Cowboys' playoff win comes with plenty of future implications

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott knew what was on the line Saturday.

He said so during the lead-up to the Dallas Cowboys' wild-card matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

"When you say success of quarterback or a quarterback's success depending on what they do in the playoffs, I think that's where the checks get written and they get their money, to be honest," Prescott said.

In the second playoff game of his career, Prescott did what he could to will the Cowboys to victory. That included running through three tacklers and flipping through the air on a third-and-14 fourth-quarter run.

A play later, Prescott scored the touchdown that clinched the Cowboys' 24-22 win against Seattle.

"It gives us a chance to keep going. Honestly, as simple as that," Prescott said. "Me and this whole team, we want to win it all. You can't do that without taking care of the first one. We were able to do that one tonight. A lot of excitement, but my goal is bigger than just one playoff win."

It wasn't just Prescott who had a lot on the line. So did Jason Garrett, who had only one playoff win as head coach of the Cowboys. So did owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who gave up a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for wide receiver Amari Cooper seven games into the season. So did running back Ezekiel Elliott. So did a defense that showed signs of cracking in the final three regular-season games.

Prescott finished with 226 yards on 22-of-33 passing with a touchdown toss in addition to his touchdown run. Elliott, who did not play in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants to rest up for the playoffs, had 26 carries for 137 yards and a score. Cooper, who had only 13 catches for 83 yards in the three games leading into the playoffs, caught seven passes for 106 yards.

Saturday's victory should put to rest any thoughts Garrett would not return for the final year of his contract. And Jones moved a step closer to what he has yearned for: a fourth Super Bowl.

"This win against a very credible Seattle team will make people think more highly of Jason," Jones said. "Look around at all the teams searching for red October and trying to find themselves a coach right now. We've got one that has a lot of experience on our dime over the last several years. I'd like to use it."

Now the Cowboys will have to see if they can clear the hurdle of the divisional round. They have not played in a conference championship game since 1995, on their way to winning Super Bowl XXX. The 1996, 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 seasons all ended in the second round of the playoffs.

The 2007 and 2016 Cowboys had home-field advantage throughout the postseason and lost their first playoff games. The 2014 Cowboys felt as if they had their season stolen from them at Lambeau Field after Dez Bryant's fourth-down catch at the Green Bay Packers' goal line was overturned by replay.

The Cowboys will next hit the road, either for a rematch with the top-seeded New Orleans Saints, whom they beat 13-10 in Week 13 of the regular season, or to face the Los Angeles Rams.

Beating the Seahawks, however, required just about everything they had.

It was far from an artistic pleasure. The Cowboys have struggled against the Seahawks in recent years, scoring only one touchdown in 33 possessions against Seattle in regular-season losses in 2015, 2017 and this past September.

The Cowboys scored three touchdowns Saturday, and the timing of the first two could not have been better, answering Seattle scores both times.

After Seattle took a 6-3 lead with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first half, Prescott directed the Cowboys on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was highlighted by a 41-yard run by Elliott and capped by an 11-yard fade to rookie receiver Michael Gallup.

The Seahawks took a 14-10 lead on a Russell Wilson zone-read touchdown and a Mike Davis two-point conversion with 1:59 to play in the third quarter. But then Prescott led the Cowboys down the field on a nine-play drive that was highlighted by a 34-yard completion to Cooper.

Prescott's 10-yard touchdown run was overturned correctly by replay, but Elliott bulled his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score two plays later.

The Cowboys' clinching drive showed the fight that Garrett talks about all the time. It went 11 plays, covered 63 yards and lasted 5:12. It featured an Elliott stiff-arm of Shaquill Griffin on a first-down run, and Prescott's head-over-heels, 16-yard run on third-and-14.

"That was big and so much of the physical toughness that we try to instill in our football team is going to show up at the end of the ballgame," Garrett said. "That's how you're going to win the fourth quarter, by wearing them out in the first three quarters. That's a good football team. They were physical, too. We scratched, clawed and battled for every inch on both sides of the ball and ultimately I do think we wore them down. We were able to control it right at the end of the ballgame and do what we needed to do."

Oh, the defense made it interesting by giving up a 50-second touchdown drive and two-point conversion on Seattle's ensuing possession, but when Cole Beasley secured the onside kick attempt, the relief inside AT&T Stadium was palpable.

Next up is another legacy-defining game for Prescott, Elliott, Garrett, Cooper, Jones and that defense.