FRISCO, Texas – Two pivotal moments for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys' offense over this recent Thanksgiving stretch:
- On Nov. 20 against the Baltimore Ravens, the Cowboys punted on their first four possessions for the first time all season. On their fifth drive, trailing 7-0, two straight pre-snap penalties set up a first-and-30. Prescott scrambled for 12 yards and threw two straight completions to Dez Bryant to Brice Butler totaling 53 yards. Three plays later, the offense was in the end zone – the start of five straight scoring drives in a 27-17 victory.
- Then on Thanksgiving four days later, just after the Washington Redskins had trimmed the Cowboys' lead to 17-12 at the start of the fourth quarter, Prescott calmly went 3-of-3 for 44 yards and ran six yards for a touchdown to make it a two-possession game once again in an eventual 31-26 victory.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett doesn't believe in the term 'rise to the occasion.' He believes every play matters, whether things are going your way or not, and players must treat each individually with the same focus.
His rookie quarterback clearly takes that approach to the field.
"I don't really put too much into what that moment means more than I put into what I have to do on that one play," Prescott said. "I just kind of lock in on that. There's a lot that goes into each and every play and I know if I focus on that and just try to do my job the guys around me will do theirs. And it usually works out the right way."
The Cowboys, like any offense, want to start games fast. They've done that this season for the most part, scoring 68 first-quarter points in 11 games this season.
One exception was the Ravens game, when Prescott was 4-of-10 passing on those first four drives ending in punts. He finished the game 27-of-36 for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
In the first 11 starts of his career, he hasn't let a bad stretch in a game affect him. He has just kept playing.
[embeddedad0]"I really don't think he's a slow starter," Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "We've scored more touchdowns on opening drives than a lot of teams. We've had a couple where he wasn't 10-for-10 or whatever, but I think he's definitely a guy that gets better as the game goes on. I think it helps that he's got the team around him that he does, and he has a lot of patience and poise about his approach.
"That's what quarterback's jobs are to do. It's hard to do as a young player, but he doesn't feel to me or seem to me like he's a young guy – I think he's always been that kind of guy."
Prescott has the league's fourth-best passer rating (108.6), completing 67.9 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions. According to NBC Sports, he also ranks seventh among quarterbacks with a 109.1 passer rating the fourth quarter of games this season.
He has made plays in late-game moments, indeed. The Cowboys have directed three fourth-quarter comeback victories this season.
No matter the score or the situation, though, Prescott doesn't let himself think about anything other than the play the offense is trying to execute at that moment.
"Some games we get rolling early and it's hard to stop us and some games it takes a little bit of time," he said. "It's more of, just stay within the moment. Don't worry about what's happened, don't worry about the next plays. Worry about what's at hand now."
This Thursday, the offense will be challenged on the road by a Minnesota Vikings defense that ranks third in total yardage allowed per game (307.0) and second in points allowed per game (17.5).
"They're all over the field," Prescott said. "It's a great secondary. They're solid all the way around."
For Prescott, the approach will be the same: focus play to play.