Cowboys’ success hinges on Dak Prescott

By David Mullen

The Dallas Cowboys road to the Super Bowl begins on Monday, Jan. 16 as they face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. The once cocky Cowboys faithful, reeling after a season-ending 26-6 loss to Washington’s practice squad on January 8, are now questioning the ability of quarterback Dak Prescott to lead the team to their first World Championship since 1996.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Should the Cowboys somehow lose to the 8-9 Bucs, the same lame excuses will be made. Owner Jerry Jones needs to hire a true NFL GM. The intricacies of the modern game have passed head coach Mike McCarthy. And Prescott can’t win a big game. In his playoff career, Prescott is 1-3.

Prescott is spectacular in both accomplishment and failure. Statistics get a player paid. In Prescott’s case, he received a four-year, $160 million deal. But wins get a player respect. In the blowout loss to Washington, Prescott was a putrid 14 completions in 37 attempts for 128 yards. He threw another pick six, leading people to question Prescott’s ability to lead Dallas in the playoffs. Didn’t the Cowboys learn anything from the Cooper Rush era?

In 12 starts, Prescott threw 15 interceptions. In five starts, Rush threw three.

Rush led the Cowboys to a 4-1 record when Prescott was out in weeks 2 through 6. Rush is nowhere near as talented as Prescott, but his play proved inspiring by lacking improvisation. He stuck to the script. The Cowboys found balance and executed wins against two playoff teams, all as Rush heard the countdown for Prescott’s return in the background. 

Study the San Francisco 49ers. They started the season 3-4. They finished 13-4 – winning 10 in a row — and won the NFC West behind rookie and third string quarterback Brock Purdy. 

The last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft at No. 262, Purdy earned the moniker “Mr. Irrelevant.” Given the starting role when they lost quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries, the 49ers asked Purdy to execute an intricate offense and minimize mistakes. He has gained confidence with every win, and San Francisco is the popular pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVII. 

Led by Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers’ philosophy is that a quarterback doesn’t have to provide a superhuman effort to succeed, just perform as expected and get the ball to their multitude of skilled players. San Francisco also relies on an aggressive defense. In their wins, the Cowboys have been led by an opportunistic defense. 

The Cowboys thought they had a steal in drafting Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was a two-time First Team All-SEC QB at Mississippi State. He set the Orange Bowl passing record as a junior, but his team lost by 15 points to Georgia Tech. It is easy to ring up remarkable statistics when playing from behind.

Tampa Bay is a bad team. Only the irregular scheduling in the NFL would allow an 8-9 team to win a division and host a first-round playoff game. Detroit and Pittsburgh had better regular season records than Tampa but are packing their suitcases for Cancun.  

Prescott must realize that he doesn’t need to have a great stat line for this team to win. If he doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t force passes into double coverage and plays a controlled game, Dallas will easily handle a Tampa team with only five rushing touchdowns all season. The two-headed monster of Dallas running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard had 21 rushing TDs between them in the 2022 regular season.

As a starting QB, Brady has never lost to the Cowboys. He is 7-0. But this Tampa team is not the New England Patriots teams that Brady has led in the past. The Cowboys will win if Prescott plays in control like Rush did during his early season streak. This playoff run will prove if winning is in Prescott’s DNA.

With the 14-3 Philadelphia Eagles earning a first-round bye, the NFC playoffs begin in Santa Clara, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 14. The 49ers face the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco’s defense held opponents to a league low 77.7 yards rushing per game. In their two wins against Seattle this season, the 49ers held the Seahawks to under 75 yards rushing per game. Seattle was 0-5 when held to less than 75 yards rushing per game, the key directive pointing toward an easy San Francisco victory. 

On Sunday, Jan. 15, the surprising New York Giants travel to Minneapolis for a game versus the Minnesota Vikings. In a statistic beyond comprehension, the Vikings finished 13-4 despite having a point differential of -3. Simply stated, Minnesota scored 424 points this season and surrendered 427. The 9-7-1 Giants also scored fewer points than they conceded, but they played the NFC’s two highest scoring teams — Philadelphia and Dallas — four times. Playing an NFC North schedule, the Vikings have no excuse.

If Brady is the NFL’s GOAT, Minnesota quarterback Kurt Cousins is the NFL’s scapegoat. Most fans feel that the Vikings win despite Cousins, which is probably unfair. Prescott can feel Cousins’ pain. New York is young, and success came a season early. They are not yet playoff ready. The Vikings are 8-1 at home, which should be good enough for a hard-fought Minnesota win.

In the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs secured a first-round playoff bye caused by the cancellation of the Week 17 game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals because of the frightening Damar Hamlin on field medical incident. Playing at home, the No. 2 seeded Bills hosts the injury-riddled Miami Dolphins. Buffalo will win in a rout. 

On NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” the defending AFC Champion Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati started the regular season 0-2 and finished by winning 10 of 12. The Bengals are solid, if not showy, in all aspects of the game and will win by keeping the Ravens to 17 points or fewer.

In an intriguing matchup, the AFC South champion 9-8 Jacksonville Jaguars play the wild card 10-7 Los Angeles Chargers. The line has swung from Jaguars +1 to -1. It’s that close. Jacksonville provides no negligible homefield advantage, despite Los Angeles having to travel cross country. The Jags defense can’t stop the pass, and the Chargers have one of the worst rushing defenses in NFL history. The advantage goes to LA QB Justin Herbert, especially if the Chargers score first and Jacksonville must abandon their rushing game.

The playoffs are the ultimate litmus test for the Dallas Cowboys. A loss to Tampa will bring an end to another disappointing season. Questions will arise whether Prescott can put team success ahead of his $40 million annual salary.