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Making crucial plays in the biggest games is Dak Prescott’s next step

The Cowboys young quarterback is the single most polarizing player on the team, and for good reason.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The one thing holding the Dallas Cowboys back the most from post-season success is - Dak Prescott.

That’s a bold statement, but there is some evidence to back it up. This isn’t a comment on whether the Cowboys should sign Prescott to a new contract, they should. But more of a comment of what Prescott needs to do once he signs that deal.

There are a couple of resounding factors that have thrown dirt on the Cowboys’ seasons over the last few seasons. Let’s start with the significant influence of the quarterback position itself. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that team’s live and die by the performance of their quarterback. That’s why they are selected first overall in the draft, and that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

But in order to persevere and advance into the playoffs, it’s going to take your quarterback showing up and making plays. Don’t get me wrong, Prescott has a loaded résumé of making plays. There was him flying through the air against the Seattle Seahawks to cinch up that 2018 Wild Card game for his first ever playoff victory. In no way is this trying to be framed as Dak just doesn’t make plays, because on the contrary - he does. What we can say is that there are critical moments in the season where he just hasn’t been the quarterback who has delivered when it counted the most.

Prescott has actually been fortunate to inherit a football team that’s pretty good. We can talk about a handful of different issues that most definitely could’ve used improvement, but this Cowboys organization has assembled a talented enough team to contend over his tenure with the team. There was no offensive line rebuild. There was no red carpet defense costing him games. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as the roster is decorated with several All-Pro/Pro Bowl-caliber players. The team is so well put together that whenever Prescott plays well, they win.

If you look at Prescott’s top 25 games in his career based on his quarterback rating, he’s had a rating of 106.8 or higher. The Cowboys are 25-0 in those games. When Dak has performed at that benchmark level, the team has never let him down. Not once.

On the contrast, if you looked at all the games in Tony Romo’s career where he had a QB rating of that same cutoff, the team only won 74% of those games. It probably doesn’t surprise fans to hear that Romo playing well didn’t guaranteed a win for the Cowboys as we all had a front row seat to him carrying the team. Romo didn’t have as many quality pieces as Prescott has, yet he still managed to keep the team competitive throughout his career.

Now, this isn’t meant to ignite a Prescott vs. Romo debate. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, we’ve beaten that horse silly. Both are great quarterbacks, and Cowboys fans should be lucky they’ve been at the helm for the last decade and an half. It just highlights that they played in different circumstances throughout their career. Romo still had a good share of moments where they had enough talent around him to make some noise. Unfortunately, Romo had his own share of untimely miscues that ended the team’s season. Does that mean Romo wasn’t clutch? No way. He was plenty clutch. But what it does mean is that he didn’t make enough plays to help his team advance. If we dust off our memories, we should be able to recall:

  • game clinching interception against the Giants in the 2007 Divisional Round
  • three-turnover game against the Vikings in the 2009 Divisional Round that included two fumbles lost from careless ball security
  • three-interception December game against the Steelers in 2008, including a late-game pick six that sealed the game and helped keep them out of the playoffs
  • three-interception game against the Redskins in regular season finale of 2012, including game-sealing errant throw on a screen pass

Despite having a great career, Romo’s perception of greatness is clouded by these big moment miscues. The line between Romo being labeled a choke artist and him eventually wearing a gold jacket is essentially a play here or there that could’ve completely changed the legacy of his NFL career. Lesser-talented quarterbacks are going to get into the Hall of Fame because they, at one point or another, made that big play. Ben Roethlisberger made plays, and as much as it pains me to say it, so did Eli Manning.

And while Prescott hasn’t had the low points Romo has, he still hasn’t made the plays needed for this team to reach the next level. If we expect his name to be mentioned in the same company of Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson, he’s going to have to make some big plays. Big-time quarterbacks make big time plays.

In his four seasons, the Cowboys have made the playoffs in two of them, but disappointing Week 16 performances have derailed the other two seasons. In both those games (Seattle in 2017 and Philadelphia in 2019), the Cowboys offense never scored a touchdown. The team hung with them until late thanks to good defensive performances, but the offense was just horrid.

In each of those cases, these games were not lost solely because of Prescott. We want to be clear about that. There were inexcusable drops and costly fumbles that played a huge role in the ineptitude of the offense. Having said that, Prescott did not play well. He made poor reads and he was off target with several of his throws. Defenses did a great job making him uncomfortable in the pocket, and Prescott just didn’t have the poise to step in and make good throws.

He needed to make this throw...

But not this one...

Prescott is going to have more chances, but no matter how much this team continues to build around him, it’s still going to come down to him making big plays when it counts the most. There is no reason to have doubt about him getting there. Prescott has make up to do the necessary things that will keep him on the winning track. Unlike Romo before him, Dak still has plenty of prime years with a strong supporting cast to make a run at it. It’s only a matter of time before it happens, and let’s hope we all get to share in the glory.

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