‘Ottawa’ Lions Eye high-stakes Finale vs Packers after Loss to Dallas
ARLINGTON, Texas — Matthew Stafford moved on quickly from another loss to his hometown team.
The Detroit quarterback was already thinking about his home field, where the Lions will play Green Bay for the NFC North title in the regular season finale Sunday after missing a chance to clinch a playoff spot in a 42-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“If we get a win, we win the division and get a home playoff game,” said Stafford, who lost Monday night on the same field where he dropped to 0-2 in the playoffs with a wild-card loss two years ago. “That’s the focus right now, and I can just see it standing right there.”
The Lions (9-6) lost a second straight game coming off five consecutive victories, with Dez Bryant throwing his first career touchdown pass between a pair of scoring catches while rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott rushed for two more TDs for the Cowboys (13-2).
Dallas, which tied a franchise record for wins reached two other times, had already clinched the top seed in the NFC.
Detroit faces a short week after a long flight home, looking to avenge a 34-27 loss at the Packers in Week 3. Green Bay (9-6) has won five straight.
“I know it’s a long trip back home, but by the time we land, we’d better start thinking about Green Bay,” said coach Jim Caldwell, looking for his second playoff trip in three seasons with the Lions. “Guys are hurting right now. It’s a huge game, but I think our guys are resilient.”
Stafford, a championship-winning high school quarterback in the Dallas area, had a 1-yard scoring plunge , but was sacked four times — matching a season high.
He was 26 of 46 for 260 yards, including an interception that set up Elliott’s 1-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to break a 21-all halftime tie.
“We’ve got a one-game season left at our house against a club that we know really well,” said tight end Eric Ebron, who had game highs with eight catches for 93 yards. “That’s our only focus right now.”
Takeaways from the Cowboys’ first win in the regular season against the Lions since 2010:
DAZZLING DEZ: Before his lefty lob to 14th-year tight end Jason Witten for an easy 10-yard touchdown and a 35-21 lead on a trick play, Bryant made a juggling 25-yard catch in the end zone while fighting off pass interference by Johnson Bademosi.
It was the 66th touchdown receiving for Bryant, breaking a tie for second with Hall of Famer Michael Irvin on the club’s career list. He added his 67th in the second half, putting him four behind another Hall of Famer, Bob Hayes. “Dez is like a little brother to me,” Witten said. “I’ve told you guys how proud I am of him and who he’s become.”
VANISHING RUN: Detroit’s 29th-ranked rushing offence got a career-high 64 yards and two touchdowns from Zach Zenner in the first half against the NFL’s top rushing defence and the only one that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. But he had just two carries for 3 yards after halftime. The Lions could use that first-half balance against the Packers.
“I think a lot of it was situational, just the way the game was going as far as having to throw the ball more,” said Zenner, a little-used second-year player from South Dakota State. “And I don’t need an explanation.”
ELLIOTT’S CHASE: The NFL rushing leader had a 55-yard touchdown and finished with 80 yards on 12 carries. He needs 178 yards in the finale to break Eric Dickerson’s 33-year-old rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards. He’s up to 15 touchdowns, two behind league-leading LeGarrette Blount of New England. “I always want to be out there, but I always know there is a bigger plan,” Elliott said. “You don’t want to risk anything.”
MISSING PIECE: Detroit cornerback Darius Slay was out with a hamstring injury that also sidelined him for two games in November. It hurt the Lions against Bryant, and it could be an issue if he’s not back against Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson. “I never look at it as who we miss and all of those things,” Caldwell said. “I talk about the guys we have.”
HOW ABOUT 14: Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott had three touchdown passes and tied Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie quarterback record of 13 victories from 2004. “It means I have to go get 14,” said Prescott, who will face Philadelphia in the finale.
GREGORY’S STATUS: Dallas owner Jerry Jones suggested that defensive end Randy Gregory’s status for the playoffs is in doubt after he made his season debut following a 14-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Jones declined to be specific. Gregory has an appeal pending over another violation. The second-year player had two tackles and almost sacked Stafford in the fourth quarter.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler