FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dallas safety Jeff Heath figures there’s a world outside his locker room where people seek comfort in their jobs.
The Cowboys are about to get a test of the notion that they’re never supposed to get comfortable in their line of work.
“I think the coaches do a good job kind of keeping us sharp, keeping us on edge,” Heath said. “You just have to understand that comes with this game.”
Before the four-game winning streak that propelled them to sole possession of first in the NFC East, the Cowboys (7-5) were on the verge of losing touch with the playoff race early for the second straight year.
Two games ago, Dallas trailed Washington by a game with the Redskins visiting on Thanksgiving. Now it’s the Cowboys with that one-game lead, this time over Philadelphia with the defending champion Eagles (6-6) coming in Sunday.
Once the chaser, now the chased. No difference, says quarterback Dak Prescott.
“We’re not necessarily thinking about we’re getting chased now,” Prescott said Thursday. “Our backs were against the wall a few weeks ago and they haven’t changed. This is a team that looks to go out there every week and put that on display every week.”
Human nature will always suggest otherwise, and the New Orleans Saints might argue that point after their 10-game winning streak was stopped by the Cowboys. Dallas was tied with Washington then, and conventional wisdom gave the Redskins a shot to get back in first place alone.
Instead, the Cowboys had their best defensive showing of the season in a 13-10 win over the high-scoring Saints while the Redskins lost another quarterback to a season-ending injury in a 28-13 loss to Philadelphia that left them tied with the Eagles.
“Nobody’s really thinking about a letdown or anything,” Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley said. “They’re all big. We’ve got to worry about what we have to do to get better as a team each week and put our best out there. We put our best out there, we’ll be fine.”
While the Eagles have back-to-back wins for the first time this season, the defending champs badly need a third if they want a shot at another Super Bowl.
With a victory, Philadelphia would pull even with Dallas and have a season split with a better division record, the first tiebreaker between two teams. Lose, and the Eagles will trail the Cowboys by two games with just three remaining.
The Cowboys would counter that they’re fighting to maintain control of their playoff fate.
“We don’t have a margin,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We approach it no different than we did when we were, whatever it was, 3-5. Coach (Jason) Garrett’s been obviously talking that every minute of every day.
“We all need to know that in the NFL, things change quickly, for the better or for the worse, if you don’t keep your foot on the gas pedal.”
Whatever Garrett is sharing with his team, as usual, he’s not sharing it publicly.
“I don’t really understand what you’re talking about,” Garrett said when asked about preaching against any tendency for the team to ease up. “Our backs are to the wall. They’re always to the wall and that’s how we look at it.”
Running back Ezekiel Elliott will have something of a personal test to keep things rolling. After 90 touches — 72 carries and 18 catches — over three games in a 12-day span, Elliott finally had some time to rest. He says he felt the best he has in a while coming into the week.
The key is for Elliott to avoid any negative side effects of that feeling. Say, for example, easing up.
“I mean, honestly, we’re in the same position that we were when we were 3-5,” said Elliott, who does have the motivation of trying to regain the league rushing lead he lost to Todd Gurley last week. “Having that same mentality, attacking work the same every day.”
That means not being comfortable at work.