Far too soon, it’s time to close the book on the rookie seasons of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. In a game that will be remembered forever in Cowboys history, the team rallied furiously from a 21-3 first-quarter hole at home against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to tie the game at 28 with just over four minutes remaining. The teams traded 50+ yard field goals to tie it up again 31-31. But with 12 seconds left, from his own 32-yard line, Rodgers was given enough time to fire a 36-yard strike along the left sideline to Jared Cook to set up a 51-yard Mason Crosby field goal to win it for the Packers, 34-31.
It was eerily reminiscent of a similar 31-yard pass to Randall Cobb just before half-time in the 2014 playoff game, which also set up a Mason Crosby field goal that cut Dallas’s lead to 14-10, and also came right after the Cowboys sacked Rodgers and seemingly took him out of position to get points. But we digress.
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott didn’t lose this game. The Dallas Cowboys did.
Dak finished the game 24 of 38, for 302 yards, three touchdowns, one interception (on a bad play call), and a rating of 103.2. He also ran twice for 13 yards, and ran in a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28. It’s the first time a rookie quarterback passed for three touchdowns in a playoff game in NFL history.
Dak’s best target was Dez Bryant, who also came to play. Dez caught nine passes on 12 targets, for 132 yards and two touchdowns. If this is what the future for Dak-to-Dez holds, the Cowboys will be back.
Terrance Williams was active, with four catches on six targets for 68 yards, but it was his drop that killed one early drive while Green Bay was running up the score. Cole Beasley caught four balls on six targets for 45 yards. Jason Witten caught six on nine targest for 59 yards and his first playoff touchdown. But there were three misses in a row in the red zone just before half. Brice Butler caught no passes on three targets, missing a well-thrown touchdown pass go by the wayside when he developed alligator arms as he was reaching out for the ball. He also committed one of the most bizarre penalties, when he came into the “huddle”, then left without playing a down. Dak Prescott had not really called the huddle, but Butler was penalized 15 yards anyway. Just one of a number of zebra errors throughout the game.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed 22 times for 125 yards, a 5.7 yard average, and caught one pass for minus two yards. He didn’t score a touchdown, and his longest run was 22 yards. Had Dallas ever gained the lead, he likely would have been able to finish off the Packers, but the Cowboys’ slow start never allowed that to come about.
In quite a few situations, one was left wondering why Zeke didn’t get the call. For example, first drive, 3rd and two. The play was a defensed pass to Dez when Zeke likely could have gotten the first down. Or the 2nd and one bubble screen pass on the Green Bay 19 that was picked off by Micah Hyde when Dallas should have cut into Green Bay’s 28-13 lead. Why not run Zeke there too? Odd play calls when Zeke was well rested and could have run 30 or more times if needed.
Here are the end of the year stats.
Dak’s stats from his first regular season, including the one playoff game.
(Note: The key stats here are Adjusted Net Yards per attempt, which demonstrates how well a QB gets the ball down the field and into the end zone. Completion percentage tends to show accuracy. Attempts shows the run/pass balance, with fewer attempts for QBs often the goal. Turnovers, or the lack of them, are also critical.)
The Cowboys started out with a field goal, then a punt and another punt. The first drive ended on the Green Bay 32 when Dak had his pass to Dez Bryant tipped by the Green Bay cornerback. A safer throw or Zeke run would have been the better option. On the next drive, Brice Butler was penalized 15 yards for unsportmanlike conduct because he went in and out of the huddle without playing a down. Bizarre. The third drive stalled when Terrance Williams dropped a pass right in his hands. Green Bay scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, and Dallas was in its biggest hole of the year.
From that point to the end of the game, Dak Prescott led Dallas on five scoring drives, and would have had a sixth but for an interception of a poorly designed bubble screen that Micah Hyde read perfectly. He converted a 2nd and 21 and a 3rd and 14 on one touchdown drive. He rallied the team from a 21-3 hole into a 28-28 tie, scoring himself on the two-point conversion that knotted the game. It was not a perfect performance, but it may have been the best ever playoff game for a rookie quarterback.
Dak actually won the passer rating differential over the esteemed Aaron Rodgers, 103.2 to 96.7, though Rodgers had more yards, and one more magical play in him that tipped the game in Green Bay’s favor.
What do his totals look like after his sixteenth game? Enough to make it clear he likely could have passed Eric Dickerson (he finished 52 yards short) if given enough carries.
Zeke finished with 1,756 yards rushing, caught 33 passes for 361 yards, and ran for 15 touchdowns, with one more TD receiving. He lost only one fumble on the season.
Unfortunately, he was underutilized in this playoff game.
Bob Sturm gave the offense a B.
The offense has led this team all season long and simply could not afford a slow start. After going field goal, punt, punt, the Cowboys offense was dynamic the rest of the day -- scoring 28 points on their final six possessions. But the hole proved to be too deep. Dak Prescott was impressive all day, including a host of third-down conversions that kept the team alive. Ezekiel Elliott was as advertised as well, dominating on the ground. In the end, it seemed the game might have required one less field goal and one more touchdown.
My grades for this game?
- Dak A. The team started slow, and Dak made an uncharacteristic interception on a poor play call and worse execution. Yet Dak never gave in. When the team fell behind by 18, Dak got to work and rallied to team into a 28-28, and then 31-31 tie. Forget the stats. That’s the kind of quarterback who can lead Dallas to Super Bowls. Just remember that Russell Wilson didn’t win the Super Bowl as a rookie either.
- Zeke A. Zeke is a dominant force who was not given enough chances in this game, yet still came up with 125 yards, a 5.7 yard rushing average, and some great pass protection.