Cow­boys keep fo­cus on Lions with divi­sion and home field se­cure

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Ja­son Wit­ten had to fig­ure the ques­tions were com­ing af­ter the Dal­las Cow­boys wrapped up the NFC East and home-field ad­van­tage in the play­offs with two games re­main­ing.

The last time Dal­las had the top seed se­cured be­fore the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son, Wit­ten was a fifth-year tight end in 2007. The Cow­boys promptly lost their first play­off game to the New York Giants and watched their divi­sion ri­val up­set un­de­feated New Eng­land in the Su­per Bowl.

So now the ques­tion is how the Cow­boys (12-2) keep their edge with two games that won’t change their spot in the play­off bracket - start­ing Mon­day night at home against Detroit (9-5) - along with a bye be­fore their post­sea­son opener. The Lions are try­ing to se­cure a play­off berth. “I don’t think it’s en­tered any­body’s minds,” Wit­ten said Fri­day, a day af­ter the Cow­boys clinched thanks to the Giants’ 24-19 loss to Philadel­phia . “I think we’re all aware of where it’s at. It’s a long time away, to think that you would rest or any­thing like that. Our job is to go play and coaches will han­dle those sit­u­a­tions.”

For in­stance, will backup Tony Romo the ar­chi­tect of that 13-3 sea­son nine years ago - get play­ing time so that Dal­las can pro­tect Dak Prescott, the rookie who took the 10-year starter’s job with an 11-game win­ning streak?

What about left tackle Ty­ron Smith and de­fen­sive end DeMar­cus Lawrence with their bad backs? Should Dar­ren McFad­den, last year’s lead­ing rusher for Dal­las, get more car­ries in re­lief of rookie NFL rush­ing leader Ezekiel El­liott be­cause the nine-year vet­eran just re­turned from an off­sea­son el­bow in­jury?

Sorry. Coach Ja­son Gar­rett isn’t in­ter­ested in dis­cussing such things . “We don’t re­ally think about that,” Gar­rett said. “We’re fo­cused on prac­tic­ing and play­ing as well as we can in this game on Mon­day night against Detroit.”

El­liott needs 258 yards to break Eric Dick­er­son’s 33-year-old rookie record of 1,808 yards, and he ac­knowl­edged that it would be spe­cial. But the fourth over­all pick, whose ca­reer took off with a dom­i­nant stretch when Ohio State won the first Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off two years ago, was sur­pris­ingly can­did when asked what he pre­ferred.

“I think there is a shot to get that rookie rush­ing record, but it’s not worth risk­ing what we have the op­por­tu­nity to do as a team,” said El­liott, who has 1,551 yards. “And I wouldn’t want to risk get­ting it

for some­thing (when) we have the op­por­tu­nity to go and play for a Su­per Bowl. What­ever they think is best for our team, then that’s what’s go­ing to hap­pen.” Romo made his in­fa­mous trip to Cabo San Lu­cas with then-girl­friend Jessica Simp­son dur­ing the bye week in 2007, fuel for crit­i­cism af­ter the Cow­boys’ 21-17 loss to New York. Bar­ring an in­jury to Prescott, Romo won’t have to an­swer ques­tions about that episode in the Cow­boys’ re­turn to the top spot in the NFC.

When the bye week ar­rives, Wit­ten most likely will. But the an­swers prob­a­bly won’t be much dif­fer­ent than they are now. “I be­lieve you want to build on the way you play in De­cem­ber and go into the play­offs,” Wit­ten said. “I think that’s how good teams han­dle this sit­u­a­tion. As I said be­fore, that’s for peo­ple to talk about at the bar­ber shop. Our fo­cus is just on what’s go­ing to al­low us to win.”

Nine years ago, Gar­rett was the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor un­der coach Wade Phillips. In the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at Wash­ing­ton, Romo sat af­ter the first se­ries of the third quar­ter. Wit­ten re­calls get­ting pulled in the sec­ond quar­ter - but never be­ing told what the plan was. And if there is a plan to start rest­ing play­ers as early as Mon­day night, the coaches aren’t say­ing. Dal­las fin­ishes the reg­u­lar sea­son at Philadel­phia.

“I think you’ve got to do ex­actly what we’re do­ing,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Scott Line­han said. “When you put the pads on, you’re go­ing out there to win the foot­ball game. It doesn’t mat­ter what the im­pli­ca­tions are. We ap­proach it the same way re­gard­less.” —AP

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