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Dak Prescott comes through in crunch time for Cowboys

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nothing was said because nothing needed to be said. The Cowboys are firm believers that character is defined by actions, not words, so their huddle was largely silent when the offense gathered behind its 37-yard line with just under seven and a half minutes to play Saturday night in AT&T Stadium.

Dallas led by three at the time, but standing on the other sideline was Seahawks magician Russell Wilson, who leads all quarterbacks with 27 fourth quarter/overtime comebacks since 2012. The last thing the Cowboys wanted to do was put the ball and, by extension, the game in his hands in the final minutes, so the offense knew what needed to be done, even if no one communicated it out loud.

"We tell ourselves don't think about anything else but one play at a time," left tackle Tyron Smith would say after Dallas marched 63 yards to complete a 5-minute, 12-second touchdown drive that put the game out of reach and advanced the Cowboys into the second round of the playoffs with a 24-22 victory. "Our thing is, don't think about anything but that one play, then the next play, then the next play. Everything will take care of itself in the end."

The Cowboys were far from perfect, but therein lies the beauty of their first playoff win in four seasons -- and the reason they're even in this position. They have learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, going back to their 3-5 start to open the season. They were pretty much written off as pretenders, undeserving of our attention or the constant national media attention. But they refused to let outsiders define them.

They rediscovered their identity and began feeding running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 137 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries Saturday night. They added a playmaking wide receiver in Amari Cooper in a midseason trade. And they leaned on a talented and athletic defense that held the Seahawks' potent ground game to just 73 yards rushing on 24 carries. Now, when things don't go as scripted, they don't blink. Like Saturday, when wideout Allen Hurns went down with a dislocated ankle in the first quarter. Or with Cole Beasley clearly struggling to play with a sprained ankle. Or defensive tackle Maliek Collins sidelined at times with an ankle injury.

"We've played a lot of football games that have come down to the wire, where our backs are against the wall, where things aren't the way you'd want them, and the only thing you can do is go forward," said wideout Tavon Austin. "That's the resiliency this team keeps demonstrating, week in and week out. No one needed to say anything [before that key drive] because we had been there so many times this season that we already knew the urgency of the moment. You've just got to do your job, trust in your brothers and put it in God's hands."

Or, in this case, put it in Prescott's hands. He's the guy that some Cowboys fans love to hate, and others hate to love, if only because he has yet to demonstrate the consistency that lets them know he can play at a high level weekly. He will make the difficult throw and the defense-breaking run one moment, then turn an easy touchdown into a head-scratching interception by underthrowing an open receiver, as he did Saturday.

He is eligible to sign a contract extension in the offseason, and the Cowboys have already let it be known that they are committed to him. But at what price, is the question? They likely are hoping he'll accept a deal somewhere above mid-level status, but with each impressive playoff performance he raises his asking price. And owner Jerry Jones has shown in the past he's willing to pay for production.

Saturday, Prescott completed 22 of 33 passes for 226 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed six times for 29 yards and a score. In his only other playoff appearance, a 34-31 loss to Green Bay during his rookie season, he was 24 of 38 for 302 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Clearly, he is not afraid of the bright lights.

"If every step was right and every throw was early and on-target, then there wouldn't be a game," Jones said of his quarterback. "You've got to look at all the other plusses that are there, and the main thing is he's a guy who thrives on pressure. ... He took it on his shoulders. He made plays that put us in position to come out like we did. That's what you want from your quarterback."

No moment was bigger than when he took over with 7:20 to play, at the Dallas 37-yard line. Twice he drew pass-interference penalties on third down to prolong the possession, then on third-and-14 from the Seattle 17, he got free up the middle for 16 yards to set up his 1-yard score. That was huge because Wilson immediately led the Seahawks down the field for what otherwise might have been the winning touchdown for Seattle.

"Dak did his thing today," Elliott said. "He played like a grown-ass man."

"I feel like I'm a grown-ass man just in general," Prescott said, smiling. "Playing like it or not, I'll take the compliment. Obviously it felt good tonight. Everybody worked well together, and when we can do that it makes my job easier."

Jones is confident that if Prescott continues to play as he did Saturday, the Cowboys have the personnel to beat anyone. But that was as far as he or his players would go on that subject. In their minds, some things are better left unsaid.

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.

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