Ever since entering the league and taking over the starting quarterback position for the biggest brand in American football, Dak Prescott has passed nearly every single test that he has faced.
Keep the Cowboys afloat until Tony Romo’s return? Check. Beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau without your Pro Bowl receiver? Check. Officially win the starting quarterback job over the previous face of the franchise? Check. Win eleven games in a row and lead Dallas to the number one seed in the NFL Playoffs? Check. Dak even showed the composure that is needed in a big-time NFL quarterback in his bounce-back performance against the Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football after the worst performance of his young NFL career. And then again in his widely impressive second half against Green Bay in the playoffs.
There is one puzzle that Dak has not been able to solve, though: the New York Giants.
In the first official game of his professional career, Dak Prescott was forced to learn on the fly against an aggressive defense led by Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon along the defensive line, with Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins roaming the secondary, and with veteran coordinator Steve Spagnuolo calling the defense. Certainly a huge step up from most of the competition he faced in the preseason — although, he didn’t look bad against Seattle. As a result, the Cowboys lost to their division rival 20-19 to open the 2016 season.
How did he perform in game one against his arch-nemesis?
In the days following the loss to the Giants, our own Dawn Macelli wrote on Dak’s performance. Dawn notes that Prescott was a couple Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley drops away from throwing two touchdowns in his first regular season game on the NFL level.
The Cowboys might not have prevailed on the field, but their quarterback gave them a chance at victory and it was clear from watching the body language of the team that his teammates felt that they could win with the rookie passer at the helm.
Prescott did not put up the kind of numbers that he delivered during the preseason. That is to be expected. From today forward he will be facing the 'ones' from each team that the Cowboys play, and it they will now be playing for keeps. Still Dak turned in a credible performance for the team. 25 for 45 passing for 227 yards and no touchdowns will not set the world on fire, but the rookie was plagued by drops on some balls that should have been caught. Had Cole Beasley and/or Dez Bryant made catches on their end zone targets the whole story would have been different.
While it wasn’t Dak’s best game of the season — 55.6% completion rate, 5.04 AY/A, and a 69.4 Quarterback Rating — the Cowboys were potentially a Terrance Williams decision to get out of bounds and a Dan Bailey field goal away from starting last season at 1-0. If Dez comes down with the touchdown in the back corner of the end zone and if Beasley hauls in the potential TD pass across the middle on the Cowboys’ opening drive, Dak would have thrown for two touchdown passes in his first start in a likely Cowboys victory, assuming everything else plays out the same.
His second performance against the Giants, however, was a completely different story.
In bitterly cold winter conditions, Dak and the Dallas Cowboys brought their eleven game win streak to the Big Apple for a huge NFC East showdown with the 8-4 Giants last December. There, Dak and the Cowboys offense had their worst outing of the season in a 10-7 loss to their rival. Dak’s stats were not good — at all. The rookie completed 17 of his 37 pass attempts (45.9%), for 165 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Prescott posted an awful 2.57 AY/A and a 45.4 Quarterback Rating, per Pro Football Reference.
Whether it was due to the awfully cold conditions that night or because of the Giants defense, Dak simply did not play well. Aside from a brilliantly executed play-action play-call that freed Terrance Williams up for a 31-yard touchdown toss in the first quarter, the Cowboys had lots of trouble moving the ball against their division foe. The Giants were blitzing all game long, Spagnuolo gave Dak looks that the rookie signal-caller had never seen before, and the home team caused fits for Prescott and the offense during the whole game. As BTB’s Dave Halprin essentially points out, Dak did not look like himself.
The Dallas Cowboys went to New York for a divisional contest with the Giants, and got blasted by a defense that just wouldn’t break. The Giants finally made Dak Prescott look like a fourth-round rookie, something he had avoided all year. There had been stretches of games that opposing defenses had slowed down the Cowboys offense, but none did it so completely and effectively as the Giants. Prescott threw two interceptions, which were partially not his fault, but on many other plays he threw wildly. He also showed no feel for the pocket, taking multiple sacks when he didn’t have to, failing to use his legs as a weapon, and generally looking confused about what to do.
This kind of performance finally brought back the quarterback debate in Dallas for the first time since Tony Romo conceded the starting QB job to Dak following the Cowboys’ road victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some believed Dak’s “hot hand” had run out and were calling for Romo to take back over. However, BTB’s VAfan wrote on how the Cowboys’ offensive struggles are not all because of Dak.
The Cowboys’ Recent Struggles On Offense Are Not All Dak’s Fault
Though Dak and the offense have struggled these last two games, and the Giants game was a poor performance for Dak by any measure, Sunday’s loss was hardly all on Dak Prescott. The same was true of the Minnesota game. Penalties killed drive after drive in Minnesota. While they weren’t as obvious of a factor on Sunday, two penalties in particular stood out. One was a holding call on Terrance Williams that negated a Cole Beasley run that would have put Dallas in field goal range. Another was a special teams penalty on Byron Jones that negated a Cole Beasley return into Giants’ territory.
Other plays that made a difference? What about Barry Church’s drop of an interception thrown directly to him by Eli Manning? Or his inability to corral another turnover earlier in the game (that cast sure didn’t help)? What about Dez Bryant’s fumble on his only catch of the night, when the Cowboys were trying to drive for the tying or winning score? What about Garrett’s decision to punt with just over two minutes to go with Dallas facing a fourth and one deep in it’s own territory. Zeke hadn’t been doing much in the second half, but he’s had a very good record on fourth and short.
As mentioned previously in this piece, all that Dak did was silence his critics the following week against a hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that was making a push for the playoffs. Prescott completed 32 of his 36 passes for 279 yards. His AY/A rose to 7.75, and Quarterback Rating was a 99.0, per PFR. From then on, Dak firmly shut down any conversation of Romo taking back over, and the Cowboys clearly had their new franchise quarterback. Dak went on to finish the regular season in impressive fashion against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, and the young star nearly led the Cowboys back from a 21-3 deficit against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a game in which Dak became the first starting rookie to throw three touchdown passes in a playoff game during the Super Bowl era.
Now, Dak comes face-to-face with the one franchise that he has failed to record a victory against. He has beaten every single team that he has faced on the professional level — except for one. He is 0-for-2 in his attempts to knock off the New York Giants. After a long offseason of hearing talk that he cannot beat the Giants, Dak Prescott finally has the opportunity to get the monkey off his back in front of a national audience on the NFL’s opening week.
Is Sunday night finally the time where Dak Prescott breaks the code and records his first victory over the Giants?