Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott spent the past few days drawing closer to his inner circle, huddling with family over the holiday weekend.
He has stayed off social media but knows “it’s hot on the streets” regarding the Cowboys’ three-game losing streak and his disappointing play based on the number of texts he’s received from friends telling him to keep his head up.
A year ago, Prescott was the toast of the NFL while leading the Cowboys to a franchise-record tying 13 wins and fashioning the finest rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history.
Now, some are wondering if the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of Year was largely built by the presence of running back Ezekiel Elliott, whose absence due to a six-game suspension has coincided with the recent funk.
One local paper even lampooned that the only person exposed more than Prescott of late was U.S. Congressman Joe Barton, thanks to his now infamous scandal.
“Keep questioning me,” Prescott said sternly to his newfound critics. “Obviously if you’re questioning me, you don’t know me and you don’t know what I’m about. So keep questioning me. Have fun at it.”
What’s certain right now is that times are not fun for Prescott and the Cowboys, who have been outscored 92-22 the last three games. It marked the first time in franchise history that Dallas has scored fewer than 10 points in three straight games.
After committing just eight turnovers all last season, including four interceptions, Prescott has eight turnovers in the last three games.
“It’s frustrating, simple as that,” Prescott said. “But what it does is it makes being on top fun. That’s what it’s all about is getting out of these whatever you call them, ruts or whatever they are, and getting back to our expectations, our standards. Like I said, that’s what’s going to make being on top and playing well consistently fun is experiencing these times.”
Prescott has been searching within himself and studying film with coaches trying to figure out what has gone wrong.
The young quarterback believes many of the turnovers have been caused by trying to do too much in late-game desperation.
Coach Jason Garrett agrees.
“There’s no question he’s a very poised and composed guy,” Garrett said. “I think, in some situations toward the end of ball games, he’s probably taken on some things maybe a little bit more than he should have and it has affected his decision-making.
“When things aren’t going well, competitors say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do something. I’m going to make the play. I’m going to make the difference here.’ He’s done a great job being consistent with his decisions throughout, regardless of what the circumstances are. But you can probably point to a couple decisions he’s made and say ‘Boy, that was uncharacteristic of him.’ ”
Prescott believes the Cowboys still have enough playmakers without Elliott to make things happen.
“I mean, yeah, it’s frustrating, it’s shocking,” Prescott said. “You look around and you see the Pro Bowlers and the talent you have. It’s almost a loss for words on why it’s happening, but it just shows you this game is tough. It’s tough week in and week out, no matter who you play, and that’s what makes the NFL great.”
Despite Elliott’s absence, defenses aren’t playing them differently, and explosive plays are there to be made.
“I look in the mirror and I look at the other guys on the plays. I mean, simply explosion plays, I don’t know if you can point at a coach,” Prescott said. “It’s just us making guys miss and wanting to go get those extra yards. That to me is simply about the athleticism of our playmakers and being able to go make guys miss.”
The frustrations are expected for a team watching its playoff hopes drift away.
And while there are those now questioning Prescott, which he realizes comes with being the quarterback of America’s Team, he said his approach remains the same as it was when he was all the rage last season.
It’s important for him as a leader to be even-keeled and consistent in approach and attitude. His play might be in a funk, but his confidence in himself and his teammates remains high.
“I never expect bad times or expect going into a rut,” Prescott said. “Playing in this league as long as I want to play in this league, it’s going to happen and I would say any quarterback who has been in this league for a long time has had them.
“It’s just about staying equal, not getting too low right now, knowing that confidence in myself and these teammates and getting right back to where we need to be.”