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What Dak Prescott Told Himself After Cowboys Week 18 Win: 'The Real S--- Starts!'

On a night filled with records, disinterest and the most points ever scored by the Cowboys in a road game, we've got 10 observations ...

It's Dallas 51-26 at Philly, and Dak Prescott racked 'em up in a Saturday night NFL regular-season finale.

"We got some momentum and scored some touchdowns,'' Prescott said in an understatement. "Everything we did, for the most part, was a success.''

Our top 10 Observations ...

10. DIGGS WITHDRAWALS - Didn't take long for us to be reminded of difference between Trevon Diggs and, really, everybody else. Especially rookie Kelvin Joseph. 

On Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Gardner Minshew's second pass of the game, he lobbed a floater that the Dallas Cowboys' cornerback should have intercepted. He got both hands on it, but instead merely volleyballed it right into the hands of DeVonta Smith. 

We've seen Diggs' ball skills and impeccable hands snatch a league-leading 11 interceptions. Now we've endured Joseph's inexperience and ineptitude turn an easy pick into a 25-yard gain that led to Philly's opening-drive touchdown.

9. FIRST THINGS FIRST - After falling behind 7-0, the Cowboys retaliated with their own touchdown drive. Aided by a fourth-and-four conversion completion from Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper, they produced only their fourth opening-drive touchdown in 17 games and first since Nov. 14 against the Falcons.

8. COOOOOOOOP, CORRECTED?! - One problem the Cowboys wanted to fix during this de facto exhibition seemingly got repaired. In the previous three games, Prescott had completed only 12 of 23 passes thrown to Cooper. The veteran receiver had whined for more targets, and he got them early Saturday night with positive results. 

On Dallas' first two possessions he was targeted three times, resulting in three catches for 46 yards. In the first half he received a team-leading seven targets, catching five for 79 and just missing out on a touchdown when he uncharacteristically didn't executive a relatively routine toe-tap in the front corner of the end zone. 

Even though Cooper's last 100-yard game with Prescott at quarterback came way back in Week 1 at Tampa, good to see them on the page - or at least in the same chapter - heading into the playoffs.

7. MISSING MICHAEL? - Cowboys' receiver Michael Gallup began the year poised to compete to be the team's No. 1 receiver. At this rate he's going to end the season totally forgotten. The team went 7-1 without him in the lineup, and after he left last week's game against Arizona with a torn ACL, Cedrick Wilson's star was born. 

Against the Falcons, Wilson caught a fourth-down pass, threw a 31-yard completion to Tony Pollard, and made a diving catch for a two-point conversion. In Saturday's first half he caught passes from Prescott for Dallas' first two touchdowns of 14 and 24 yards and later hauled in a leaping 28-yarder to set up a touchdown just before halftime for a 30-17 lead. He wound up as Dallas' leading receiver with 119 yards. 

Interestingly, Gallup and Wilson will both be unrestricted free agents after the season.

6. RUINED "RECORDS" - Can we please stop it with all the hype about players breaking team records? Yes, I'm looking at you Eagles and Smith. Yeah, yeah, Smith - who played in all 17 games - set Philly's franchise record for most receiving yards by a rookie. Blah, blah and more blah. Let's just throw this blanket over Week 18 and be done with it: In 2021, for the first time in NFL history, there are 17 regular-season games. Players and teams can set 17-game records, but those shouldn't usurp existing 16- or much less 14-game records. The end.

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5. LATE VANDER ESCH! - Lost in the dazzling seasons produced by Diggs and Micah Parsons has been linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. He's been solid, just not spectacular. But Saturday he finally got in on the fun, intercepting a pass for the first time since the middle of his rookie season in 2018. Vander Esch's pick was Dallas' 26th interception and 34th takeaway, both which lead the NFL.

4. JUST GO FOR TWO? - Just when we felt a smidge better about kicker Greg Zuerlein after he drilled a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter, he up and missed another extra point. He’s made clutch kicks late in games four times this season, but he also has an inexcusable and troubling six missed PATs. No other kicker heading into the NFC Playoffs has missed more than three. Saturday night was Zuerlein's 32nd game with the Cowboys. He has missed a kick - field goal or extra point - in 15 of those. Buckle up, Zuerlein can win you a game from 55 but also lose you one from 35.

3. SLUMP BUSTER - If Prescott wanted a performance to restore rhythm and build momentum for next week's home playoff game, this was it. In leading Dallas a 30-point first half - granted, it came against an Eagles' secondary made up of practice-squad players - the quarterback found seven different receivers and completed 16 of 21 for 240 yards and four touchdowns. 

During what some of us labeled his late-season "slump", Prescott had five full games where he didn't pass for 240. Why he took a single snap in the second half remains a mind-boggling mystery. The risk-reward analytics don't add up. Dak stayed in long enough to throw his 37th touchdown this season, most ever by a Cowboys' quarterback in 16 games (he missed the Halloween game in Minnesota with a calf injury, so it's sorta legit).

2. RUN GAME REPAIRED? - The Cowboys were determined to work on their running game, essentially turning the third quarter into an elongated "middle drill" normally reserved for training camp. Dallas topped 100 yards for only the sixth time in the last 11 games, and there was tangible improvement as Ezekiel Elliott rushed for his highest total (87) since Week 5 against the Giants. Bottom line: It was the Cowboys' best rushing performance in three months. 

"We knew we needed that game just for momentum," said tight end Dalton Schultz, who caught two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half. "Just from where we're at as an offense and to build on what we've done. We needed to put a game together like that and just move the ball like we did effectively, especially in the run game."

Despite the additional 17th game and the improvement and extra workload of Tony Pollard, the Cowboys extended their streak of not having two 1,000-yard rushers to 62 seasons. While Elliott topped 1,000 Saturday night, Pollard settled for 719 after missing the game with his lingering foot injury. Dallas was so dominant against Philly's B team of disinterested defenders that Corey Clement broke off a 38-yard run and dudes named Ito Smith and JaQuan Hardy scored rushing touchdowns in garbage time. 

Hardy was the 22nd different Cowboy to score a touchdown this season, setting a - albeit asterisked - NFL record.

1. PLAYOFF POSITIONING - Jalen Hurts didn't suit up and the Eagles were only mildly interested in playing - much less winning - this game. Still, something about scoring 50 in Philly - and half-a-hundred in a road game for the first time in franchise history - will likely warm the hearts of Cowboys fans on a cold Winter night. 

The Cowboys put an exclamation mark on their 2021 dominance of the division, finishing 6-0 in the NFC East by a combined score of 240-107. (They are 16-1, for what it's worth, in their last 17 divisional games with Dak at quarterback.) 

But what's it all mean for next week? 

For the No. 4-seeded Cowboys to move up to No. 3: the Rams and Cardinals have to lose Sunday. To move to No. 2: the Rams, Cardinals and Buccaneers all have to lose. It's worth scoreboard-watching, because moving up a notch to 2 or 3 would avoid a potential trip to play the Packers at Lambeau until the NFC Championship Game. If Dallas stays at No. 4, it will host either the Rams or Cardinals next weekend.

Dak will be watching ... after giving himself an up-the-tunnel reminder.

"The real shit,'' he said pretty much to himself, "starts.''

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