WR Lamb looks like leading man as playoffs loom for Cowboys

In the second half of the season, CeeDee Lamb has looked a lot like the No. 1 receiver needed by the Dallas Cowboys.

The third-year pro isn’t afraid to admit it took time to adjust to the role after the offseason trade of Amari Cooper in a cost-cutting move.

Lamb’s fifth 100-yard game in eight weeks in a 27-13 victory over shorthanded Tennessee leaves little question where the playoff-bound Cowboys will turn in the passing game as they try to advance deep in the postseason for the first time in 27 years.

“I’ve seen a lot of things as far as mentally just throughout a game, just understanding that if I’m going to make a play happen, I’m going to have to make that play,” Lamb said. “I know my guys are going to make the play … but when it comes to my opportunity, I have to step up.”

Lamb tied his career high with 11 catches and had 100 yards against the Titans. The 2020 first-round pick is the third Dallas receiver to reach 100 receptions in a season with 102.

With a career-high 1,307 yards receiving, Lamb is all but certain to finish in the top 10 in the NFL.

And to think in his debut as Dak Prescott’s top target, Lamb had just two catches with 11 passes thrown his way in a 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay. It was by far the NFL’s biggest discrepancy between targets and receptions in Week 1.

“It’s just been an awesome, steady climb,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “He’s made some big plays and I think he’s just become so steady and consistent the back part of the season as we build this thing.”

Lamb had Dallas’ first 100-yard receiving game of the season with a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns in the ninth game against Green Bay, a 31-28 loss in overtime.

Starting with that performance, Lamb has averaged 7 1/2 catches and 94 yards with five touchdowns over the past eight games.

Lamb absorbs hard hits on tough catches, and his sense of the surroundings helps with yards after the catch.

On the first of two touchdowns last weekend against Philadelphia, Lamb caught a pass from Prescott in stride around the 5-yard line but knew Eagles safety Reed Blankenship was closing even though Lamb’s back was turned to him. Lamb stopped, let Blankenship slide by, and trotted into the end zone.

“CeeDee Lamb has always had such expectations from everyone, the fans, most of all, himself,” owner Jerry Jones said on his radio show Friday. “It’s great to see that come to fruition. He is an extremely hard worker. He’s highly intelligent. And he does have unique after-catch skills.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Cowboys forced two more turnovers to push their NFL-leading total to 32. Dallas has a chance to be the first team to lead the league in takeaway in consecutive seasons since Pittsburgh did it three straight years in the “Steel Curtain” era of the early 1970s.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Dallas’ hopes of repeating as NFC East champ rest with Philadelphia. The Eagles, who host New Orleans on Sunday, need one win in the final two games to clinch the division and the NFC’s top seed.

If the Cowboys have a shot at the division title with a win and a Philadelphia loss on the final weekend of the regular season, Dallas might need additional help to get the bye.

STOCK UP

CB Nahshon Wright got his first career interception against the Titans. With season-ending injuries to Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis and the recent demotion of Kelvin Joseph, Wright’s opportunity could be now after a tough start to the career of the second-year pro.

STOCK DOWN

Dallas let the Titans hang around far too long considering Tennessee was without almost half its starters, including QB Ryan Tannehill and star RB Derrick Henry.

Three turnovers from Prescott were a big part of the reason, but the defense didn’t help by allowing a 14-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that pulled the Titans within 17-13 late in the third quarter.

INJURIES

C Tyler Biadasz injured his right ankle, triggering three changes on the offensive line. LG Connor McGovern moved to Biadasz’s spot, rookie LT Tyler Smith slid over to left guard and 40-year-old Jason Peters took over at left tackle.

Jones said the club was hopeful Biadasz’s injury wouldn’t be long term. If it is, the question is how the line might look in the playoffs after longtime LT Tyron Smith took over on the right side when he returned from a torn hamstring.

KEY NUMBER

6 — Prescott has thrown at least one interception in six consecutive games for the first time in his career. He’s tied with benched Las Vegas QB Derek Carr for the NFL lead with 14. But the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is throwing plenty of touchdowns. He has 14 TD passes with 10 picks during the six-game interception streak.

NEXT STEPS

If the Eagles win, Dallas will be locked in as the fifth seed in the NFC, which would mean a wild-card game at the NFC South champion. The Cowboys would have some decisions to make on playing starters against Washington, which might need a win for a playoff berth.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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