The Dallas Cowboys were treated to an all-around great performance in their 31-14 Wild Card performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you take away the erratic extra-point-kicking adventures of Brett Maher, there is very little to be upset about in this game. It was a complete team effort.
But one player who stood out above the rest in this one was Dak Prescott. After a tumultuous season where he’s had some high highs and some low lows, the perception of how good he is has been all over the place this year. He led the NFL with 15 interceptions this season which is shocking considering he missed five games this year. Certain analysts, football pundits, and fans have come to believe that Prescott is just not a very good quarterback.
The reality is, Dak is a good quarterback. Very good in fact. There is no denying he hasn’t played well down the stretch, but those moments shouldn’t act as some type of Men in Black neuralyzer gadget that wipes your memory clean of all the great plays he’s made in recent years. But just in case you had forgotten, Prescott did his best to remind you that he’s still a force to be reckoned with in this league.
Prescott’s performance was fantastic on so many levels. First off, his reads were great as he had an idea of where he was going with the football before the ball was snapped. Credit Kellen Moore and the offensive staff for some really nice play designs that tripped up the Bucs' coverages, but Dak’s ability to see the field was first-rate. So many times Prescott was decisive with the football. There were still plenty of tight-window throws, but Dak was quick to put his foot in the ground and deliver a strike before the defense could close down his receiver.
Even when his first read wasn’t there, Prescott did a great job working through his progressions and finding the open man. When the Bucs stayed back, Prescott took the easier, shorter stuff. When there was space downfield, Dak let it rip. His recognition of the open space in the secondary combined with excellent ball placement made him very hard to stop. His footwork was spectacular and his decision-making was near perfect. In short, he was phenomenal.
When someone ever asks about Dak Prescott's best performance in a meaningful game, I offer you 57 seconds of his masterpiece in Tampa Bay from the '22 playoffs. pic.twitter.com/7RftRI8N1o— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) January 17, 2023
After starting the game with two-straight three-and-outs, he then led the offense to four straight touchdown drives of 80 yards or more. In all of them, Dak had the touchdown whether it was through the air or on the ground. In fact, what he accomplished on Monday night had only been done three times before in the playoffs.
Dak Prescott is the 4th player in the Super Bowl era with 4+ pass TD & 1+ rush TD in a playoff game, joining Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers & Matt Ryan.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 17, 2023
He is the first ever @dallascowboys player with 5+ total TD in a playoff game.#DallasCowboys
Dak looked extremely comfortable in the pocket. After being sacked on the Cowboys' second possession of the game, Prescott was never sacked again. He stood in the pocket like a champ and delivered strikes. When he felt things closing in, he bolted. Since it was elimination time, we knew Dak was not going to hold back and use his legs when needed, and on Monday night, he did exactly that.
Dak Prescott's mobility is the Cowboys' "ace in the hole." He ran the ball seven times against the Bucs, the most rushing attempts he's had all season.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 17, 2023
In Dak's career, he has run the ball at least seven times in a game nine times. The Cowboys have won ALL NINE of those games. pic.twitter.com/XXrDrv90MO
When Prescott plays well, the benefits are plentiful as his strong performance has a trickle-down effect. Longer drives allow the defense more rest. We all know Micah Parsons is a full-throttle player, so any extra rest is helpful. Getting ahead narrows the opposing team’s game plan. When the Cowboys put their opponents in a bind, the game gets easier. Would you believe that out of Tom Brady’s 383 total career NFL games (including playoffs) never has he thrown the ball more times (66) than he did against the Cowboys on Monday night? Good things happen when you make your opponent one-dimensional.
While this is a nice way to kick off the postseason, there are tougher obstacles that lie ahead, but having a quarterback playing like this increases the Cowboys' chances considerably. When the Cowboys' offense is humming like this, they are going to be hard to beat. Both San Francisco and Philadelphia, if it comes to that, will present tougher challenges, but Prescott playing at this level gives Dallas as good a chance as anyone in these playoffs. A week ago, things looked a little dimmer, but now with an MVP-caliber performance under Dak’s belt, a new hope has been delivered to Cowboys Nation.