Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams have the momentum Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys crave going into a rematch of a divisional playoff game from last season.
Despite their second three-game losing streak of the season, the Cowboys have something the Rams want even more but will need help getting even if the defending NFC champions keep winning: control of their playoff chances.
LA (8-5) visits Dallas on Sunday as the first team out of the conference playoff race with three games remaining, while the Cowboys (6-7) somehow are still tied atop the NFC East with Philadelphia after seven losses in 10 games.
“Momentum is something serious if we can get it on our side,” Prescott said. “This has been a streaky team and yes, you got to get that first one to get the second one. That's just the mindset. Let's focus on today. Let's focus on the now.”
Both teams started 3-0 coming off LA's Super Bowl run that included a 30-22 divisional win over the Cowboys. Both teams then lost three straight.
Since sharing a 6-5 record, the teams have gone opposite ways. The Rams have won a pair, including last week's impressive 28-12 victory over Seattle. Dallas lost to Buffalo on Thanksgiving and Chicago a week later in a pair of forgettable showings.
As it stands, the Rams are paying for an uneven start as San Francisco and Seattle kept rolling in the NFC West.
“We do know the urgency is there and the value of each game at this point,” Goff said. "You do treat every game the same with the same approach, but we do know we are coming down the stretch here and need to make some things happen.”
ON THE LINE
The Rams defense respects the Cowboys’ veteran offensive line, but Aaron Donald is still in line to add to LA’s impressive total of 43 sacks this season. After getting 11 sacks in the past two weeks, the Rams’ pass rush is in prime form to have success against the veteran Dallas line.
“They’ve got a group that’s been playing together for about six years,” Donald said. “They’re a good offensive line that plays good together, communicates together. But there’s a lot of good players in this league.”
Prescott injured the pinkie finger on his throwing (right) hand and sprained his left hand against the Bears. The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has practiced with taped fingers this week. “Just a couple of bruises," Prescott said. "Probably wear the same tape in the game, but that's it. Nothing serious.”
Todd Gurley’s relatively restful season appears to be over, and that could be bad news for the Dallas defense. After coach Sean McVay used Gurley sparingly with little consistency over the first three months of the season, the $60 million running back’s touches and effectiveness are up sharply in the past three games.
He had 79 yards rushing and 34 yards receiving against Seattle, culminating in an impressive stiff-arm TD run for the Rams’ clinching score. Although McVay insists it wasn’t his intention, Gurley is rested and ready for Los Angeles’ playoff push.
AS FOR ELLIOTT
Two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, all but assured to fall short of the rushing title in a full season for the first time, is coming off a couple of solid games. But his career-long streak of outings without reaching 100 yards is up to five.
While he's been used more than Gurley, Elliott says he feels rested, with his touches down by almost four per game over last season. “I think I definitely feel a lot better than in past years,” the 2016 All-Pro said. "It's kind of with less touches and just being fresher.""
Goff has seven interceptions and four touchdown passes over the Rams’ last five games since their bye week. But his production has spiked in their last two games with 717 yards passing and all four TDs. He also made a handful of spectacular throws during LA’s one-sided win over Seattle last week.
The fourth-year quarterback’s inconsistency has to be concerning, but Goff’s coaches praise his steady demeanor no matter the results. He sits fourth in the NFL with 3,712 yards passing, 410 behind Prescott.
The Dallas defense is still in the top 10 statistically but isn't impacting the game in a way that could help end the losing streak. Buffalo's Josh Allen had a season-high passer rating, and Mitch Trubisky's number with Chicago was nearly 30 points higher than his season average.
“I just think the biggest thing across the board on defense is we just have to be more disciplined and more fundamentally sound,” coach Jason Garrett said. “And that's really been our calling card around here for a long time.”