ARLINGTON, Texas – Based on the number of times he repeated the same phrase, it seemed like Dak Prescott had rehearsed this line a few times.
To be fair, he had a point. From the time we're old enough to understand the game, we've all dreamed of being in Prescott's position – 14 yards from the opponent's end zone, down by four, with one last chance to be the hero.
"As a quarterback, you can't ask for more, right? Ball is in your hands, fourth down, chance to make a throw to win the game," Prescott said.
That bit about the ball being in Prescott's hands is the line he repeated three different times following Sunday's loss to Minnesota. And while it's true that he did throw incomplete on fourth down, effectively ending the Cowboys' best chance to win, anyone who watched the game can feel the irony in the statement.
The two previous snaps before that fateful fourth down, the ball didn't spend much time in Prescott's hands at all, as he handed off to Ezekiel Elliott on a 2nd-and-2 and a 3rd-and-2 with no success. Typically, handing off to one of the league's best running backs wouldn't seem like a bold strategy – though on this night it felt peculiar, as Elliott was limited to just two yards per carry, while Prescott torched the Vikings defense to the tune of 397 yards.
"Obviously, we were trying to score a touchdown," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
The late focus on Elliott contradicted the success of what had been an amazing drive to that point. The Cowboys took over on their own 6-yard line with 4:34 to play and promptly moved the ball 83 yards – with 79 of those coming through the air.
"I told the offensive line: 'We're going to go down there, 90-plus yards, and we're going to stick it in the end zone,'" Prescott said. "Fourth down, the ball in my hand, I can't ask for anything more than that."
The second-guessing will continue all week, but Prescott wasn't about to be part of it. With 1:34 remaining in the game at the time, he noted the need to run the ball in order to drain clock. He also mentioned the all-important problem with so many Cowboys miscues so far this season – a lack of execution.
"I'm not going to question the play calling," he said. "There were opportunities, we've just got to do better and execute those plays – simple as that. And every guy in that locker room would say that."
It's bound to be especially frustrating for Prescott. The loss killed what had been one of the finest efforts of his entire career. He didn't just throw for 400 yards, he danced his way out of trouble and dug the Cowboys out of 3rd-and-long holes on seemingly every possession of the night. Against one of the NFL's better defenses, it would have been an undeniable statement about his own ability and the Cowboys' placement in the NFC pecking order.
If he feels that frustration, Prescott did his best not to show it. And that included not adding his voice to the many that are second-guessing this loss.
"We get that first down, nobody in here is even talking about that they took the ball out of my hands," he said. "So it comes down to execution. We've just got to execute those plays. As I said, those linemen would say that, the running back would say that – the whole team would say that. We're not going to talk about what we could've done or should've done. We've just got to learn from it and do better next time."