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Lamb joins NFL's receiving elite in career year with the Cowboys and says it's just a start

Dallas Cowboys CeeDee Lamb CeeDee Lamb - The Canadian Press

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — CeeDee Lamb learned to embrace No. 88 when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insisted he wear the number associated with some of the best receivers in club history.

Next he adjusted to the role of Dak Prescott's top target after the Cowboys decided it was his time two years ago and traded Amari Cooper.

Now the 2020 first-round pick has put together the best receiving season the storied franchise has ever seen, and believes he can be called one of the NFL's best.

Still, it's all just a start.

“I’m definitely one of the elite receivers in this game,” Lamb said. “I worked my tail off to be that and to say that confidently. It’s good to be elite, but how consistent? How long can you be elite is the next challenge. I’m looking forward to it. Can’t wait.”

But it will wait. First, Lamb wants to get the Cowboys (12-5) past the divisional round for the first time in 28 years.

Thanks in part to his breakout season, they're positioned better than either of his other postseason trips the previous two seasons.

Dallas, the No. 2 seed in the NFC, plays Green Bay (9-8) in a wild-card game Sunday at home, where the Cowboys have a 16-game winning streak. They will play at AT&T Stadium again if they win.

Ask Lamb about numbers, and he's quick to respond with something about winning being the only thing that matters to him. It's just been hard to ignore the numbers this season — even for him.

Lamb broke both of Michael Irvin's club records from 1995 — the last time the Cowboys reached an NFC championship game, and won the franchise's fifth Super Bowl title.

The former Oklahoma standout's 135 catches were 16 more than anybody else in the NFL, and his 1,749 yards were second to four-time All-Pro Tyreek Hill. Lamb might be on the verge of his first All-Pro nod.

“It was a big moment for me, of course,” Lamb said about talking to Irvin, one of the previous 88s and a three-time Super Bowl winner. “Now it’s time to go chase the ring, was basically the end message. I’m with that. That’s always been my end goal and still is.”

The Cowboys were shocked when Lamb fell to them at No. 17 in a draft loaded at his position. Two receivers went before him, and six were taken in the first round.

It's been a steady climb ever since, from 935 yards to 1,102 and 1,359. And from five touchdowns to six, nine and then 12 this season, 13 with a rushing TD included.

Lamb scored at least one touchdown in each of the the last nine regular-season games. Dez Bryant, another of the 88s, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Owens shared the previous record at seven straight games.

“It’s just a constant ascension,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “What I think makes it so amazing is the opponents are trying to take him away. I mean, let’s be honest. They’re doing things to try to take him away. And he’s still able to go out there and do that.”

Schottenheimer says Lamb's football instincts are a big reason. He was already talking about that before what he saw as one of the best examples on Lamb's 92-yard touchdown against Detroit, the night he passed Irvin and finished with 13 catches for 227 yards.

Prescott had to escape pressure around the goal line, and Lamb broke the same direction as Prescott's scramble as his quarterback threw deep. The defender fell down, Lamb caught the ball near midfield and strolled into the end zone.

“That doesn’t just happen,” Schottenheimer said.

Prescott believes the connection has grown through a lot of work together, starting in the offseason and continuing once the games began. As for elite, Lamb's QB didn't think there was any waiting for that.

“On the day he showed up,” Prescott said of when Lamb became elite. “Yeah, he had it all in him. We had another number one receiver here as well. I guess when Amari left and him really just understanding it’s time for me to take this leap and take on this role. Yeah, from that moment.”

Coach Mike McCarthy, calling plays for the first time in his fourth season in Dallas, has a similar view of Lamb's ascension. It was a matter of opportunity.

“We started moving him around last year, similar to the way we played with Amari,” McCarthy said. “If you’re going to be a No. 1 wide receiver in the league, I think it’s important for him to be able to move around. He has such a unique skillset. I think he’s a dynamic player out of the backfield, too.”

Lamb is set to play on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract next season. There was plenty of contract talk last summer in California. There will be even more if a deal doesn't get done in the spring.

“I’ve got a goal in mind and that’s to get a ring,” Lamb said. “At the end of that, then we’ll start talking about everything else. I’m going to focus on this then we’ll get on that.”

Lamb's bargaining power has only gone up.