Dak Prescott started believing his own hype in Cowboys' Sunday night disaster
Every quarterback has had bad games. They're neither reason to panic nor perturb. Aaron Rodgers played like Aaron Murray for the better part of a season and now he's back to his old self and leading the Green Bay Packers on an unlikely playoff charge. Bill Belichick was once asked at a news conference if he'd consider benching Tom Brady. Last year, in a Super Bowl season, there was some discussion about whether Brock Osweiler would replace Peyton Manning. So let's not freak out over Dak Prescott's Sunday night debacle in New Jersey during a woeful, ugly 10-7 loss to the New York Giants.
Or let's not completely freak out over it. There's still reason for concern.
Prescott was horrible Sunday and now, what had been a Dallas season that was flipped on cruise control entering this week, suddenly has the once-guaranteed NFC East title and playoff bye very much in jeopardy with the Giants just two games behind and a now anxiety-inducing game next Sunday night against Tampa and a Monday nighter against 8-4 Detroit in two weeks.
And, for Sunday night at least, there's no one else to blame but Dak Prescott.
The Dallas defense did its job getting to Eli Manning, keeping the Giants ground game in check and not letting Odell Beckham have an ODB heyday. Ezekiel Elliott might not have been otherworldly but, ho hum, all he did was rush for 107 yards. The Dallas offensive line, as always, played textbook football. So what happened to Dak against a game, but hardly dominant, Giants defense - one that was supposed to struggle Sunday without Jason Pierre-Paul?
He played like he was buying into his own hype. At least that's the best explanation after watching Prescott sputter all over the field, looking for the first time very much like a rookie quarterback in over his head.
Prescott held the ball far too long. (He made so many throws while in the grasp that I lost count.) He tried to force balls into tight coverage. He thought he could buy time by moving in the pocket only to see it collapse. He missed wide-open receivers with both his arm and his eyes. The Mississippi State product was 17 of 37 for 165 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 3 sacks and a 45.4 rating, by far the lowest mark of his career and one he's doubled (and then some) in 10 of his first 12 games. Prescott had entered Week 14 with two picks on the season in 366 attempts. He had two in 16 throws on Sunday night. Dak Prescott was bad and, worst of all, he was bad in a winnable game. This wasn't 60 minutes of the Giants firing on all cylinders and playing out of their minds with Dallas taking it on the chin and moving onto the next one. No, the Cowboys handed away this game like a Secret Santa gift.
It's called Monday morning quarterbacking for a reason but it sure looked like Prescott believed that all the good stuff people have been saying about him - that he's accurate, doesn't force interceptions and is efficient on third downs. It was as if Prescott thought because he's done it all season it would happen again on Sunday night just because he wanted it to. The Giants might have his number (they're the only team to beat Dallas this year, though the first win came in Week 1) but it's not exactly like that defense is the '85 Bears (they're 25th against the pass).
It was there for the taking. The Cowboys didn't capitalize on Eli being Eli. Odell Beckham had his Usain Bolt breakaway touchdown but dropped two huge passes, including one that would have gone for a touchdown. He finished with just four catches. Dallas kicker Dan Bailey doinked a field goal at the end of the first half that would have kept the game tied at 10 through the fourth quarter. The team was 1-15 on third down - many of which came on Prescott incompletions that weren't particularly close to the marker. Dez Bryant was targeted eight times and caught one ball - which he promptly fumbled late in the game, basically sealing the game for the Giants.
New York wasn't better than the Cowboys but the Manning-to-Beckham TD ended up being the game-winner and, oddest of all for a game involving an 11-1 team, it never felt like Dallas would get back into it after that. The Cowboys laid an egg that could have massive repercussions.
Will the Cowboys still win the NFC East and get a playoff bye? The odds are yes. But for the first time all year they have pressure-packed games, two against current playoff teams and another against a division rival (Philadelphia) that surely won't lay down in Week 17 (as Washington found out Sunday).
Prescott's play isn't a massive concern for Dallas. Again, we've seen Hall of Fame quarterbacks have far worse games. But if the offense comes out flat next week and the surprise Bucs give Dallas a little punch in the mouth to open that game, the pressure is going to come fast and furious. Prescott and Co. haven't really dealt with it all season. How will they react?
For tonight, Jason Garrett should chalk this up to one game simply being one game. Prescott has now been good in 10 of 12. He was due. The red flags are rising, however. All it's going to take is another bad one and some good play by opponents to turn a dream season into a disaster.
The weight of the season is now on Dak Prescott's shoulders. Whether the rookie can stand up to the pressure will be the talk of the NFL this week and beyond. But when having that conversation, please, just do one thing for me: Don't say the name Tony Romo. Just don't.