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Packers' Jordan Love makes postseason debut as Cowboys ride 16-game home win streak into playoffs

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Posted at 6:29 PM, Jan 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-12 19:29:03-05

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys couldn't have asked for things to go any better than they did the last two weeks of the regular season.

Their rise to the No. 2 seed in the NFC means they won't have to leave home in the postseason unless they get where they've wanted to be for 28 years without making it — the conference championship game.

The possibility of at least two playoff games at AT&T Stadium comes with the Cowboys (12-5) riding a 16-game winning streak under their retractable roof.

All fine and good, Prescott says, but first things first.

The NFC East champs will see the playoff debut of Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love, future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers' successor, when the Packers (9-8) visit in a wild-card game Sunday.

"On our end, it starts off with us taking care of this one," Prescott said. "We can talk about the opportunity, this and that, but the opportunity is right now with this game. I'd be getting ahead of myself if I didn't say it's today and the rest of these meetings and our approach."

Dallas is in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, which the franchise hasn't done since a run of six straight from 1991-96 that included three of its five Super Bowl titles.

The Cowboys were knocked out by San Francisco each of the past two postseasons, first in a wild-card game at home, then the divisional round on the road.

"Experience is everything," said Dallas receiver CeeDee Lamb, who set club records with an NFL-best 135 catches for 1,749 yards. "I feel like we have a lot of guys that have also been on the team for quite some time and we all went through the same scars and we're not trying to feel that again."

This time, Dallas wouldn't see the top-seeded Niners until the NFC title game. The Cowboys chased defending division champion Philadelphia for two months before overtaking the Eagles in the final two weeks.

Instead of a postseason likely filled with road games like a year ago, when Dallas dominated Tampa Bay before the loss in the Bay Area, the Cowboys are in line for multiple home playoff games for the first time since they were the NFC's top seed in Prescott's rookie year in 2016.

Prescott lost his playoff debut to Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy's Packers. McCarthy is now in his fourth season in charge of the Cowboys.

"It's all about an excellent opportunity that we prepared ourselves and we put ourselves in this position," said McCarthy, who led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title 13 years ago and spent 12-plus seasons there. "We earned it, deserved it and more importantly, we're going to take advantage of it."

Love threw 18 touchdown passes with just one interception in the final eight games, when the Packers went 6-2 to surge into the final playoff spot in the NFC.

"We've had to win every game going forward to be able to put ourselves in this position," Love said. "Obviously now the stakes are a little bit higher in the playoffs, but I think we've been here, we have the right mindset going forward."

SIZZLING QBs

Prescott threw an NFL-leading 36 touchdown passes during the regular season, while Love was second with 32.

It's the second wild-card meeting of league leaders from the regular season. The other matched a pair of Hall of Famers when Dan Fouts and San Diego topped Terry Bradshaw and Pittsburgh 31-28 in 1982.

Love will try to continue the mastery Rodgers had over the Cowboys. The Packers have won nine of the past 10 meetings, including divisional playoff games during the 2014 and 2016 seasons.

KEEPING UP WITH JONES

Green Bay running back Aaron Jones missed six games this season due to hamstring and knee issues, and his 656 yards rushing represent his lowest total since his rookie season of 2017.

But he's healthy and playing well just in time for the postseason. Jones rushed for at least 111 yards in each of the Packers' last three games, all wins.

Jones has a history of playing well against the Cowboys. He has rushed for 370 yards and six touchdowns in three previous matchups with Dallas. His six TD runs are the most by any player against Dallas since 2017.

"When he's on the field, you better know where he is," McCarthy said.

SHOWDOWN SHORT-CIRCUITED?

This matchup looked to be a showcase with Lamb being covered by Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander, who has had an up-and-down year with injuries and a one-game suspension issued by the team for crashing the coin toss at Carolina and almost botching Green Bay's plan for possession.

Now Alexander's status is up in the air after he sprained an ankle in practice Thursday. He had back and shoulder issues earlier this season.

WHITHER WATSON?

Green Bay receiver Christian Watson had three touchdown catches against Dallas to spoil McCarthy's Green Bay homecoming last season when the Packers overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter of a 31-28 overtime win.

Watson's availability is uncertain after he missed the final five games of the season with a hamstring injury. The 2022 second-round pick from North Dakota State was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday.

"I'm doing everything I possibly can to be able to go on Sunday," said Watson, who played nine games this season.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Green Bay, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.