Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will take the field for his first playoff game Sunday.
He will be going up against the Green Bay Packers and the sizzling hot Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback in the league not named Tom Brady.
Few people expect him to win Sunday, let alone do something no rookie has ever done before and lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.
More over, if the Cowboys don’t win, many will point to Prescott playing instead of veteran Tony Romo as one reason why the team with the best record in the league lost.
This is not just another game, no matter how the Cowboys are approaching it.
It’s a big game. Win or go home. I know the importance of that. It’s a great position we put ourselves in.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys quarterback
“Yeah, I mean it’s my first run at it so I can’t tell you what I’m expecting,” said Prescott, who tossed 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions in leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 mark. “It’s a big game. Win or go home. I know the importance of that. It’s a great position we put ourselves in.”
But don’t expect Prescott to cower in the moment.
It’s not who he is. It’s not part of his DNA.
Was he nervous before his first start in the preseason opener against the Rams, the first Rams game back in Los Angeles since 1994?
“No. I was excited,” Prescott said.
Was he nervous being summoned off the bench to replace an injured Romo three plays into the third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defense?
“No. I knew the play coach called,” Prescott said. “I went in there and went through my reads. When you get too nervous, your mind’s on other things other than what you’re prepared to do.”
Was he nervous about the regular-season opener against the New York Giants, carrying the weight and uncertainty of Romo’s injury and the fate of the team on his broad shoulders?
“Excited,” Prescott shot back.
And Sunday? It’s a playoff game. He’s got to be nervous about that.
“Yeah, nerves of excitement,” Prescott said with a smile.
This is the thing I love to do most. So any time I get a chance, an opportunity to play this game, whether it’s at practice or it’s in front of thousands of people, playoff game, regular-season game, preseason. I’m thankful to be in this position.
Dak Prescott on his passion for football
Prescott said he can’t remember the last time he was nervous before game.
He views nervousness as a lack of preparedness.
He burns off steam during the pregame warm-ups so he can focus on the task at hand.
But there will be no pep talks, no yoga exercises and no meditating.
“I’m sure I have been nervous at some point in time,” Prescott said. “For the most part when it comes to this game, it’s always just been excitement.
“This is the thing I love to do most. So any time I get a chance, an opportunity to play this game, whether it’s at practice or it’s in front of thousands of people, playoff game, regular-season game, preseason. I’m thankful to be in this position.”
Prescott’s lack of nervousness is probably because of his uncommon poise. The composure, maturity and work ethic he has shown have allowed him to go from a fourth-round, third-string, practice squad project to having the best statistical season of any rookie quarterback in NFL history.
Prescott set rookie records for quarterback rating (104.9), completion percentage (67.8), fewest interceptions (4), most games with a 70.0 completion percentage (7) and most games with 100.0 passer rating (11). He also tied Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie record for wins (13).
Those are the reasons the Cowboys believe he can take the team where no rookie QB has gone before.
“I think it’s probably part of his DNA,” coach Jason Garrett said of Prescott. “He’s a really poised, composed person. Got a great perspective on life, great perspective on football. Focuses on what he needs to do to be his best. At every turn, that’s how he’s handled himself.”
He’s a really poised, composed person. Got a great perspective on life, great perspective on football. Focuses on what he needs to do to be his best. At every turn, that’s how he’s handled himself.
Coach Jason Garrett on Dak Prescott
That’s what he’s done so far, in addition to dodging flying straw papers spit at him by fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott.
Leading up to the Packers game, the Cowboys just want Prescott to keep doing what he’s been doing all season.
Same approach, same impact, same presence. And work for the same results.
In fact, that’s what former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin told Prescott before his first preseason start in Los Angeles.
“I think everybody should take that advice in life,” Prescott said. “Just keep being who you are. Just keep doing what you are doing that has got you to this point. Don’t change anything. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just go out there and have fun.”
That’s what the Cowboys expect.
If Prescott doesn’t play well and the Cowboys’ don’t win, it won’t be because he was nervous or unprepared.
“He is going to play his game. He’s going to do his thing,” receiver Brice Butler said. “I don’t expect nothing different. The way he has been playing all year. I can’t see him making the playoffs any different. Just go out there and play.”