PHILADELPHIA — Dak Prescott ran into Dallas’ locker room with a message for any NFC team he’ll play next week in the playoffs.
“The real (stuff) starts,” he said.
It starts with finding out the Cowboys’ wild-card opponent, and Prescott will be like millions of football fans every Sunday and watch the scoreboard with their playoff fate at stake.
Prescott threw a career-high five touchdown passes against Philadelphia Eagles backups, Cedrick Wilson and Dalton Schultz each had two scoring catches and the Cowboys kept their slim hopes for a No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs alive with a 51-26 victory Saturday night.
The Cowboys still had seeding to play for against an Eagles team that rested Jalen Hurts and other key starters ahead of an NFC wild-card game next week.
The NFC East champion Cowboys (12-5) need losses Sunday by reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay against last-place Carolina and also for the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals to lose to earn the No. 2 seed. There also is a path to the No. 3 seed for Dallas.
The Cowboys can’t finish worse than the fourth seed. The Eagles (9-8) could still be the sixth seed.
Prescott stayed in the game until the fourth quarter, the lead increasing seemingly with each throw and so, perhaps, the risk of injury for a QB nearly 15 months removed from the gruesome compound fracture of his right ankle that ended his 2020 season.
Prescott did his best to get an offense that routinely produced at least 400 yards during a 6-1 start back on track headed into the playoffs following a two-year absence. He was 21 of 27 for 295 yards and no interceptions.
“It’s a hell of a year for a guy that was in as slump,” coach Mike McCarthy deadpanned.
He came out unscathed — and with the Cowboys’ record for touchdown passes in a season with 37. Tony Romo threw 36 in 2007. Prescott threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Corey Clement early in the fourth quarter to make it 37-20 and set the mark and, mercifully for the Eagles, get him out of the game.
His teammates knew Prescott set the TD mark. Prescott needed a reminder of his record.
“Just coming off the field, they’re saying congrats and I thought they were saying congrats for five touchdowns,” Prescott said.
Of course, Prescott got his record in the 17th game this season.
Staying sharp, piling up points, and, yes, finishing 6-0 in the NFC East were all needed high points for the Cowboys.
But, like the team records on both sides that kept falling, the win comes with a bit of a shrug. With nothing to play for, the Eagles treated the game like a preseason finale. Hurts, with 3,144 yards passing and a team-high 784 yards rushing, got the night off. So did tackle Lane Johnson, cornerback Darius Slay and 11 more players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Gardner Minshew started for Hurts and — for a drive, at least — it was Minshew Mania again when he threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tyree Jackson on the opening drive. It was the first catch of Jackson’s career.
The score sparked an “E-A-G-L-E-S!” chant from fans across the street at the Flyers game after a replay was shown on the big screen.
Philadelphia didn’t give anyone in green much reason to chant and cheer the rest of the game. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni defended his decision to rest Hurts, who missed a game this year with a sprained left ankle, ahead of the playoffs.
“We thought it was an opportunity to get him back to 100%. We need to be able to have our full arsenal of offense going into the playoffs,” Sirianni said.
Prescott sucked the energy out of the stadium early. He hit Wilson for TD receptions of 14 and 24 yards in the first half and then connected with Schultz twice over the final 1:45 of the half for a 30-17 lead. Schultz became only the fifth player since 2000 to catch two touchdown passes inside the final 2 minutes of the first half.
Already a sparse crowd because of the low stakes and lower temperatures, Eagles fans fled for the exits at the half.