It might be time to start taking the Dallas Cowboys seriously as Super Bowl contenders.
Because they’ve never looked better in the Dak Prescott era, and their quarterback’s never played better.
The knock that’s trailed the Cowboys throughout this season — their lack of a signature victory over a legit contender — was silenced quite convincingly Sunday night. Dallas whupped the Philadelphia Eagles 33-13 in a game the Cowboys were in control of from the start.
That means there’s a three-team tie atop the NFC, with the 49ers, Cowboys and Eagles all 10-3. San Francisco owns tiebreakers over both due to head-to-head victories this season, and the Cowboys’ 4-1 division record gives them a slight edge over the Eagles, who are 3-1 in the NFC East. But with four games to play, plenty can change.
Dallas has won 15 straight at home and owns a 171-point differential over opponents at AT&T Stadium this season. The biggest reason? Prescott. He furthered his MVP candidacy Sunday with a 271-yard, two-touchdown, no-pick performance, and the defense forced Philly into three turnovers, never allowing Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ offense to get in sync.
Prescott’s last seven games: 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And a 6-1 record.
In Kansas City earlier Sunday, a Kadarius Toney penalty — he lined up offsides before a pivotal fourth-quarter snap — cost the Chiefs the play of the year, allowing the Bills to escape with a much-needed 20-17 win that keeps their playoff hopes alive. Patrick Mahomes was irate after the loss, screaming and slamming his helmet on the sideline, then venting in his postgame news conference.
Suddenly, improbably, the defending Super Bowl champs have dropped three of four, and Mahomes faces the likely prospect of playing the first road playoff game of his career come January.
On a rain-soaked afternoon in Baltimore, Lamar Jackson thrilled the home crowd with a 13-play touchdown drive late, then Tylan Wallace — returning the first punt of his regular-season career — added the exclamation point in overtime, taking back a Rams’ punt for a 76-yard, walk-off score.
With the 37-31 victory, the Ravens are the AFC’s first team to 10 wins, though the Dolphins (9-3) can match them Monday night, when they host the Titans. With Kansas City and Jacksonville losing Sunday, it’s looking like the top seed — and the coveted first-round bye — will come down to Baltimore or Miami.
In Cleveland, Joe Flacco proved he’s here to stay — at least for the rest of the season, leading the Browns to an upset of the Jaguars.
In Los Angeles, the Chargers’ fourth loss in five games was further dampened by the news that franchise quarterback Justin Herbert fractured his right index finger. His season could be done; the Chargers’ playoff hopes already are.
In Las Vegas, the Vikings managed just a measly field goal — and that was still enough to beat the Raiders, who lost their third straight. It was the NFL’s first 3-0 game since 2007.
In San Francisco, Brock Purdy and the 49ers notched their second five-game winning streak of the season, beating the Seahawks for the second time in three weeks.
In Cincinnati, Jake Browning won his second start in six days, leading the resurgent Bengals to a 20-point win over the Colts.
In New York, Zach Wilson shook off a tumultuous week and played his best game of the season in a 30-6 rout of the Texans. The loss snapped the Jets’ three-game losing streak, and for Houston, the worry rests with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who left in the fourth quarter after slamming his head against the turf and is now in the concussion protocol.
Meanwhile, cause for concern in Detroit? The Lions haven’t looked right in weeks, and suffered their second loss in three games Sunday in Chicago, falling to the lowly Bears 28-13. At 9-4, Dan Campbell’s team is still in front in the NFC North, but the Lions are not playing anything close to their best football.
Here’s what stood out from Sunday of NFL Week 14:
Cowboys have their signature win
For Dallas, this one was about more than the standings.
In a lot of ways, the Cowboys needed a win like this, one over a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the very type of victory that’s been missing from their otherwise impressive résumé all season.
They were routed in San Francisco in Week 5, then came up short in Philadelphia in Week 9. In between, for the most part: blowout victories over struggling teams.
Beat up on pretenders all they want, often by staggering margins, and the knock was going to hang around until they did something about it. Dallas didn’t have a signature win, not yet at least, that told you the Cowboys were ready to do something different come January — and make a playoff run. Not since 1996 has Dallas advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
Sunday night’s 33-13 win spoke to a team hitting its stride at the right time. Dallas has won five straight and, along with the 49ers, is among the most well-balanced teams in football on both sides of the ball.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have dropped two straight by a combined 43 points after winning nine of their first 10. Philly’s bid to earn the top seed again — and the first-round bye — just got a whole lot tougher, and something about the way the Eagles have played the last two weeks makes you worry about their postseason chances. At this point, they don’t have the momentum they did a year ago at this time. The next month will be about rediscovering that.
The good news for the Eagles, though, is their closing stretch looks less formidable than what the Cowboys will see. Philly closes with the Seahawks, Cardinals and Giants twice. Dallas will finish with the Bills, Dolphins, Lions and Commanders.
Toney costs the Chiefs; Bills’ playoff hopes still alive
While the Chiefs were livid after the loss — notably coach Andy Reid and Mahomes — that the referees didn’t warn Toney he was offsides before the game’s biggest snap, the call was the correct one. It erased a wild play that saw Travis Kelce snare a 25-yard pass from Mahomes, then lateral it to Toney, who ran the final 24 yards for a touchdown that would’ve put the Chiefs in front 23-20 with 1:25 left.
No matter. Toney was at least a full yard offsides. The flag was thrown. Mahomes threw three straight incompletions afterward and the Bills sealed the 20-17 win.
The Chiefs’ frustrations seem to be bubbling over — at their own inconsistent play of late, plus some lousy officiating. Mahomes was beside himself on the sideline as the game ended, slamming his helmet, shouting at the officials. He then vented in a way he rarely does in his postgame news conference.
“Another game we’re talking about the refs,” Mahomes said. “It’s not what we want for the NFL. It’s not what we want for football. Let us play the game. Then whatever happens happens.”
“It’s a bit embarrassing for the National Football League for that to take place,” added Reid, who noted that the officials usually warn him when one of his receivers has lined up in the neutral zone.
Kansas City now has dropped three of its last four and lost two straight for the first time since early in the 2021 season. At 8-4, the Chiefs are just a game in front of the surging Broncos, who started the season 1-5 but have won six of seven since.
For the Bills, this win might’ve saved their season. Buffalo is now 7-6 and very much in the thick of a crowded AFC wild-card race.
“We got your back!” players shouted in a victorious postgame locker room at coach Sean McDermott, a nod to a chaotic week in Buffalo that saw McDermott address a report about comments he made in reference to the 9/11 terrorists during a 2019 team meeting.
All told, six AFC teams are 7-6 at the moment: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Houston, Denver, Cincinnati and Buffalo.
Flacco gives the Browns new hope
It’s one thing to keep a season afloat with a backup quarterback.
It’s something else entirely to do it when you’re on your fourth QB by mid-December.
Give Kevin Stefanski credit: It’s been a turbulent season in Cleveland — four quarterbacks have now started at least two games for the Browns — and yet his team is 8-5 and leading the AFC wild-card race.
While Houston’s DeMeco Ryans and Detroit’s Campbell have garnered plenty of Coach of the Year consideration — rightfully so — Stefanski has quietly done a terrific job in Cleveland, keeping the Browns competitive despite constant turnover at the game’s most critical position.
It’s 38-year-old Flacco, signed off the street just three weeks ago, who has revived the team’s hopes with a month left in the regular season. “I know I can still play,” the former Raven, Bronco and Jet said last month. On Sunday he proved it, throwing for 311 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-27 win over the Jaguars, his second start for the Browns.
“Coming up with words on how this feels? I’m not gonna do a good job of that,” Flacco said. “There are so many different things that are running through my head. It’s unbelievable to (still) be out there … I’m going to remember these things forever.”
After the game, Stefanski announced Flacco would be the team’s starter the rest of the way. From Deshaun Watson (out for the year with a fracture in his throwing shoulder) to P.J. Walker (who’s since been released) to Dorian Thompson-Robinson (who remains the backup), the Browns keep finding a way, often winning the close ones. So far, they’re 5-2 in one-score games.
Flacco’s arrival, and steadying veteran presence, has been a much-needed addition for a team already boasting an elite defense. The Browns turned the Jaguars over four times in Sunday’s win and rank first in yards allowed this season.
Bucs jump in front in NFC South
By definition, someone has to win the NFC South — whether that team is above .500 or not.
With four weeks to go it’s a three-team race, and each is now 6-7: the Falcons, Saints and Bucs.
One of them will host a playoff game come January.
Tampa Bay’s hopes for a third straight division crown, the last two coming with Tom Brady at quarterback, got a big boost Sunday after Baker Mayfield led a 12-play, 70-yard drive late in the fourth to deliver a 29-25 win over the Falcons. Mayfield lofted a beauty of a throw with 34 seconds left that tight end Cade Otton hauled in for the 11-yard, game-winning score.
Technically, the Bucs own the tiebreaker at the moment. They are 3-1 in division games — same as the Falcons — but are 4-2 against common opponents, while Atlanta is 3-3 (the two teams split their head-to-head meetings this season). Meanwhile, the Saints climbed to 2-2 in the division with a 28-6 win over the Panthers Sunday, who are a league-worst 1-12.
An 0-3 day for the AFC South
It was a dreadful Sunday for AFC South teams: the division-leading Jaguars fell in Cleveland with quarterback Trevor Lawrence gutting through an ankle injury, the Colts were routed in Cincinnati and the Texans were pummeled by the Jets.
Jacksonville remains out front at 8-5 with a 4-1 division record. Both Indianapolis and Houston are now 7-6, with the Colts currently holding the tiebreaker over the Texans by virtue of their head-to-head victory in Week 2. They will meet again in Week 18 in Indianapolis.
But the chief concern for the Texans at the moment is the status of Stroud, who left Sunday’s loss in the fourth quarter after his helmet slammed the turf at MetLife Stadium following a hit from Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Stroud is currently in concussion protocol; the Texans are in Tennessee on Sunday.
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(Top photo: Kevin Sabitus / Getty Images)
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