FRISCO, Texas – It’s usually a challenge to write a column on a Thursday.
The news of the weekend is ancient history by now, and we’re still a few days away from the next batch of games. Typically, by Wednesday afternoon all of my hot takes have cooled down to room temperature as I try to get ready for another Cowboys game.
I don’t have that problem this week – not after that Eagles game, and not with the Cowboys on the cusp of a division title. This season has obviously taken a twist that few of us could have foreseen. It was just a month ago that things looked as bleak as they ever have, and now we’re talking playoff scenarios.
There are obviously a lot of reasons for that turnaround. Amari Cooper comes to mind. But as is always the case in football, I have to turn my focus toward the quarterback.
After playing arguably his best and worst game simultaneously, I’m left feeling a lot of ways about Dak Prescott – and so that’s where I want to go this week.
1. I’ve been trying to formulate some kind of comprehensive take on Dak ever since Sunday’s game ended, and I’m just not sure I can do it justice – except to say that I think I’m convinced.
I’m not convinced he’s going to blossom into the league’s best quarterback or win the Cowboys a Super Bowl. No one can predict those things, and anyone trying to is out for click bait.
But having seen that performance against the Eagles, which was so bad and then so good, I think I’m simply a believer in Dak Prescott.
It’s not that we saw anything new against Philadelphia, but maybe I just needed a reminder. He’s not the most polished or the most instinctive quarterback in the NFL, but the man’s poise and cool under pressure is something to behold.
That overtime win was the encapsulation of what Dak brings to the table at this juncture of his career. He’s going to miss some throws. The airmailed balls to Michael Gallup – one for an interception and one for an agonizing incompletion – come to mind. There are going to be misreads, and his ball security in the pocket has got to improve.
But to suffer that many setbacks and then respond the way he did? Completing 17-of-20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime? Leading the Cowboys on three scoring drives in crunch time after sputtering all day?
How about two weeks ago, when the offense couldn’t get much going, but Dak willed his way to an 11-yard rush on a must-have 3rd-and-10?
That’s who he is. He’s often not perfect, but his will to win and his poise under pressure are uncanny – even in a league of highly-paid professionals.
2. And so that’s what I come back to when I think about it.
It’s scary when you weigh whether you want to pay a quarterback a ton of money. Those types of contracts tie up a lot of your cap space, and they hinder your ability to field a complete team – especially if the quarterback you’re paying doesn’t live up to his billing.
But this was a latest reminder. For whatever you might think he lacks on the stat sheet, Dak Prescott more than makes up for it in intangibles. And it honestly doesn’t matter if you believe that, because it’s obvious that everyone in the organization – from the front office to his own competition for the job – does.
After the game, Dak shared an anecdote about a moment between himself and his backup, Cooper Rush, heading into the fourth quarter of the game.
“He said ‘Don’t blink, you’re the best at it’, and that meant a lot to me in that moment,” Prescott said. “To go out there with a guy that I compete with for jobs, a guy that we put in a shared commitment -- for him to say that meant he’s got my back and this whole team has got my back, and that was special.”
3. Combine those factors with Prescott’s youth, and it’s a convincing final selling point.
At just 25 years of age, Sunday marked the 13th game-winning drive of Prescott’s career. He’s authored seven fourth quarter comebacks, he has yet to post a losing record in the NFL and he’s on the cusp of a second NFC East title in three years.
All of that has come in just 46 NFL starts.
Once again: I don’t know how that’ll translate as he continues his career. No one can say for sure whether he’ll develop into a field general on the level of a Russell Wilson, an Aaron Rodgers or a Drew Brees.
But between his current resume and his work ethic, there’s every reason to believe he can continue to improve in the functional aspects of the quarterback position.
4. In the meantime, he’s got an All-Pro running back and a hell of a No. 1 wide receiver to help pick up the slack.
Yes, there’s no denying that Dak has played like a much better quarterback since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper in a trade with Oakland. It was similar in 2016, when Dez Bryant was helping prevent defenses from stacking the box to stop Zeke.
All of that is ok. As I’ve said a thousand times before, it’s fine if Dak needs help at this juncture in his career. The vast majority of NFL quarterbacks do. The more important point is how he’s performing with that help – and the answer is awfully encouraging.
In the six games since Cooper showed up, Prescott is completing 74 percent of his passes for an average of 286 yards per game. He’s thrown nine touchdowns to just three interceptions, and his average quarterback rating is 105.7.
That’s more than “good enough to win games.” It’s pretty damn good, by whatever measure you want to use. And if he needs Pro Bowlers at running back and wide receiver to make it happen, well then he’s got a lot in common with most of the signal-callers in this league.
5. So yeah, long story short, I have no idea what the future holds for Dak Prescott. I do know that he’s still developing as a quarterback, and I can say for sure that the dude has an iron will, a natural leadership ability and a poise that’s hard to believe.
Intangibles are scary because they’re harder to quantify, but they’re an important part of the equation.
Dak’s intangibles are as good as any quarterback playing football right now, and at the very least you know he’ll never stop working to improve in the other aspects of his game. I’m done betting against him.
6. It happens every week without fail. I head into the Cowboys’ matchup thinking that I can’t possibly see a crazier outcome than I already have. Seemingly every single week, I am wrong.
Think about the stuff we’ve seen just in recent memory. The 51-48 Denver game in 2013. The jaw-dropping collapse against the Matt Flynn-led Packers later that year. How about the epic win at Century Link Field in 2014 or that absurdly stupid 10-6 loss to Tampa Bay in 2015? Every single moment of the 2016 season was pure insanity – from Tony Romo’s injury, to the Pittsburgh game and beyond.
How could I have possibly been surprised by the madness that unfolded against the Eagles on Sunday? I’m an idiot, I guess.
That clearly got me thinking, though, and I decided to go do the math. This 2018 season is my sixth covering the Cowboys, and I’ve covered 96 games in that time span – not counting the preseason. I wanted to know: how many of those 96 games have been whacky?
I went back and looked, and I set the bar for “whacky” pretty low. Basically, if the game was still in doubt during the fourth quarter, then the finish was probably pretty exciting. If margin was within a touchdown at any point during the fourth quarter, then I considered it a whacky game. If the margin was two scores or more during the fourth quarter, then I considered it a pretty routine game.
Here’s the upshot: in 96 games during the last five years, the Cowboys have played 37 “whacky” games, where the outcome came down to the final moments. That’s roughly 38 percent of their games.
I have no idea how that compares to the rest of the NFL. It’s probably pretty similar, considering the steps the league has taken to promote parity.
But man, that feels insane. Basically, a third of the time the Cowboys step onto the field, they’re going to play a frantic, thrilling game. This season, 10 of their 13 games have been decided by one score or less, six of them have come down to the final minute and four of them have literally been decided on the game’s final play.
I knew this team was stressful, but it’s wild to have it spelled out so clearly.
Here’s guessing the rest of the ride isn’t going to be much different.
7. I’m going to be brutally honest with you. During that three-week stretch where I wasn’t writing this column, I kind of forgot to keep track of my NFL picks. I’m terrible at making them anyway, so I’m not surprised it slipped my mind during that hectic stretch of schedule.
I’m not going to lie and say I’m sad about it. I sucked, so I’m glad I don’t have to post my terrible record on this website for everyone to read anymore. But I guess here are my picks for this week anyway, because why not.
CHIEFS (-3.5) over Chargers
Texans (-6) over JETS
Browns (+3) over BRONCOS
FALCONS (-7.5) over Cardinals
Lions (+2.5) over BILLS
Packers (+6) over BEARS
BENGALS (-3) over Raiders
Dolphins (+7) over VIKINGS
GIANTS (-3) over Titans
JAGUARS (-7) over Redskins
RAVENS (-7.5) over Buccaneers
Seahawks (-4) over 49ERS
Patriots (-2) over STEELERS
PANTHERS (+6) over Saints