Dallas Cowboys finding some young pieces to their 2021 puzzle

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Coach Mike McCarthy is not ready to concede the Dallas Cowboys' 2020 NFL season.

With two games to play, the Cowboys (5-9) need help to make the postseason, like the Washington Football Team losing its final two games. The Cowboys also need to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, which would lead to an NFC East title as well as a home playoff game.

And if it costs the Cowboys' positioning for the 2021 NFL draft, McCarthy doesn't really care at the moment.

"To me, it's all about the commitment. The commitment doesn't change," McCarthy said. "We all signed on for 16 regular-season games and we want to see this through and be the best we can be. We need all of those opportunities."

Squint hard enough and you can see a path for the Cowboys in the playoffs, even if they would need the Carolina Panthers to beat Washington in Week 15 and the Eagles to rebound from a Week 16 loss to the Cowboys and then beat Washington in Week 17.

What you don't have to squint so hard at are the many players the Cowboys have in place to win in 2021 (which might be a win-or-else season for McCarthy), who go beyond quarterback Dak Prescott (should he be back on the franchise tag or a multiyear deal), Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence.

"Two weeks in a row, we had a lot of young players have opportunities. That's something that gives another piece of growth throughout our football team," McCarthy said. "So these games are very important. We talked about this early in the season. Your young players that develop in the offseason and in training camp are so important when you reach December football, which is the most important football of the year. Your young guys have to be ready to play."

The Cowboys likely do not beat the San Francisco 49ers 41-33 on Sunday without them.

Filling in for an injured Elliott, second-year running back Tony Pollard scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 40 yards. It was a struggle to get much traction in the run game, although his 69 yards on 12 carries looks a lot better with the long score at the end of the fourth quarter. Pollard, 23, also led the Cowboys in catches with six for 63 yards.

"It's big just to know that everything doesn't have to run through one guy or a few guys," Pollard said. "There's different guys that can take some of the weight off other guys' shoulders."

Rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb led the Cowboys in receiving yards with 85, his highest yardage total since quarterback Andy Dalton took over for an injured Prescott in October. His 45-yard reception led to the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter to third-year tight end Dalton Schultz. Lamb, 21, also clinched the game with a 47-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

"You get those opportunities with CeeDee," Dalton said. "I talked about TP being special. But CeeDee's another guy if you give him chances, he's going to make plays."

Schultz, 24, had two catches for 14 yards, but his four touchdowns on the season is the most by a Cowboys tight end not named Jason Witten since Gavin Escobar had four in 2014. With Dallas having lost Blake Jarwin in the season opener to a knee injury, Schultz has shown he can be a reliable outlet in an offense normally built around stars.

The pickings for youthful standouts on defense are a little slimmer, but defensive end Dorance Armstrong, 23, started the momentum swing for the Cowboys by forcing and recovering a fumble on a punt. Five plays later, the Cowboys had a 7-0 lead on Pollard's first touchdown run.

In the fourth quarter, second-year safety Donovan Wilson, who saw mostly special-teams action as a rookie, intercepted 49ers QB Nick Mullens with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter, stepping in front of a throw to Jordan Reed. Four plays later, the Cowboys took the lead for good on a Greg Zuerlein field goal.

"He's a baller," cornerback Jourdan Lewis said of Wilson, 25. "We saw flashes of it as soon as he got here in training camp as a rookie. He can flat-out ball. He plays with high energy, always around the ball."

Lewis, 25, is in his fourth season and might be considered the old man of the crew, but in the past three weeks, he has played his best. He had a sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, six tackles and a pass deflection against the Niners.

An unrestricted free agent when the season ends, Lewis is a player the Cowboys might want to keep around for 2021 and beyond.

Dig a little deeper and second-year offensive lineman Connor McGovern, 23, has one of the best run-block win rates among guards. Rookie Neville Gallimore, 23, started Sunday and had five tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and a pass deflection. Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs, 22, and rookie center Tyler Biadasz, 23, showed they can be cornerstone pieces before they had to work back from foot and hamstring injuries.

The Cowboys might not want to turn the page to 2021 just yet with playoff possibilities remaining, but how their younger players are closing out 2020 offers a glimmer of hope in a season mostly of despair.