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Cowboys news: The Dallas Cowboys win NFC East for second time in three seasons, clinch playoff berth

The Monday morning links.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys complete turnaround by winning NFC East title - Todd Archer, ESPN
Remember when the Cowboys were sitting at 3-5 and fans were calling for Jason Garrett’s head and regretting the Amari Cooper trade?

Turns out, the Dallas Cowboys did not need any help to clinch their second NFC East title in three seasons.

The Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 on Sunday to secure their third playoff berth in the past five years.

It wasn’t a pretty playoff-clinching victory, but considering where the Cowboys were Nov. 5, making the postseason with one game to spare is something of an accomplishment.

”At 1-2, at 3-3, at 3-5 we knew exactly what we had,” Prescott said. “We knew the team that we had. And we still have that. There is a lot of work to be done. We’re going to celebrate the right way and then it’s right back to work.”

5 thoughts from Cowboys’ win over Bucs: Defense bounces back as Dallas clinches NFC East title - Jon Machota, SportsDay
The Cowboys’ defense came up big against an offense that has been capable of putting up points.

The Dallas defense rebounded after last week’s ugly showing in Indianapolis. Along with Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence played well, as did defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods. But the most noticeable improvement was the play of the linebackers, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Perhaps there was a little extra motivation after neither was named to the Pro Bowl last week. The sloppy tackling we saw in Indy wasn’t on display against the Bucs. They allowed the long TD drive late, but overall, they were the reason the Cowboys won.

And how about Randy Gregory?

Randy Gregory picked a good time to have his best game as a Cowboy. He got things started in the first half with a highlight hit and forced fumble on Jameis Winston. Jaylon Smith then returned it 69 yards to put Dallas up 14-3 late in the first quarter. Gregory then turned in another great play with a few minutes left in the third quarter, recovering a Winston fumble on a reverse and returning it to the Tampa Bay 6. With Tyrone Crawford leaving the game because of a neck injury on the second play from scrimmage, Gregory was needed even more than usual. He came up big.

Elite or not, Dallas Cowboys defense leads the way in division-clinching win - Stefan Stevenson, The Star-Telegram
The defense has come up big on multiple occasions this seasons, ultimately resulting in another divisional crown.

The Dallas Cowboys defense has been talking about being elite all season. To be elite, however, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has preached takeaways. And not just takeaways, but scoring takeaways.

The turnovers have been coming in the second half the season, but until Sunday, they were still looking for their first points. Jaylon Smith got them with a 69-yard fumble return in the first quarter. Randy Gregory forced the fumble with a massive, blindside strip sack of Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston. Smith outraced everyone down the sideline for the touchdown.

In the third quarter, Gregory picked up another Winston fumble and returned it two yards to the the Tampa Bay 4. That set up Dak Prescott’s four-yard touchdown pass in the corner to Michael Gallup, which put Dallas up 27-13 late in the third.

“He certainly showed up big time,” Garrett said. “It goes to the relentless spirit, you keep playing, they extended the play, he wasn’t going to quit on the play. That was the signature play of the game.”

To have any playoff success the Dallas Cowboys have to fix their struggling offense - Clarence Hill, The Star-Telegram
But the other side has to show up in order for the Cowboys to taste postseason success.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do. This is just the start. This is just the beginning. This is something that we set out and wanted to do way back in the offseason. This just gives us a chance to go and get the greater goal. We’re going to celebrate tonight, celebrate it the right way then get right back to work.”

The goal is not just to get into the playoffs but to finally be a factor in the postseason and compete for a Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.

Right now, the Cowboys are ticketed for a short stay.

Can you say one and done if they don’t correct some things on an offense that continues to struggle in the red zone and seemingly lost the pop that carried them to a five-game winning streak?

Even with playoff spot locked, Cowboys don’t intend to slow down in Week 17: ‘We’ve got a lot more work to do’ - Brandon George, SportsDay
Therefore, it is important for the Cowboys to work some of the issues out. Jerry says the team will not be taking its foot off of the pedal despite clinching a playoff spot.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “This is just the start. This is something that we set out and wanted to do way back in the offseason. This just gives us a chance to go and get the greater goal.”

The Cowboys believe they have a team talented enough to make a Super Bowl run, a far cry from what they looked like after starting the season 3-5.

”We have to keep trying to reach levels that people said it was never possible for us to reach at 3-5,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “We’re just going to keep pushing and see where it takes us.”

The message from Coach Jason Garrett to his team after the win was the same as it’s been after the two previous NFC East championships over the last five years: Put on those caps and shirts, celebrate this accomplishment with family Sunday and then give the championship gear to someone else to refocus on bigger goals.

Cowboys not satisfied with NFC East championship hats, shirts: ‘Our goal is to hold the big one up at the end’ - Jon Machota, SportsDay
It appears that this team has the same mindset.

Beasley doesn’t remember what he did with any of the gear from the previous division titles. He planned to give this year’s to his son.

”It don’t matter until we get the big one,” Beasley said. “The goals have been the same from the beginning. We don’t start off the season talking about, ‘We want to win the division.’ That’s already a given. Our goal is to hold the big one up at the end. Until we get that, our work isn’t done.”

Jason Garrett’s message to the team has been similar after the previous division championships: Enjoy the hats and shirts for a day and then give it to someone close to you.

Cowboys claim NFC East title. Here’s who their opponent could be in the playoffs - Stefan Stevenson, The Star-Telegram
So, who will the Cowboys be playing in the wildcard round? With the win and the Bears also coming out on top on Sunday, the Cowboys are locked into the fourth spot — but their opponent is not yet known.

Dallas will play the wild card team with the best record at AT&T Stadium on either Jan. 5 or Jan. 6. The Chicago Bears, the NFC Central winner, will play the wild card team with the worst record. At the moment (at the conclusion of Sunday’s win), Dallas’ opponent was looking to be the Seattle Seahawks (8-6). But depending on how those teams fare today and next week, it could also be the Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1).

Or, ahem, it could be the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles beat the Houston Texans on Sunday to improve to 8-7. With a win next week against the Redskins in Washington, the Eagles’ 9-7 record likely earns them a wild card spot. If they have the best record among wild card teams, they’d come to AT&T Stadium for another meeting of NFC East rivals.

This was pretty funny.

Good News On Tyrone Crawford’s Neck Injury - Rob Phillips, The Mothership
Awesome, awesome news.

All test results on defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford’s injured neck were negative, the Cowboys announced after Sunday’s 27-20 victory over Tampa Bay.

“Everything checks out really good. We’re really pleased with the initial MRIs, all the examinations,” Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said.

Crawford was carted off the field at AT&T Stadium with his neck stabilized after getting hurt on the second play of the game. He showed movement in his extremities as he exited the field, however.

“He went on to the hospital and had those examinations,” Jones said. “I won’t have the (playing) status for next week, but we are real pleased with what we’ve gotten so far. And doesn’t seem to have structural issues at all.”

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