Prescott, Cowboys fall flat in Week 18 loss to Commanders

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Dak Prescott insisted the Dallas Cowboys were worried solely about their game against Washington and had no idea what was going on in Philadelphia with the other result they would need to win the division.

“Zero awareness of what was going on over there,” he said. “Couldn’t get off on the right foot.”

That’s an understatement. Prescott completed just 14 of his 37 passes for 128 yards, threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown and the Cowboys laid an egg in their final regular-season game, losing 26-6 to the Washington Commanders on Sunday.

Despite playing their starters with coach Mike McCarthy pledging they were playing to win, the Cowboys limped into the playoffs and a wild-card showdown at Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Monday night with Prescott on a career-long seven-game interception streak.

“That wasn’t us,” guard Zack Martin said. “Do this again, we’ll be sitting at home next week.”

Beyond getting picked off by Kendall Fuller on the pick-6, Prescott was wildly inaccurate and the Dallas offense had just 169 total yards and went 4 of 17 on third down before he was replaced by Cooper Rush in garbage time.

“This is not about one guy,” McCarthy said. “You can’t look at our offensive performance and blame it on one guy. Plenty to go around.”

Prescott used choice words to describe perhaps his worst game of the season and was at a loss to explain what went wrong. He finished the season tied with Houston’s Davis Mills for the most interceptions in the league with 15.

“That stinks,” Prescott said. “Fourteen completions, yeah, not good enough. Period.”

This was not exactly how the Cowboys (12-5) figured things would go with a chance, albeit small, to win the NFC East if Philadelphia lost at home to the also playoff-bound New York Giants, who were resting several regulars and starting a third-string quarterback.

While the Eagles took care of their business to lock up the division title and earn the conference’s top seed and a first-round bye, Dallas lost to Washington’s third QB to start a game the season: a rookie making his NFL debut.

Sam Howell threw a touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin among his 11 of 19 passing for 169 yards and ran for another among his 35 yards rushing. The fifth-round pick out of North Carolina became the first Washington rookie QB to throw and run for a TD in a game since Robert Griffin III in 2012.

“It is about the QB making plays they’re supposed to make, and every now and then when you need a big play, make a big play,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s what we need to get to.”

Howell also connected on a 52-yard completion with McLaurin, who set a career high for receiving yards in a season. Eliminated from playoff contention last week after Carson Wentz threw three interceptions in a loss to Cleveland, the Commanders (8-8-1) ended a four-game winless stretch and avoided a third consecutive losing season in as many years with Rivera in charge of football operations.

“We feel like we’re headed in the right direction,” Rivera said.

NOT-SO SPECIAL TEAMS

Prescott and the Cowboys offense weren’t solely to blame. Punter Bryan Anger dropped a snap early that set up the first Commanders touchdown, KaVonte Turpin fumbled a punt return and kicker Brett Maher missed an extra point.

RUNNING STRUGGLES

The Cowboys’ struggles on the ground since losing offensive tackle Terence Steele continued. They rushed for just 64 yards and put Prescott in some obvious throwing situations.

Tony Pollard returned after missing Dallas’ previous game against Tennessee with a thigh injury and rushed for 19 yards to surpass 1,000 for the season. Pollard finished the regular season as the Cowboys’ leading rusher, the first time anyone other than Ezekiel Elliott has had that distinction since the three-time Pro Bowl back was picked fourth in the 2016 draft.

HONORING SONNY

The Commanders retired Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen’s No. 9 during a halftime ceremony, the fourth player in franchise history to get that honor. Jurgensen played the final 11 seasons of his 18-year career with Washington and went on to spend roughly another four decades on the team’s radio broadcast.

INJURIES

Cowboys: CB DaRon Bland left early in the fourth quarter with a chest injury, and a team spokesperson said he’d be re-evaluated. … LB Leighton Vander Esch was out with a neck injury and C Tyler Biadasz with an ankle injury.

Commanders: DT John Ridgeway left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. … RB Brian Robinson Jr. (knee), OT Cornelius Lucas (ankle) and DT Jonathan Allen (knee) were all inactive. CB Benjamin St-Juste and S Kam Curl (ankle) and RB Antonio Gibson (knee/foot) went on injured reserve.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: Look to avoid a second consecutive one-and-done playoff appearance.

Commanders: Go into another offseason looking for a starting quarterback, whether it’s Howell or someone else.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.