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Cowboys hold off Seahawks 24-22 in NFC wild-card game

Call it the Cowboys cartwheel.

In one glorious, head-over-heels moment, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott launched his team into the second round of the NFL playoffs for the first time in four years.

On third-and-14 from the Seattle 17 late in the fourth quarter Saturday, Prescott ran a gutsy quarterback draw up the middle and was stopped a yard shy of the end zone, flipping forward as he fought for more yardage. He would plunge into the end zone on the next snap, giving Dallas a lead it would never relinquish in a 24-22 victory over the Seahawks.

“Somehow, some way, he was going to figure this thing out for us,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Prescott, whose dramatic tumble evoked memories of Denver’s John Elway helicoptering into the end zone in the Super Bowl.

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“When it’s third-and-14, you don’t really anticipate making that.”

The Cowboys’ second-round opponent hinges on the outcome of Sunday’s game between Philadelphia and Chicago.

If the Bears win, they will play the Rams in the divisional round, and the Cowboys will play at New Orleans. If the Eagles pull off the upset, they will play at the Saints, and the Cowboys will face the Rams.

Prescott said he doesn’t have a preference, and he’s simply happy to be moving forward. But he conceded it would be fun to face the Saints — a team the Cowboys beat last month — in his home state of Louisiana.

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As for his spectacular run up the middle Saturday night, Prescott shrugged about it when asked.

“When we call any play, they’re all designed to get touchdowns,” he said. “We don’t necessarily say, ‘Oh, this is a five-yard play.’ But when coach called that play, I don’t know if we expected it to go 16, but everybody just did their job. Guys got on a body, made some blocks, and allowed me some running space to get down there close to the end zone.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) flies for the goal line and makes a first down against S
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) flies for the goal line and gets a first down against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of the NFC wild-card game in Arlington, Texas.
(Ron Jenkins / Associated Press)

Meanwhile, the wheels came off the Seahawks’ top-ranked ground game. Despite their dogged insistence to keep running the ball, they gained only 73 yards that way, less than half their 160-yard average.

Of course, a stifling Dallas defense had a lot to do with that, one drawn up by coordinator Kris Richard, the former USC player who learned under Pete Carroll in Seattle.

Prescott’s touchdown put the Cowboys up by 10 with 2:14 to play, and in a game in which both clubs struggled to find an offensive rhythm, that would seem to be enough. But Russell Wilson connected on a 53-yard pass that set up a seven-yard touchdown toss with 1:22 left. A conversion run cut the Dallas lead to two.

But that was it for the Seahawks, whose pooch onside kick attempt was recovered by the Cowboys. Two kneel-downs by Prescott and he had his first postseason victory.

It was also the first for Ezekiel Elliott, who led all rushers with 137 yards in 26 carries, and for Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper, who had a game-high nine catches for 106 yards.

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The Cowboys dominated the time of possession, 34:50-25:10, and successfully played keep-away from the more experienced Seahawks, delighting the packed house at AT&T Stadium.

Dallas led at the half, 10-6, having scored the game’s only touchdown on an 11-yard reception by rookie Michael Gallup with 24 seconds to play.

Thanks to a big return and a couple of completions, the Seahawks were able to make a last-gasp attempt to narrow the deficit, but Sebastian Janikowski’s 57-yard field goal attempt sailed wide as time expired. It would have been his longest field goal of the season, and he came up clutching his left hamstring before hobbling off the field.

Turns out, Janikowski was done for the game, and that hurt the Seahawks, particularly on their final onside kick attempt.

The most brutal injury of the half was far worse than that. Cowboys receiver Allen Hurns suffered a gruesome leg injury as he was tackled after a catch, his foot twisting in an unnatural way. The game was stopped for several minutes as he was carted off the field.

“When you see a guy like that go down, it hurts,” Prescott said. “It hurts a lot, just to see how nasty that was.… It was very unfortunate.”

Seattle relied heavily on the run early in the game yet couldn’t get much traction. The Seahawks failed to collect a first down until Wilson connected with tight end Ed Dickson with 9:13 to play in the second quarter.

Wilson had minus-8 yards passing in the first quarter. According to ESPN, that was the fewest yards by a quarterback in a single quarter of a playoff game since Quincy Carter had minus-8 for Dallas in a 2003 wild-card game.

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It was that kind of night for the Seahawks. One the Cowboys won’t soon forget.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer


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