ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — In 15th-year tight end Jason Witten’s view, the Dallas Cowboys still have playoff hopes — if they win every remaining game.
And that includes their first victory without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, 38-14 over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night. It was a refreshing reversal for Dallas after getting outscored 72-6 in the second half of losses in the first three games minus last year’s NFL rushing leader.
The Cowboys (6-6) still have two games without Elliott from his six-game suspension over alleged domestic violence. However, 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee is expected to return for the next game Dec. 10 against the last-place New York Giants after injuring his hamstring during the first game without Elliott and missing the next three.
“There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room, but you know, that’s what we play for and that’s kind of the big picture,” Witten said after catching his 67th career touchdown , third on the franchise career list, on the same night Dez Bryant broke Hall of Famer Bob Hayes’ club record with his 72nd TD grab.
“I believe we’re in the hunt and there’s still a lot of football to be played.”
Philadelphia needs just one victory in its final five games to take the NFC East title from the Cowboys, who went an NFC-best 13-3 last year behind the spectacular rookie seasons of Prescott and Elliott.
The Cowboys made the Eagles wait at least until Sunday’s visit to Seattle by dominating despite just 275 yards total offense against the Redskins. Dallas forced four turnovers after getting one total the previous three games and rookie Ryan Switzer returned a punt 83 yards for his first career touchdown.
Dallas bounced back from three-and-outs on its first four possessions, a point owner and general manager Jerry Jones couldn’t emphasize enough after the game considering how much the offense struggled during the losing streak.
Jones also lauded Prescott for playing with a bruised right hand that had to be checked for a fracture after he banged his throwing hand on a helmet while running the option. X-rays during the game were negative.
Mostly, Jones was just glad to see some life from his team after a dramatic three-game skid with all kinds of dubious numbers — Prescott’s eight turnovers without a TD pass, for instance.
“You’re talking to a dreamer, so yes,” Jones said when asked if he could still dream about the Cowboys making the playoffs. “It’s not hard for me to look at the way we played, the way we answered the bell, with Sean Lee coming back and the players we’re getting back and not dream.”
The quickest explanation of the daunting road to the playoffs for the Cowboys involves Atlanta.
If the Falcons can win their fourth straight by beating NFC North-leading Minnesota on Sunday, Dallas is guaranteed to be at least two games behind all four current wild-card qualifiers with four games left.
The Cowboys will have head-to-head losses against two of them (Atlanta and the LA Rams), with wins against none.
Not that such a gloomy forecast was part of the mood in a locker room enjoying its first win since before the downer of learning that Elliott had run out of legal options in his fight against the suspension.
“It’s like a weight lifted off of us,” said running back Alfred Morris, who had his first 100-yard game as Elliott’s replacement. “Our push for the postseason is still alive. We have to keep showing up. Otherwise, our chances of keeping this postseason alive are slim to none.”
The chances are still kind of slim, though.
NOTES: Jones said CB Orlando Scandrick sustained small bone fractures in his back against the Redskins, but said Scandrick played with the injury. Jones is optimistic Scandrick won’t miss many games. Former QB Tony Romo missed one game with a similar injury in 2014.