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Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys win the NFC East by beating ...

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys win the NFC East by beating
Dak Prescott threw two of his four touchdown passes to CeeDee Lamb and the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East and secured the No. 2 seed in the conference by closing the regular season with a 38-10 victory over the Washington Commanders.

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — After Dak Prescott connected with CeeDee Lamb on a touchdown pass late in the first half Sunday to help the Dallas Cowboys clinch the NFC East title and the No. 2 seed in the conference, the QB swung his right fist and then ran to the end zone to meet his star wideout for a handshake and a hug.

All the while, thousands of Dallas fans filling the Washington Commanders’ stadium chanted, “Let’s go, Cowboys!”

The mood, the performance and the atmosphere were decidedly improved for Prescott, his club and their supporters compared to a year ago. Unlike in Week 18 last time, when they finished the regular season with a loss at Washington, Prescott, Lamb and the Cowboys did what they set out to do Sunday against the rival Commanders by charging into the postseason with a 38-10 victory.

“Look at last year — the way we came into this place and didn’t finish the season the way we wanted to — to where we are now,” said Prescott, who threw two of his four TDs passes to Lamb and finished 31 for 36 for 279 yards. “The growth. The coaching staff. The players. The accountability. The communication. The transparency. And both sides of the ball holding their own.”

Dallas went 12-5 for the third consecutive year and will host the Green Bay Packers — a team current Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy once led to a Super Bowl championship — on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST.

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.

“The drama of it — I’m sure you guys will love that,” McCarthy told reporters about facing Green Bay.

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.

Rivera figures he’ll meet with owner Josh Harris on Monday.

“We’ll have a conversation and go from there,” Rivera said.

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? Sunday’s result assured them 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 Sunday and led the NFL with 21 picks this season. He also was sacked four times to raise his league-worst total to 65.

Last season, Prescott led the NFL with 15 interceptions, and had 23 touchdown tosses. This season? He topped the league with 36 TD throws to only nine picks.

“He’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him play,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

And Prescott’s connection with Lamb is truly elite. Lamb’s 13 catches Sunday — on 13 targets — lifted him to an NFL-high 135 receptions.

“I don’t think there’s another quarterback and receiver that has put in much time as me and CeeDee have, going back into the offseason,” Prescott said. “Understanding what I expect of him. Him understanding where I’m going to put the ball. Him understanding the belief that I have in him. I’ve told you I think he’s the best receiver in the game.”

In the season ender last year, 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. Prescott went just 14 of 37 for 128 yards with a pick-6.

Dallas was not at its best early this time.

In the second quarter, Commanders defensive lineman Jalen Harris deflected a pass by Prescott, allowing rookie defensive back Quan Martin to grab the interception, which the Commanders turned into a field goal for a 10-7 lead.

“When we had the turnover, you just saw all kinds of ghosts, Darth Vader, all that kind of stuff. Grim Reaper. Whatever you want to call it,” Jones said. “The main thing is how proud I am of these guys for enduring.”

Indeed, Prescott and the Cowboys soon were back on track, scoring 31 unanswered points.

“Just staying locked in,” Lamb said.

As he spoke, Lamb wore a silver baseball hat with a blue patch featuring a Cowboys star and proclaiming them NFC East champions.

Prescott’s postgame headwear was, instead, a black wool cap — the better, he joked, to brace against the evening’s 40-degree chill.

“Focus is ahead. Simple as that,” Prescott said. “I want something better.”

INJURIES

Cowboys: CB Stephon Gilmore left in the second quarter with a hurt shoulder and did not return. ... RG Zack Martin was a late scratch because of illness; Brock Hoffman started in his place.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: Host Green Bay next week.

Commanders: Likely a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and roster.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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