The Dak Prescott discourse has become one of the most polarizing in the NFL. He’s not an MVP-caliber quarterback, but he’s been a steady hand for seven seasons. He has a higher career passer rating than Tony Romo and led explosive offenses, but Prescott’s leap to top-5 quarterback never came, and now, during the rockiest period of his career, critics are split on his ability to deliver in high-pressure moments. An insurgent group of Dak Truthers call attention to his shortcomings at every opportunity. Everything’s bigger in Texas, even the expectations and the nitpicking.
Dallas’ season began with a low-scoring affair in Tampa Bay where Prescott fractured his thumb, followed by his understudy Cooper Rush unexpectedly winning his first five starts by playing turnover-free and handing the ball off to Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott.
Since Prescott’s return, Cowboy Nation has peered at him with a more skeptical eye. Throwing nine interceptions in his first eight starts has only exacerbated the scrutiny. His passer rating on third downs is a hair better than Justin Fields, Daniel Jones, and Matt Ryan, but trails Derek Carr. A combination of his lengthy contract negotiations, recent bad luck with injuries, and his middling season on the most complete Cowboys team in years have brought the Dak Truthers out in full force.
The Cowboys’ offense has been hot and cold though. One week, they’re getting dumped on their heads by the Green Bay Packers as they took melatonin with a 28-14 lead, and the next they’re burying the 8-2 Minnesota Vikings by 37. Prescott’s reputation as a steady hand has been tested.
His fourth quarter yesterday against the Texans was a microcosm of Dallas’ whole season — the Cowboys sleepwalking through a typical trap game. Favored by 17 points in Caesars Sportsbook, the offense managed to make the oddsmakers look clueless.
And in the clutch — after gaining possession of the ball down three — Prescott threw his second interception to cornerback Tremon Smith, who returned it to the Cowboys’ 5-yard line.
A touchdown for Houston would have essentially ended it, but a field goal would have forced the Cowboys to score a touchdown on their next drive. Dallas defenses of years past would have reacted like Chernobyl and melted down under the pressure Prescott’s mistake placed on them. Fortunately, Dan Quinn’s Cowboys 2022 defense ranks first in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA rankings and rose to the challenge once again.
The Cowboys held firm with a goal-line stand for the ages, keeping the Texans out of the endzone. On the ensuing drive, Prescott connected with Dalton Schultz for 21 yards, then delivered a strike to CeeDee Lamb on a 46-yard completion in traffic. Ezekiel Elliott eventually punched it in from the one, but the story of the drive was Dak Prescott going 6-for-6 and diming his way 79 yards downfield.
Prescott’s comeback from his own miscue won’t be enough to silence the detractors. The playoffs are the only avenue from which he can escape that narrative. However, Sunday’s win keeps their slim hopes to earn a crucial first-round bye alive. Of course, that will require a comeback over the next four weeks as the 12-1 Philadelphia Eagles sail through the regular season. For the Cowboys to continue that push, Prescott will have to play as immaculately down the stretch against the Jaguars, Commanders, Titans, Eagles and as he did on his game-winning drive Sunday.