Sunday was an absolutely dreadful performance. Dak played one of his worst games of his young NFL career. Ezekiel Elliott failed to record ten yards. The offensive line was bullied by the Broncos’ front-seven. The defense was embarrassed. It was a total team effort — or lack thereof — in the Mile High city. That isn’t even factoring in the affects of the high altitude or Denver’s incredible home-field advantage. Nonetheless, excuses aside, the Dallas Cowboys were humiliated on Sunday.
A lot of the team’s blame has been placed on quarterback Dak Prescott. While it was not solely his fault, it’s clear why so much blame has been put on his shoulders: he plays the most important position on the field, he is the leader of the team, and he didn’t have his best performance. As the quarterback of America’s Team, Dak faces more pressure than almost anybody in the sport. That said, there seems to be a large amount of people questioning whether or not Dak Prescott can bounce back from Sunday’s poor and week one’s average performances.
I am here to explain why you should expect nothing less than for Dak Prescott to grab this opportunity by the horns, overcome the adversity, and bounce back in a major way.
As an avid Mississippi State fan, I have been following Dak Prescott since he arrived in Starkville back in 2011. I have witnessed his rise from a three-star prospect that LSU recruited as a tight end to the program’s best player in school history to face of the Dallas Cowboys. That said, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Dak has faced his fair share of adversity. He’s overcame each circumstance. Let’s look at some examples of his bounce back performances — both on the college level and during his young professional career.
Lackluster performance #1: 11/02/13 versus South Carolina
If you have been following Dak Prescott, you know his story of his mother tragically passing away after a battle with colon cancer. Well, this was the weekend in which the tragedy occurred. Dak, a self-proclaimed momma’s boy, was preparing to take on Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina Gamecocks. It was the first game of his life that he didn’t get to hear his mother’s voice before he took the field. He then played his self-proclaimed worst game of his collegiate career.
STATS: 28/43, 235 yards, three interceptions. Lost 34-16.
Bounce-back performance #1: 11/09/13 versus Texas A&M
The following week, Dak split time with then incumbent starter Tyler Russell against the Aggies. In a game that he split snaps and eventually left with an injury, Dak had an impressive performance against Johnny Manziel and company.
STATS: 14/26, 141 yards, two touchdowns, one interception; 16 carries for 154 on the ground in a 51-41 loss.
Lackluster performance #2: 11/14/14 versus Alabama
Dak Prescott led a team filled with two and three-star level talent to the number one team in the nation for half of the college football season. Dak and the Bulldogs traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide. Dak didn’t get much help from his over-matched supporting cast.
STATS: 27/48, 290 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions. Lost 25-20.
Bounce-back performance #2: 11/22/14 versus Vanderbilt
The following week, Dak got back into his groove.
STATS: 16/21, 193 yards, three touchdowns; 6 carries for 30 yards, one touchdown. Won 51-0.
Lackluster performance #3: 11/14/15 versus Alabama
This time, Mississippi State lost some talent off of the ‘14 squad and welcomed in the eventual national champions. Dak actually played well considering the circumstances, but he didn’t receive any help.
STATS: 22/43, 300 yards, one interception. Sacked nine times. Lost 31-6.
Bounce-back performance #3: 11/22/15 versus Arkansas
After the defeat to Alabama, Dak probably had his best career game on the collegiate level. He tore up Arkansas’ defense to the tune of more than 500 yards of offense and seven total touchdowns. He was absolutely remarkable on that chilly night in Fayetteville.
STATS: 38/50, 508 yards, five touchdowns, one interception; 15 carries for 46 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Won 51-50.
Let’s look at two NFL examples, too.
Lackluster Performance #4: 12/11/16 versus New York Giants
Before Sunday, the consensus was that this was Dak’s worst game of his professional career. I’d say it definitely is. Dak led the Cowboys’ eleven game-winning streak up to New York for a battle against the Giants. The Giants dominated Dak.
STATS: 17/37, 165 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 2.57 AY/A, 45.4 Rating. Lost 10-7.
Bounce-back Performance #4: 12/18/16 versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The very next week, in the midst of heated quarterback controversy talk, Dak shut down any conversation of pulling him. Against a hot Tampa Bay team, Dak played wonderfully.
STATS: 32/36, 279 yards, one rushing touchdown, 7.75 AY/A, 99.0 Rating. Won 26-20.
Lackluster Performance #5: First half of playoff game versus Green Bay Packers
Dak and the Cowboys started off slow against the Green Bay Packers, falling in a 21-3 hole. However, Dak nearly led a dramatic comeback for the ages.
Bounce-back Performance #5: Second half of same game
Dak became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff game. FINAL STATS: 24/38, 302 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 7.95 AY/A, 103.5 Rating. Lost 34-31.
Dak has a history of coming back with a strong performance following a less-than-ideal outing the previous game. He has the mental toughness, the work ethic, and the determination to bounce back from any adversity that he hits. He has shown it time and time again.
Not everything is solely his fault.
Not everything is Dak’s fault. Sure, he has missed some throws in both games this season. He hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last season. He doesn’t have the same connection yet. However, he is also playing two of the better defenses in football.
The entire team is to blame for the Cowboys’ disastrous loss to the Broncos this past Sunday. Aside from DeMarcus Lawrence, can you name somebody that didn’t have a bad outing? Even he was called for a 15-yard penalty that resulted in a four-point, and momentum, swing. Dak’s first interception should have been caught by Dez. He was playing the best secondary in the National Football League that also happens to have some guy named Von Miller. Oh yeah, and the Broncos completely shut down any life in the run game. Let’s not even get into the defense’s performance.
The Broncos have a history of making opposing quarterbacks look awful. Sure, some things have changed and Wade Phillips is in Los Angeles now, but Von Miller, Aqib Talib, and Chris Harris are who make the Broncos defense what it is. The Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala writes on just how dominant the Broncos are against opposing quarterbacks. Here’s just one example from last season:
Result: Cam Newton went 18-of-33 in passing for 194 yards with one interception, one passing touchdown and a 69.5 passer rating. He was sacked three times (one by Miller, one by DeMarcus Ware and another split between Ware and Todd Davis) for a loss of 18 yards. Newton was hit eight times, had six of his passes broken up and didn’t complete a pass targeted for over 20 yards.
DeMarcus Ware retired, but the sentiment is still the same: Denver knows how to get after the passer. The defense is built for it, Vance Joseph is a great defensive mind, and their personnel is likely the best in all of football.
Sure, Dak hasn’t looked great. But, take a deep breath. What other defense is designed to shut down the Cowboys in the way that the Giants are? What other defense possesses the talent that the Broncos have? Dak will have opportunities to find his rhythm with his receivers and bounce back.
Jason Garrett isn’t worried.
Jason Garrett had some strong praise for Dak Prescott today: pic.twitter.com/hpDZECZ16f— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 18, 2017
His poise and leadership is second-to-none.
Dak Prescott’s poise and leadership has been raved about since he started taking the league by storm last August. Going back to his collegiate days, Prescott has the ability to elevate those around him and lead them to victory. We saw it when he took a bunch of under-recruited players and led them to one of the top teams in college football during his junior season. He has a history of getting the best out of his tailbacks, wideouts, and everybody that makes up the roster.
Dak is a natural leader. He gets the best out of each and every player, puts confidence into everybody in the huddle, and is mature beyond his years. Dez spoke to ESPN’s Todd Archer over the summer about Dak’s ability to lead the team.
“He watches a lot of guys who do it right and he applies it to himself. The whole team sees that and it just becomes contagious and we all grow as a whole,” Bryant said. “As for him, it’s outstanding. The guy is extremely young and the way he approaches his game is second to none. Some of the young quarterbacks I’ve seen in the past, they have all different kinds of brain farts. With him on the other hand, he’s just, ‘I got it. Whatever you throw at me, I got it.’ It feels like he’s been here for a good five years.”
Dak’s ability to gain trust from his teammates and lead them to success is a unique trait that very few people have. He has earned the trust and respect from everybody on the roster from his second-year mate Ezekiel Elliott, to the offensive line, to the future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. Dak commands a huddle like very few do.
He also has a work ethic that is second-to-none. Jerry Jones compared his quarterback’s work ethic to that of Peyton Manning.
"Everything we have seen, Dak has those kinds of qualities that when you think of Peyton Manning, you think of how he really developed his skills, how hard he worked at it and how he really left nothing that he was aware of, how he addressed every nuance of his game and that's my picture of Peyton and I know it to be accurate.
"I think that might be Dak's finest quality, his ability to look for every way he can to get better and continue to do it, so I think there will be really dramatic improvement."
He has gotten better each and every offseason dating back to his days at Mississippi State. Each season, you could see improvement in different areas of his game — whether it be arm strength, foot work, decision making, or anything in between. Playing against two of the most elite defenses in football — one in which he led all nine drives into opponent territory, the other he played in high altitude that’s forced some of the elite quarterbacks in the game look average — hasn’t given him a reasonable chance to show off his improvement. Two games in is way too early to say that he is regressing.
Dak has faced adversity time and time again in his life: being told he wouldn’t be a quarterback at the Division-1 level, suffering his mother’s tragic death, seeing 134 other players and seven other quarterbacks hear their names called before them, playing awfully against the Giants. He has come back even stronger each time.
This latest surge of adversity isn’t anything new for Dak Prescott. He’ll be ready to bounce back.