ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott smiled widely and playfully shoved Tony Romo after the 10-year starter the Dallas rookie replaced finished his only drive of the regular season with a touchdown pass.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been bragging all season about the chemistry in a delicate situation between his quarterbacks — along with the closeness of the rest of the locker room — and is counting on those bonds when Dallas opens the playoffs at home Jan. 15.
“You see a camaraderie,” Jones said after the Cowboys lost to Philadelphia 27-13 despite the Romo TD while resting many regulars in the regular-season finale.
“You saw, just to start with, No. 9 and No. 4 and you saw really how genuine it is for them to be working together the way they are and really how exceptional that their situation is and how we’re benefiting from it as a team.”
The Cowboys (13-3) don’t anticipate using Romo in the playoffs. Prescott and fellow first-year sensation Ezekiel Elliott will be the focal point regardless of the opponent in the first divisional game at AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009.
Prescott played just two series and Elliott not at all against the Eagles. Linebacker Sean Lee sat from start to finish even though getting a few snaps would have allowed him to say he played all 16 games for the first time in an injury-filled career.
Elliott had to settle for third place on the NFL’s rookie rushing list behind Eric Dickerson (Los Angeles Rams, 1983) and George Rogers (New Orleans, 1981).
Prescott’s short stint preserved the highest rookie passer rating in NFL history (104.9), but the loss left him tied with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger for most wins by a rookie at 13.
Not that any of those numbers matter now.
“Eyes are all on the playoff game,” Prescott said. “We will wait to see who our opponent is. But in the meantime, we will get better this week, makes ourselves better in every way that we can. Then when we figure out who it is, continue to get better and ready for that opponent.”
The Cowboys thought they had good chemistry the last time they were in this position nine years ago, with Romo leading the way to the same record after a loss to finish the regular season when the top seed in the NFC, home-field advantage in the playoffs, was already wrapped up.
Romo was criticized for making a side trip to Cabo San Lucas , Mexico, with then-girlfriend Jessica Simpson before Dallas lost the first playoff game to the New York Giants.
The crushing loss prompted receiver Terrell Owens to say, tearfully, “He’s my quarterback,” on a day Jones still calls perhaps his worst in 27 years as owner.
A year later, Owens was dumped in the offseason in a move that Jones labeled “Romo-friendly” after reports of a divided locker room following a 9-7 season that kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs.
Tight end Jason Witten was at the center of that controversy because of his close relationship with Romo. He just finished his 14th season, 17 yards from breaking Hall of Famer Michael’s Irvin franchise record of 11,904 yards receiving.
“I think, specifically, this football team has a true identity in how it plays,” Witten said. “You talk about family and togetherness and that is what this team is all about. The spirit of this group is really special. Now we have to recommit to that.”
Coach Jason Garrett was the offensive coordinator in 2007 and kept his job through 8-8 records in his first three full seasons after replacing Wade Phillips.
After guiding Dallas to the NFC East title at 12-4 two years ago, followed by 4-12 mostly without Romo last season, he has the Cowboys back on top with the third 13-3 finish in franchise history.
“It’s not really a time for reflection,” Garrett said. “This is a time to get our eyes forward and get back to work.”