When Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered his third and seemingly most unforgivable turnover against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, he could have gotten down on himself.
He could have gone in a shell. He could have listened to the critics who say he is not good enough to lead the Cowboys.
But after fumbling on a sack with 2:14 left in the third quarter — after throwing two interceptions earlier in the game — to personally keep the Eagles in a game that the Cowboys had dominated, Prescott dug a little deeper, focused a little more and turned in one of the best closing stanzas in franchise history.
The former 2016 fourth-round pick from Mississippi State, who is often criticized for his inaccuracy and passing inefficiency but is known for his courage, character, and leadership in the times of trouble, turned picture perfect.
He completed 17 of 20 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns with a QB rating of 156.8 in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Cowboys to a 29-23 victory, extending their winning streak to five games and putting them one win away from clinching the NFC East title.
“I’m never going to give up and I’m never going to stop,” Prescott said when asked about his late-game prowess. “When you have teammates and you have coaches that support you and push you and believe in you, then no matter what goes on, no matter the interceptions and no matter the fumbles, they’ve always got your back. It just allows me to keep my eyes forward and focus on my goal, and I’ve been able to do that here. I just stay true to myself, stay true to what I was doing and didn’t get down on myself.”
Prescott lost his mother to cancer when he was in college and often uses her for inspiration. But in the fourth quarter against the Eagles, he was inspired by two special guests — Kendrell Daniels, an 18-year old from Kempner, Miss. who was born with no arms and Zane Dunn, 7, of Marshall, Texas.
He gave both of them tickets to the Super Bowl before Sunday’s game. Daniels designed the cleats Prescott wore for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign.
Dunn walked up to him after a football camp and said ‘I lost my mother like just like you’, creating an instant bond. According to Tyler’s KTLV, Dunn lost his mother to domestic violence.
“I’ve been through a lot in life,” Prescott said. “I’ve never questioned anything, I’ve never asked “why?” on anything. I’ve had faith and always believed in my purpose in just being able to push forward. (Sunday) was a special day. I had two friends here, Kendrell and Zane. They mean a lot to me. To see those guys before the game, and what they’ve been through in their personal life. I actually wrote a ‘K’ and a ‘Z’ on my arm.
“I looked at that all fourth quarter long, know the adversity that I’ve suffered and the adversity I had earlier in the game. I just used those guys as inspiration to get me through this game, knowing that those are two young men who are watching me. It’s important for me to go out there and do my best. Those guys inspire me so much. As I said, it was an emotional game and a special game.”
And Prescott put on a special performance, completing a career-high 42 of 54 passes for a career-high 455 yards.
There is no question the presence of receiver Amari Cooper made a huge difference for Prescott. Cooper had 10 catches for 217 yards and all three touchdowns of 28, 75 and the walk-off 15-yarder in overtime.
The first one was a perfect pass in the right corner of the end zone. The second was also a perfect bomb that came after Cooper encouraged him to change the route at the line of scrimmage. The final was about Cooper sticking with the play after the ball tipped off the hands of a defender before waltzing in the end zone.
But it was also about Prescott’s resolve.
Sure, Cooper’s addition in bye week trade from the Oakland Raiders has transformed him and the Cowboys offense over the last six weeks. Prescott has passed for 1,714 yards and nine touchdowns in six games with Cooper. He had 1,417 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games before he arrived.
His completion percentage is 74.1 with Cooper and 62.1 without him and his quarterback rating is 105.7 with and 87.4 without.
What has remained the same, dating back to his sensational rookie season in 2016, is Prescott’s competitive fire, leadership, and unflappable nature.
The Eagles victory was the 13th time he has led the Cowboys on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2016 and the third in the last five weeks. He is tied with Detroit’s Matt Stafford for the most game-winning drives in the NFL over the last three years and for the most for any quarterback in NFL history over the first three seasons of his career.
Since the start of 2016, Prescott is responsible for 16 total touchdowns (13 passing, three rushing) when the game is within seven points in the fourth quarter or overtime, tied for the most in the NFL over that span.
Coach Jason Garrett continues to maintain that Prescott is still a young, maturing quarterback but also one that has the skill to make all throws and no limitations on developing into a great quarterback.
But what he values most in Prescott is his work ethic, mental toughness, and leadership that continues to show up late in games and in times of adversity.
“The real positive was when you make those mistakes with the ball, those can be critical plays in the game. It’s hard to overcome that,” Garrett said. “But he kept playing and I thought he did a great job leading our team with that mentality. We’re just going to keep playing. We’re going to play through the success. We’re going to play through this adversity. Let’s go down and get this thing done.
“He threw the ball really well and made a number of big plays in the critical moments in the game of the fourth quarter and in overtime. I thought that was the biggest thing. When you play quarterback and you have some of those balls that go the other way sometimes it’s hard to pull that trigger and throw it the way you want to throw it. That wasn’t the case at all for him. He was ripping it in there and making a ton of big plays as that game went on.”
Garrett said Prescott works as hard as anyone in the building, which is why he believes in his upside as he works through his bouts of inaccuracy and decision-making that had led to an increase in turnovers in 2018.
It’s also why owner Jerry Jones says there is no giving up on Prescott when bad things happen while calling him possibly the most focused learner of the game plan in the class room that the Cowboys have had since he bought the team in 1989.
“The thing you’ve got to remember about Dak is he’s so well-prepared,” Jones said. “I’ve said this. I don’t know that we’ve had a player that is as focused on, if you will, the game plan or focused on what he’s being told in the classroom. He takes it to the practice field and he takes it to the game. And, so, you know his preparation is going to kick in at some particular point…I can’t emphasize enough that you hang around and you hang through a mistake on a given play and you’re going to have something good happen.
“And that’s the way I feel about Dak. He’s going to have something good happen. He’s got the confidence of the team. He’s got confidence in himself. Okay, we’ve had some setbacks here, but something good is going to happen. Boy, what a mentality or what a character makeup for our game, football.”