FRISCO, Texas — After 12 games a year ago, Dak Prescott had the Dallas Cowboys on a franchise-record winning streak, cruising toward the playoffs.
In the star quarterback’s second season, the post-season essentially started with five games to go, thanks to some early-season struggles and the three-game skid when star running back Ezekiel Elliott finally started serving his six-game suspension over alleged domestic violence.
Prescott, the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, embraces the “playoffs start now” mentality as the Cowboys (6-6) prepare to visit the last-place New York Giants on Sunday a year after they were 11-1 with 11 straight wins on their way to an NFC-best 13-3.
“The whole point of us winning out, it motivates me,” Prescott said. “I feel like it should motivate anybody in this locker room. We’re not looking at letdowns. We’re not looking at anything. It’s one thing in our head and it’s to win.”
The Cowboys beat Washington in what amounted to an elimination game between the NFC East rivals. They had their best game running with Alfred Morris since the start of Elliott’s suspension, and rolled to a 38-14 win despite just 102 yards passing from Prescott, who threw for two scores.
Prescott bruised his right hand against the Redskins and would have missed at least part of a series if not for a timely punt return for a touchdown from rookie Ryan Switzer.
The throwing hand was wrapped during the portion of practice open the reporters Wednesday, but Prescott said the wrap came off later in the workout. He did acknowledge, though, that he threw for the first time since the Redskins game six days earlier.
“There weren’t any restrictions,” Prescott said. “It didn’t feel like my hand was bothering me or any limitations on throwing the ball or anything.”
Dallas’ last two games without Elliott are on the road against underperforming teams that started the season with Super Bowl aspirations.
The Giants (2-10) just fired Ben McAdoo and will be led by interim coach Steve Spagnuolo. Oakland has won two straight, but against teams with two wins between them since Week 5 — both by the Giants. Denver has lost eight in a row.
But even owner and general manager Jerry Jones is preaching a “series by series, quarter by quarter and you know the rest” approach. Chided on his radio show that he sounded as if coach Jason Garrett was influencing him, Jones joked otherwise.
“You know that deep down, deep down, I’ve got it all set up in my mind how to get there,” Jones said. “But that’s not what should come out of my mouth.”
As a rookie in 2013, centre Travis Frederick experienced a 1-3 finish when the Cowboys were knocked out of the playoffs with a loss in the regular-season finale. He’s watched two teams wrap up division titles before the final game, and a season that was already lost in the final weeks.
It’s the first time Frederick has faced playoff survival this early, a year after the Cowboys were well on their way to making post-season plans.
“The answer that you want as a player and being on this team is that there is no urgency difference,” Frederick said. “In theory, you want everything to be exactly the same whether you’re winning or losing. I think people recognize the situation that we’re in.”
NOTES: DL David Irving came out of the Washington game with a concussion and didn’t practice, although Garrett said he would participate in some of the early warmup work. … LB Sean Lee practiced for the first time since injuring a hamstring against Atlanta and missing three straight games. The 2016 All-Pro was limited. … RT La’el Collins didn’t practice but hopes to play despite muscle and disk issues in his back.
More AP NFL: and