FRISCO, Texas – The story of Dak Prescott stands at a crossroads.
Not so much because of what he’s going to write, but for how the Dallas Cowboys quarterback will be perceived.
Prescott will make his fourth playoff appearance when the Cowboys take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild card round on Monday (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN+). He won a playoff game in the 2018 wild card round against the Seattle Seahawks.
Fair or unfair, Cowboys quarterbacks are judged on what Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman did in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively, when the Hall of Famers combined for five Super Bowl championships. The performances of every Cowboys quarterback since, despite stat wins (or, in Danny White’s case, three straight NFC championship games), just haven’t been good enough.
If Prescott doesn’t pull off a playoff run next month that ends the Cowboys’ 26-year Super Bowl drought, he’ll have to battle through the endless question of whether he can ever deliver.
Prescott isn’t running away from the pressure to do what Staubach and Aikman did.
“I have to say I will. I want to win the championships and win the titles and everything they’ve done and every game has put this team in that position,” Prescott said. “But I can’t say that’s paramount when I think about what these guys have done, what the great quarterbacks have done here before me. I don’t know what they were doing back then. It’s about focusing on the now and knowing what I can do, what I’m capable of and what the possibilities are for this team.”
Tony Romo, Prescott’s predecessor, was in the same position. He’s set a stellar record to become the franchise’s all-time best passer. But he never got past the divisional round of the playoffs.
He had gone from an unknown regular season savior in 2006 (losing in the wild card round) to a home loss in a division round playoff game as the NFC’s top seed in 2007. In the 2009 playoffs, he won his first postseason game. only for the cowboys to be wiped out in the division round.
In 2014, in his eighth season as a full-time starter, Romo made the playoffs for the fourth time, ending his best season. He had the Cowboys in position to beat the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, only to rip them away when Dez Bryant’s catch at the goal line was overturned by replay.
He would only start four more games as his body kept breaking down. A broken collarbone twice in 2015 and recurring back problems — as well as Prescott’s performance as Rookie of the Year — ended Romo’s career after the 2016 season.
Prescott, 29, is younger than Romo was then (34), but he also has physical scars. He suffered a dislocated and broken right ankle in 2020. He missed five games this season due to surgery to repair a broken right thumb. He missed a game last season with a calf strain. He also underwent off-season surgery on his left shoulder.
Staubach was 29, like Prescott was when he won Super Bowl VI against the Baltimore Colts. But it was only his third season with the Cowboys after a five-year stint in the Navy. Aikman was 29 when he won his third championship, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. He won his first Super Bowl in his fourth season as a starter for the Cowboys.
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Prescott has started the last seven seasons.
Since 1980, only three quarterbacks have made it to their first Super Bowl with their original team after running longer as a starter in each game than Prescott did as the Cowboys’ starter. Ken Anderson was in his 10th season with the Cincinnati Bengals when they reached Super Bowl XVI. Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning (Super Bowl XLI) and Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan (Super Bowl LI) were the starters for their respective teams in their ninth season.
Prescott’s playoff performances were mixed.
He got off to a slow start in the 2016 divisional round against the Packers, only to finish 24 of 38 for 302 yards and three touchdowns and lead a late comeback to tie the game before Aaron Rodgers’ end-of-game sorcery ended the Cowboys season.
For his only postseason win in the 2018 wildcard round, his numbers weren’t great (22 of 33 for 226 yards, one touchdown, one interception), but he put the game away with a memorable 16-yard rush on third and 14. Flip near the goal line. In the next game, he gave the Cowboys a 24-14 lead over the Seahawks at a 1-yard score with 2:08 to play.
But the next week, the Cowboys were literally crushed in the divisional round by the Los Angeles Rams (273 rushing yards).
And then there was last season’s 23-17 wild card loss to the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium. The lasting image is Prescott’s quarterback keeper in the final seconds after the Cowboys failed to launch the ball in time for a final play.
That loss is still motivation.
“Damn right. Damn right,” Prescott said. “Then obviously after a game like last week [26-6 road loss to the Washington Commanders], it reminds you how precious these moments are. You don’t get those opportunities, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to play this game in general, but to be in the playoffs, to have the team that we have and to know we have to make sure it counts now. ”
Prescott goes into the 2022 playoffs with 15 interceptions despite starting only 12 regular-season games. He has had at least one pass interception in seven straight games, the longest streak by a Cowboys quarterback since 2004. He has had three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the last four games.
Still, belief in Prescott within the organization is as high as ever.
“I don’t know if it really affected his confidence,” said running back Ezekiel Elliott. “If you put all the work into it, if you don’t leave anything in doubt, then there’s no reason to lose confidence. They built this through constant repetition, through continuous hard work. Well, I mean, he put the work in. I know he’s ready.”
Said offensive tackle Tyron Smith: “Expect him to be great like he always is. He is doing everything to prepare himself.”
Said recipient Michael Gallup: “[He’s] literally the same guy every day. First in the dressing room, last to leave. That’s exactly what he does. That’s how his brain is wired. … He’s ready to go. He’s just like that. Never lose faith in [No.] 4.”
Prescott hasn’t lost faith either.
“I just have to win the game, do everything I can and do everything I can to make sure I’m giving this team the best possible chance,” said Prescott. “And understand, I said it myself, right, we’re all judged on wins and wins in the playoffs. These are important. I know that.
“Not that it’s pressure, but you have to love playing in those moments. One must love to participate in such games. If not, this league, this sport is not the place for you. So for me it’s about embracing the moment. to stay in myself It’s not time to do something new, to create something new. Trust my teammates, trust how I prepared and go out there and stay in the moment.”
https://www.espn.com/blog/dallas-cowboys/post/_/id/4775907/fair-or-not-prescott-judged-by-sb-winning-standard-set-by-cowboys-legends-staubach-aikman Prescott judged by standard set by Cowboys legends Staubach, Aikman – Dallas Cowboys Blog