be difficult for Moore to remain in Dallas knowing the highest position he can obtain is offensive coordinator with McCarthy signed for four more years. Moore, in the last year of his own deal, needs a job for 2021 and it’s assumed the Cowboys want him to return. But there’s a head coaching job available for him.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) races through the Philadelphia Eagles defense during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.