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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Garrett can only be wrong this weekend.

If he doesn’t play most of his regulars in the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 17 regular-season finale against the New York Giants and a slow start dooms the Cowboys in the wild-card round of the playoffs, it will be Garrett’s fault.

If he plays most of his regulars against the Giants and a player like Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott or DeMarcus Lawrence gets hurt and dooms the Cowboys in the wild-card round of the playoffs, it will be Garrett’s fault.

“The overarching theme is really anyone who is healthy is going to play in the ballgame,” Garrett said. “Again, we’re going to prepare the right way and go try to play the right way in New York on Sunday.”

The unsaid was “how much.” Speaking on KRLD-FM 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Wednesday, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin will not play because of a knee injury, which is a benefit of clinching a postseason spot with one week to go.

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will play Sunday, but for how long? Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys (9-6) are locked in as the fourth seed in the NFC, so a win would not better their standing. A win would allow the Cowboys to finish the second half of the season with a 7-1 record, making them one of the hottest teams going into the postseason.

“This idea that you have a whole other team, we’re not going to play the starters, we’re going to play the backups, logistically, you can’t do that,” Garrett said. “The numbers don’t allow you to do that. We’re going to play our football team. Anybody who is healthy is going to play in this ballgame and play to the best of their ability. Our focus is on preparing the right way and then go play the right way and hopefully that will give us the best opportunity the following week in the first round of the playoffs.”

Sensing a trend in Garrett’s thought process yet?

Immediately after Sunday’s victory against the Buccaneers, Elliott, Prescott and other veterans said they wanted to play in the finale against the Giants. Three days later, that had not changed.

Elliott has 1,434 rushing yards, which gives him a 183-yard lead over Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams in his bid to win a second NFL rushing title in three seasons. Gurley did not play in Week 16 because of a knee injury and might not play Sunday. Elliott’s next-closest competitor is Saquon Barkley of the Giants at 1,198 yards.

“I don’t think I need to go to them and say that [he wants to play],” Elliott said. “I think we’re all on the same page.”

In addition to his 304 carries, Elliott leads the Cowboys with 77 receptions. In the Dec. 9 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, he had 40 touches (28 carries, 12 catches). Would he be OK with that kind of workload?

“Whatever it takes,” he said.

The only time Amari Cooper made it to the playoffs in his career before this season was in 2016 with the Oakland Raiders. Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula in Week 16 and missed the postseason. The Raiders were still fighting for home-field advantage or a potential first-round bye when Carr got hurt.

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The Raiders lost their season finale and then fell to the Houston Texans in the wild-card round.

“It was kind of bleak after he got hurt,” Cooper said.

So wouldn’t it be wise for the Cowboys to sit Prescott or at least not overexpose him?

“I mean, it’s football. Injuries, you have a 99 percent chance of getting hurt any time you go out there on the field,” Cooper said. “It’s just a question of when are you going to get hurt. So, me going out there worried about getting hurt, that’s usually when you go out there and get hurt because you play kind of timid.”

In 2014, the Cowboys had an outside shot to claim either home-field advantage or a first-round bye with a victory in the regular-season finale. Tony Romo played all but one snap. The rest of the regulars played a normal game in a 44-17 win against the Washington Redskins.

The Cowboys claimed their only playoff win of the Garrett era, beating the Detroit Lions in the wild-card round the following weekend.

Entering the 2016 regular-season finale at Philadelphia, the Cowboys had home-field advantage wrapped up and Prescott played 16 snaps, but starting offensive linemen Doug Free, Travis Frederick and Martin played all 56 snaps. Tyron Smith was inactive. Left guard Ronald Leary was active and did not play. Elliott was active and did not play a snap. On defense, Sean Lee was active but did not play.

The Cowboys lost to the Eagles that day and two weeks later lost in the divisional round to the Green Bay Packers.

Elliott did not think the layoff affected that team.

“But I also think this is a different team. We are built a little bit different,” Elliott said. “We definitely rely more on our intensity and how hard we play and be in a groove. This is the right thing to do.”

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FRISCO, Texas — With Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee unable to play last week because of a hamstring strain, Jaylon Smith played in all 69 snaps against the Los Angeles Rams.

Smith was credited with 13 tackles, to add to his team-leading total, but the Rams were able to isolate him in coverage at times to their advantage.

“Think I had some good. Think I had some bad,” Smith said of his production. “So it’s all about eliminating the bad plays.”

Smith has played in 227 of a possible 283 snaps in the first four games. It might not be more than he expected — “I go in every game hoping that I get a chance to play every snap,” Smith said — but it is more than what the Cowboys expected.

Smith found himself in the starting lineup because Anthony Hitchens suffered a tibial plateau fracture in the preseason. He found himself playing every snap against the Rams because Lee was out.

The Cowboys might give Lee another week of rest, especially with the bye coming next week, but Hitchens is looking at making his 2017 debut Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. He took part in his first full practice since suffering the injury Aug. 26 against the Oakland Raiders.

“Felt good,” Hitchens said. “They’re going to watch the film and let me know if I can play or not this weekend.”

If Hitchens can play, then he would replace Lee if the All-Pro linebacker is unable to return. When Hitchens suffered the injury the Cowboys feared he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. After he was diagnosed with the fracture, he said it went from a full fracture to a hairline fracture.

“I just knew I was in pain,” Hitchens said, recalling the injury. “I didn’t know what the circumstances was but glad it was just five weeks now instead of a whole season.”

When Lee is able to return, then the Cowboys can move to a rotation of sorts at linebacker to keep everybody fresh. When they are all healthy, Lee is the only linebacker who is likely to play every snap. By cutting back on Smith’s snaps, the Cowboys hope the quality of his work goes up.
His recovery from a horrific knee injury, which included nerve damage that led to a case of drop foot and forced him to miss the 2016 season, has been nothing short of amazing. But a player needs time to work back into the game after such a prolonged absence.

“Man, honestly my knee and my legs, they feel great,” Smith said. “I mean as far as soreness, it’s the regular typical football soreness. It’s a good thing. I’m happy to have that type of soreness. It’s something I didn’t experience last year recovering and things like that, so it’s just a blessing to be here.”

A case of less is more could help the Cowboys’ defense. Hitchens recorded two 100-tackles seasons in his first three seasons, according to the coaches’ breakdowns.

“He’s a guy that’s been here for four years now and he knows a lot,” Smith said. “He knows the system. So he’ll definitely help.”