TEs figure prominently for Cowboys, regardless of receivers

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — An extended break for the Dallas Cowboys will be dominated by talk of whether the defending NFC East champs will get top receiver CeeDee Lamb some help by signing Odell Beckham Jr.

Dak Prescott has left little question his deep group of tight ends will play a big role in a playoff push regardless of whether the high-profile free agent picks Dallas.

Dalton Schultz had two receiving touchdowns in a 28-20 Thanksgiving victory over the New York Giants.

Then rookie Peyton Hendershot ran 2 yards for a score and was the choreographer in a made-for-TV “Whac-A-Mole” celebration that underscored the bond of all four tight ends.

Another rookie, Jake Ferguson, provided a highlight a few plays earlier when he hurdled New York safety Jason Pinnock and ran over cornerback Rodarius Williams on the same play.

Dallas is the first team since Green Bay in 1983 to have a tight end with two receiving TDs and another with a rushing score in the same game.

“I realized it in training camp,” Prescott said of a group that includes undrafted third-year player Sean McKeon.

“Obviously, having the relationship with Schultz ... my trust in him,” Prescott said. “Getting into training camp and seeing those young guys take on the responsibility, the roles, and do it with such confidence. I was eager to give them more, and for them to make more plays.”

The Cowboys (8-3) still trail division-leading Philadelphia as they take a mini-break before hosting Indianapolis on Dec. 4.

Dallas' usual Thanksgiving-related stretch of three games in 12 days started with a fourth-quarter collapse in Green Bay before the biggest road rout in franchise history, a 40-3 win at Minnesota.

After his 10th consecutive victory over the Giants, Prescott is 4-1 since returning from a five-game absence with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Cooper Rush had the same record filling in.

“I feel real good where we are,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “There’s a lot of football to be played. The nice part about where we are is you know we control our own destiny.”

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he talked to Beckham on Thanksgiving Day. Jones previously confirmed reports that Beckham planned to meet with the Giants, his first NFL team, and the Cowboys after their Thanksgiving meeting.

The question is whether Beckham has been cleared for a return after tearing an ACL while winning the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams in February.

“We’ll have to see,” Jones said. “I haven’t gotten the benefit of his rehab work and where he is. But that’s where it is.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Cowboys were 29th in the NFL in third-down conversions at 32% through seven games. In three of the four games since, they've been at 63% or better.

The go-ahead touchdown against the Giants was Prescott's 15-yard pass to Schultz on third-and-goal.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

McCarthy said the Cowboys were considering virtual meetings when they return from the weekend off after seven players either missed the New York game or were listed on the injury report as questionable because of illness.

Five of them are defensive linemen. Johnathan Hankins and Tarell Basham didn't play. DeMarcus Lawrence, who also has a foot injury, Neville Gallimore and Dante Fowler did play.

Cornerback Kelvin Joseph was sidelined, while safety Donovan Wilson played a season-low 50 snaps.

“We need to learn from this pandemic,” McCarthy said. “That’s why we’ll look at some Zoom opportunities for next week. We need to tackle this challenge. It’s going to be a challenge obviously here the next couple of weeks.”

STOCK UP

RB Ezekiel Elliott looked closer to normal in his second game back since returning from a right knee injury that sidelined him for two games.

The two-time rushing champ's 5.8-yard average was his second best this season. The 92 yards were his best.

STOCK DOWN

The Cowboys had a season-high 13 penalties, tying them with Denver for the most in the NFL at 83 going into the Broncos' game Sunday at Carolina.

The variety was impressive, from a rare holding call against five-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, to holding calls against defensive linemen, to multiple false starts. Dallas has three games with double-digit penalties.

“First off, we have to stop with the penalties,” Prescott said when asked about the outlook for the rest of season. “We’ve got to be more disciplined.”

INJURIES

LB Anthony Barr could be ready to go against the Colts after missing a month with a hamstring injury. The Cowboys are targeting a mid-December return for perennial Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith, who tore a hamstring during training camp.

KEY NUMBER

12 — Micah Parsons is the third player with at least 12 sacks in each of his first two seasons since sacks became official in 1982. The others are Aldon Smith (2011-12) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White (1985-86). Parsons has nine games with at least two sacks, tied with Smith for the most in a player's first two seasons.

NEXT STEPS

The next three games are against sub.-500 AFC South opponents Indianapolis, Houston (Dec. 11) and Jacksonville (Dec. 18). Win those, and Dallas might have a shot at overtaking the Eagles in the NFC East.

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Schuyler Dixon, The Associated Press