ATLANTA – It'd be a mistake to assume Dak Prescott has never endured a night like that.
Of course, it had never happened with the Dallas Cowboys – not behind that vaunted offensive line, stocked with high draft picks and All-Pro players. But Prescott has been playing quarterback longer than his 26 career starts in the NFL.
"I mean, yeah. I've played football a long time, so I've had games similar to that," he said following the Cowboys' 27-7 loss to Atlanta on Sunday evening.
It was just two years ago that Prescott was a senior at Mississippi State, when he was harassed all night by a relentless Alabama defense. In a 31-6 rout, the Crimson Tide eventually sacked nine times on the day.
Sunday's loss looked similar to that one on the stat sheet. The Falcons sacked Prescott eight times on the night, taking advantage of Tyron Smith's absence from the lineup. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn beat Chaz Green for five sacks on the night, and he and Brooks Reed combined to beat Byron Bell twice more in the fourth quarter.
If he wasn't being tackled behind the line, some of Prescott's only success of the day came when he escaped pressure – as he scrambled six times for 42 yards and a touchdown.
"Yeah, I mean we just got our asses kicked," Prescott said.
The cause of the problems might have seemed obvious, but Prescott wasn't going to say that. Given the success he has enjoyed as a result of this offensive line, the second-year quarterback was quick to express confidence in the guys in front of him.
"I've had great offensive line play – it's a credit to those guys. I'm not going to knock them or lose confidence in any of them," he said. "It's one game, and as I've said, I'm not going to put everything on them. I'll go back and look at the film and see where we can get better as a unit."
Still, it feels hard to even gauge the game Prescott played – so thin was his margin for error. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 176 yards, and his aforementioned abilities as a runner were some of the Cowboys' only highlights of the night.
Given the chance to place the loss on someone else, though, he declined.
"Maybe I could've gotten the ball out faster or receivers could come open," he said. "It's a team deal tonight – it was a team loss. We're all going to take credit in it. It sucked, but we'll get better from it and use it to motivate us."
Admirable as that may be, it won't change the tape when the Cowboys sit down to watch it. The Falcons recorded seven of their eight sacks against Smith's vacated left tackle spot, and they did it playing a wide-nine technique that Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said presented some problems.
"We weren't capable of really blocking their rush," Jones said. "I thought that Dak did a real good job. I don't think it was pocket issues that helped the sacks. I just think we just didn't do a good job, especially blocking."
That much seems obvious to anyone who watched – but Prescott wasn't having it. After a night in which he'd taken plenty of hits already, what was the harm in taking one more?
"We're not going to leave somebody out to dry. We're not going to point fingers and say it's Chaz. It's whatever it is," he said. "But we'll go back and we'll look. As I've said, I probably could've got the ball out faster sometimes. We'll go back and look at it and get better from it."