ARLINGTON, Texas – Dak Prescott was sure to point out that he never called it a slump, but he certainly had a rebuttal ready for those that did.
"I think it'd be hard for you to say that now," he said.
That much is obvious when the starting quarterback takes the bench with 2:00 to play in the third quarter, as if this was a preseason game. The Cowboys bulldozed Washington in every conceivable fashion in this 56-14 demolition.
But as fun as the defensive touchdowns and the blocked punts might have been, nothing did more to ease the sense of anxiety surrounding this team than the performance of Prescott and this offense. After a month of mostly forgettable performances, the Cowboys roared to life with 497 yards of offense and six touchdowns on the night they secured the NFC East title.
"I don't know if we're in the world or in the business of trying to send messages more than we're just trying to get better day in and day out, game after game and make sure we're playing our best ball as I continue to say and peaking at the right time heading into this tournament," Prescott said.
Maybe Prescott wasn't aiming to send a message on Sunday night, but he definitely did.
With the exception of one explosive fourth quarter on Thanksgiving, Prescott has not looked much like the quarterback who was in the thick of the NFL MVP race throughout the first half of the season.
From the second possession onward against Washington, he was back. Prescott guided five consecutive scoring drives in the first half alone, completing 27-of-35 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns before the halftime break. Factor all that together with a DeMarcus Lawrence pick-six, and the game was in hand hours before the final whistle.
Whatever the reasoning, it was impressive to see the Cowboys break a trend that had seen them averaging just 20 offensive points per game over the last three weeks – and Prescott was a huge part of that.
"I wouldn't say that I was in a slump. I wouldn't say that," he said. "Now, I would also agree I wasn't playing my best ball. But at the same time I've just continued to work and continue to work at the things that I know, trust the guys around me, trust the receivers and I just think that's a process of that."
To hear it from them, a big part of the Cowboys' success might have been the manner in which they attacked Washington's defense. From the get-go, the Cowboys went after it with an up tempo attack that put a lot of pressure on Washington to keep up.
"When we do that, it tires those guys down so much," said Ezekiel Elliott. "It takes a lot of the thinking out of the game for us."
That might be one of the benefits of seeing an opponent so soon after the initial meeting. Amari Cooper joked to reporters that he had an inkling a faster approach might work from the Cowboys' 27-20 win at FedEx Field back on Dec. 12.
"Two weeks ago when we played them, one of their D-Linemen on their team was like 'Man, y'all slow this thing down,'" Cooper said. "So I think it really affected them."
There's also the benefit of improved execution. For much of the last two months, this Cowboys offense has seemed to be just a better throw, a better catch or a better run from breaking out. They got all of that at once on Sunday. The running backs averaged 4.2 yards per carry, while CeeDee Lamb and Cooper both provided tough, chain-moving catches that have been missing in recent weeks.
Prescott's own contributions shouldn't be underestimated. He showed a mobility that has seemed to be missing, as he scrambled four times for 21 yards and broke outside the pocket several times for big completions.
"I think that just goes into everything that I've put into the work that I put into my body all season long," he said. "You do it to make sure that at this time of the year you are feeling the best. When a lot of people are hurt and trying to deal with things, I feel fortunate that I am probably feeling better than I have all season long."
It's been a long, frustrating trip to get to this point, but that's an encouraging thought. Right as the Cowboys win their division and the postseason starts to take shape, Prescott once again looks like the quarterback that raised the expectations so high in the first place.
Whether or not you'd call it a slump has always been irrelevant compared to whether or not the Cowboys could fix it. Now that they have, the focus can stay on sustaining it.
"We're not going to hang our hats on this game," Prescott said. "We're going to learn from the mistakes. We're going to take from the good and we're going to continue to go in the right direction and make sure we get better from this."