Prescott’s return looms for Cowboys after Rush finally loses

Dak Prescott gave himself an “A” but said he’s looking for an “A-plus” after a throwing session prior to being inactive a fifth consecutive week in Dallas’ NFC East showdown with Philadelphia.

The star Cowboys quarterback said after a 26-17 loss to the Eagles he planned to return Sunday at home against Detroit.

Whether Cooper Rush’s first failing grade as Prescott’s fill-in changes the urgency is difficult to say, just as it’s hard to know if Prescott would have returned from the fractured right thumb earlier if Rush hadn’t won his first four starts.

Regardless, the Cowboys (4-2) are now in third place in the division, trailing the undefeated Eagles and one-loss New York Giants.

If Dallas is going to defend its NFC East title, or reach the playoffs again, victories over two struggling teams in the Lions (1-4) and Chicago Bears in consecutive home games might be required.

“I thought Dak took the next step,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He had a good day … in the Saturday practice. We wanted to push it to 50 throws today. We’ll get him in there (Monday), see where we are.”

Rush threw his first three interceptions of the season, with the first two playing a big part in the Eagles leading 20-0 in the first half. Rush lost for the first time in six career starts, including five this season.

A team that has leaned on complementary football without Prescott failed in the biggest moment. After the Cowboys pulled within 20-17, a defense that has carried Dallas gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive.

“I think there is always value when someone cracks you in the jaw and you fight back and have a chance to win the game,” McCarthy said. “You can’t get to where we want to go without going through it.”

If the Cowboys can get within a game of the Eagles and stay there over the next two months, the stakes will be high in the rematch on Christmas Eve in Texas.

“What I saw today was us beating ourselves,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “I don’t feel like we should hang our hats on a game like this. We know we played tough and learned from our mistakes.”

WHAT’S WORKING

RB Ezekiel Elliott has more than 75 yards rushing in consecutive games for the first time since his most recent 100-yard games in back-to-back weeks early last season.

The two-time rushing champ’s season-best average of 6.2 yards per carry against the Eagles (81 yards on 13 carries) included a 14-yard touchdown. It was Elliott’s longest TD run in almost three years.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Cowboys bring pressure better than most defenses. But they have to stop jumping offsides in key moments.

The worst was a fourth-and-4 from the Dallas 10 in the final seconds of the first quarter when it was obvious the Eagles were going to let the clock run out without a snap. Dante Fowler jumped anyway.

The Cowboys allowed four first downs by penalty, two on offside calls. But that wasn’t the only sign of poor discipline.

Another first down came on an unsportsmanlike conduct call against star LB Micah Parsons when he taunted TE Dallas Goedert after forcing an incompletion that would have put the Eagles in third-and-10.

STOCK UP

Rookie TE Jake Ferguson is showing the ability to be the primary target at his position as Dalton Schultz struggles with a knee injury.

Schultz, who is playing on the $10.9 million franchise tag, was inactive for the second time in four games, and Ferguson made a nifty cutback move for his first career touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Rush.

Ferguson had four catches for 40 yards after coming in with three catches total in the first five games. It was the most catches for a rookie Dallas TE since Jason Witten’s five against the New York Giants in 2003.

STOCK DOWN

CB Kelvin Joseph spoiled what has been a solid season on special teams for the second-year player with two penalties and a tackle of his own man that might have prevented a touchdown.

An unnecessary roughness call on a kickoff return forced the Cowboys to start a drive inside their 10. A holding penalty negated a 34-yard punt return from KaVontae Turpin in the third quarter.

Just before halftime, Turpin ran into the back of Joseph and fell down on a 63-yard kickoff return. Dallas ended up getting a field goal for its first points just before the break.

INJURIES

Veteran OL Jason Peters saw limited action coming back earlier than expected from a chest/rib injury and facing his former team. As his health improves, Peters could rotate in more frequently at left guard, replacing Connor McGovern.

KEY NUMBER

10,048 — Elliott surpassed 10,000 career scrimmage yards with 86 against the Eagles. He joins Pro Football Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s career rushing leader, as the only Dallas backs to reach that milestone.

NEXT STEPS

Detroit’s visit starts a run of four consecutive games against NFC North opponents. After the Bears play at the Cowboys, Dallas has its open week before going to Green Bay and Minnesota.

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