- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Two questions are at the heart of Andrew Luck’s first game against the Dallas Cowboys in the Indianapolis quarterback’s visit to his home state.

Will NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray play with the Cowboys needing to win at least one, if not both, of their final two games to end a four-year playoff drought?

And what exactly are Luck and the Colts playing for Sunday with their postseason spot secure, but not a great chance to improve their seeding?

First things first: Murray, who has 1,687 yards rushing and needs 87 to break NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith’s franchise record of 1,773.

The fourth-year running back went through some individual drills in the first day of practice Wednesday after breaking the bone above the ring finger in his left hand in last week’s 38-27 win at Philadelphia.

The victory gave Dallas sole possession of first place in the NFC East. He had protective padding on the hand.

“Really what we want to do is just see how he responded to that work that he did today and then see how he is as the week progresses, and hopefully he can be functional for the ballgame,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If he can’t be, we won’t allow him to play, and if he can, we’ll give him a chance.”

As big as the win against the Eagles was, it won’t mean much if the Cowboys (10-4) lose either to the Colts or Washington in the finale and Philadelphia beats the New York Giants and Redskins, also-rans in the division. In that scenario, Dallas is thrown into a wild-card mix with generally unfavorable tiebreakers.

“We try not to think of it in those terms,” Tony Romo said. “We just think of it as one game at a time, playing for everything each week. And we’ve done it two weeks in a row, we’ve got a third one to go do, and after that one, we’ll start over again.”

The Colts (10-4) wrapped up the AFC South with last week’s 17-10 win over Houston and need help trying to catch either New England or Denver for a first-round bye in the playoffs. But Indianapolis isn’t taking kindly to the word “tuneup.”

“We’re not taking our foot off the pedal by any means,” said Luck, who plays in his hometown of Houston every year. “There’s a lot on this game. I know we’re fired up for it.”

Things to consider in the first meeting between these teams since 2010, when Romo was out with a broken collarbone but the Cowboys beat Peyton Manning anyway:

WHAT ABOUT HILTON? Perhaps the biggest decision for the Colts with their postseason spot secure is whether to play T.Y. Hilton, who is fourth in the NFL with 1,345 yards receiving. He’s nursing a hamstring injury and didn’t practice Wednesday. “I want to be at 100 percent giving it my all, but nobody’s 100 percent during this time of year,” Hilton said. “So if I’m 60, 70, I’m out there.”

MURRAY’S BLOCKERS: The Cowboys could be without both starters on the right side of their offensive line in tackle Doug Free and rookie guard Zack Martin, who grew up in Indianapolis. Both are battling ankle injuries, and Free also has an issue with his left foot after missing three games earlier this season with a broken right foot.

LUCK’S MIND GAMES? A story came out this week describing how Luck sometimes compliments opposing players after getting sacked. Dallas defensive end Jeremy Mincey said he experienced it as an AFC South rival in Jacksonville. “He kind of got to me by saying, ‘That was excellent,’” said Mincey, who had two sacks last weekend against the Eagles. “I’m like, ‘Dude, don’t talk to me. Please.’ But I respect him so much.”

DEZ ON A ROLL: Dallas receiver Dez Bryant had a career-high three touchdowns against Philadelphia to take over the NFL lead in TDs receiving at 13. He needs 235 yards in the final two games to beat his career high of 1,382 yards receiving in 2012. “He’s a nightmare,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a combination of size, athleticism and speed. But his competitive nature and his drive and his passion for the game and for his team and for winning is second to none.”

HOME SOUR HOME: The Cowboys are 7-0 on the road and could go 8-0 for the first time in franchise history with a victory at last-place Washington in next week’s regular-season finale. On the flip side, they’re at risk of a losing record at home if they can’t beat the Colts. “I’m just really not sure what the difference is at home and away,” center Travis Frederick said. “I would love to know so that we could fix it. But I don’t.”



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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