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By HOWARD FENDRICH | AP National Writer
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys did what they set out to do Sunday against the rival Commanders — unlike a year ago — by earning the NFC East title and the No. 2 seed in the conference with a 38-10 victory at Washington to close the regular season.
Prescott threw two of his four TDs passes to CeeDee Lamb and finished 31 for 36 for 279 yards as Dallas (12-5) assured itself of playing at home to open the postseason. That’s a big deal for a club that went 8-0 in Dallas this season and has won 16 games in a row there.
It’s a third consecutive 12-5 record and postseason trip for Dallas under coach Mike McCarthy.
Last-place Washington (4-13 overall, 0-6 in the NFC East) and expected-to-be-gone Ron Rivera are at the other end of the spectrum after tying a franchise mark for most losses in a season.
With thousands of Cowboys fans in the stands chanting “De-fense! De-fense!” when Washington had the ball, and “Let’s go, Cowboys!” when Dallas did, the Commanders’ losing streak reached eight games. That includes going 0-6 since Rivera fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and made himself the play-caller on that side of the ball.
The good news for the Commanders and new owner Josh Harris? Sunday’s result assured Washington of owning the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, when they might seek a replacement for quarterback Sam Howell, who was intercepted twice and led the NFL with 21 picks this season. He was sacked four times Sunday to raise his league-worst total to 65.
In Week 18 a year ago, also in Landover, the Cowboys came in needing a win for a shot at the division title but lost 26-6 to Washington and Howell, who made his NFL debut that day.
In that loss at Washington, Prescott went just 14 of 37 for 128 yards with a pick-6.
Rivera boasted back then: “We feel like we’re headed in the right direction.” But that assessment was way off the mark and he has zero winning seasons in four years with the Commanders.
Rivera, who turned 62 on Sunday, is 102-103-2 as an NFL head coach, 26-40-1 in Washington.
With nothing to lose — indeed, with something to gain in draft positioning via a loss — Washington offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy twice tried trick plays in the first quarter. On one, tight end Logan Thomas lined up at QB before pitching to Howell, who nearly threw an interception but the ball fell incomplete; on the other, wideout Dyami Brown connected on a 4-yard pass caught by Howell.
Dallas was not at its best early. In the second quarter, Commanders defensive lineman Jalen Harris deflected a pass by Prescott, allowing rookie defensive back Quan Martin to grab the ball. The Commanders turned that into a field goal by Joey Slye to go up 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
But soon enough, Prescott and the rest of the Cowboys were back on track, scoring 31 unanswered points.
CAN I KICK IT?
Cowboys rookie Brandon Aubrey entered the day 35 for 35 on field-goal attempts, a league record for the best start to a kicker’s career. But his 36th try was blocked by Washington’s Joshua Pryor in the first half, and his 37th went off the left upright in the second half, before he did make his third attempt of the game, from 50 yards with a little more than a minute left.
Lamb had 13 catches — on 13 targets — for 98 yards, with scores of 4 and 6 yards. … Dallas CB DaRon Bland’s pick in the third quarter was his league-leading ninth interception this season. … Commanders WR Terry McLaurin became the first Washington player to top 1,000 yards receiving in four straight seasons.
Cowboys: CB Stephon Gilmore left in the second quarter with a hurt shoulder and did not return.
Commanders: Martin injured an ankle in the first half and didn’t return.
Cowboys: Will host an NFC playoff game next week.
Commanders: With another poor season complete, likely a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and roster.
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