Dallas Cowboys: Early playoff berth no big deal; sights set on Super Bowl

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs up field Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

DALLAS - Safety Barry Church, unlike many of his Dallas Cowboys teammates, didn't watch football Sunday. Instead, he learned the Cowboys clinched a playoff berth from a text message.

"My wife, she didn't know what that meant, but I did," Church said. "So I kind of took it for a grain of salt. Now we're ready to get back to New York."

A season after going 4-12, the Cowboys are 11-1 and assured of at least a wild-card berth. The Arizona Cardinals' victory over the Washington Redskins allowed the Cowboys to become the first team to punch a ticket to the playoffs.

"That's cool," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "I'm excited, but there's a lot more football left, and we want to be playing for a long time."

The Cowboys have bigger goals, including winning the NFC East, winning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and ultimately the Super Bowl. Clinching a playoff berth is only the first step.

"You work to get a chance to play in the playoffs," tight end Jason Witten said. "To have that opportunity certainly is special. But you are playing for a lot more moving forward. The focus has to be on the Giants, and everything we want is in front of us.

"We acknowledge it. It's good to be in that situation at this point in the season. But we still have a lot more to play for moving forward."

The Cowboys spent Monday not celebrating but getting back to work after a three-day weekend. The day began with the team's annual holiday visits to four area children's hospitals.

The team returned to The Star with eyes on the Giants.

A victory in New York would check off another box for the Cowboys, clinching them the NFC East and assuring at least a home game in the wild-card round.

"Everybody is counting us out," running back Alfred Morris said. "No one expects us to do anything, so we're going to keep that mentality, keep that almost like a chip on our shoulder, keep driving and pushing forward. … Making the playoffs is not good enough; there's plenty of teams that make the playoffs, but there's only two that makes it to the big dance and that's everybody's goal is to make it to the Super Bowl.

"And we have an opportunity if we keep pushing the way we're doing, we can actually make a push to get there. It's not going to be easy, like I said, we're going to approach each game like it's our last."

After three victories in 12 days, the Cowboys earned a well-deserved break. Most of the players watched football, rooting for friends and against the NFC East.

The Philadelphia Eagles, Redskins and Giants all lost, widening the Cowboys' lead.

"Who did I root for? I don't care who wins," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. "I mean, I don't want nobody in my division to win. It's not like I was rooting for Pittsburgh, but I didn't want the Giants to win. So they did their job. Congratulations to Pittsburgh."

The Cowboys have done their job every week since the season opener. That 20-19 loss to the Giants still stings. But they have a chance for revenge Sunday night.

"Well, a lot has changed," Church said. "We'll definitely go back and look at the mistakes we made in that first game. We're very excited about this upcoming matchup just because it's the next one and knowing we have an opportunity to advance our goals and reach our goals. We're going to take it like any other game. It's the next game, and hopefully we prevail."

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