Will Cowboys QB Dak Prescott play Sunday night vs. Vikings? Here's what we know.

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FRISCO, Texas— The Dallas Cowboys have listed quarterback Dak Prescott as questionable on the game status report for their Sunday night game at the Minnesota Vikings.

The designation comes after Prescott was limited again in practice Friday, 12 days removed from suffering a calf strain.

Prescott has been active each day this week coming off Dallas’ bye week. Since Monday night, he says, he has felt like he could play. But the decision isn’t his alone. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, director of rehabilitation Britt Brown and front office members will factor in more than just this Vikings game when determining whether Prescott will play.

The implications are significant for one of the league’s best quarterbacks of 2021. Prescott has completed 73.1% of his passes for 1,813 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while leading the Cowboys to a 5-1 start. Doubt about his status has led betting lines to shift from the Cowboys’ initial favored position. By Friday afternoon after Prescott was listed as questionable, Vegas considered Dallas 3-point underdogs.

What exactly happened to Prescott and what factors into the decision? USA Today Sports broke it down.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a calf strain on the final play of a 35-29 overtime win against the New England Patriots in Week 6.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a calf strain on the final play of a 35-29 overtime win against the New England Patriots in Week 6.

The latest on Prescott's status

Prescott aimed to fully test his limits on Thursday, insistent that working his calf 50 to 75% would not sufficiently help him gauge what it might feel like to escape a live Vikings rush. On Friday, he was sore, head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters.

“He’s confident,” McCarthy added. “He doesn’t waver. He wants to play and wants to continue to work toward that.” Prescott’s response to Friday work and Saturday assessments will likely dictate the game plan, the Cowboys hoping to start their gameday quarterback in what they call their “launch” practice Saturday.

What Prescott’s saying

Prescott is simultaneously determined, disappointed and realistic. As much as he claimed he had mentally “buried” his gruesome ankle fracture and dislocation, the belief is that a strained calf on the same leg is not unrelated. He also knows his game-play style places stress on his lower body, and in an ideal world he’d be mobile enough to protect himself and effectively elude a Vikings pass rush tied for the league’s most sacks.

“This is a long journey and a long season so I don’t necessarily know if this is fully my decision,” Prescott said Thursday after practice. “I don’t want it to linger. I don’t want this to be week after week, ‘Are we going through this?’

“My point is to get healthy and to say, ‘Hey, (offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore), don’t worry about the changing the play. Don’t worry about this or that. I’m ready to go.’ I’m going to control the thing is can.”

During portions of practice open to reporters on Wednesday and Thursday, Prescott began sessions with a lengthy rehabilitation conditioning period before rejoining teammates for individual drills. He practiced footwork and drop backs both on resistance cords and freely; Prescott worked on handoffs, pitches and intermediate throws without visible hesitation or restriction. He also has taken first-team snaps in walkthroughs and mock games, an indication that the team has not ruled him out internally. Teammates including receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper told reporters they expect him to play, noting their quarterback looked “regular” and “the same” to his targets.

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What Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is saying

Jones, eternally an optimist, said Friday morning that he’d “like to think Dak can go and will think that.”

“Things are looking good right now about Dak,” Jones added during his regular radio interview with Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan.

But the owner who has not wavered in his positive reports on Prescott admitted the confidence wasn’t grounded in a specific medical clearance.

“I’m not so sure how much of it’s ‘want to’ on my part or how much of it is factual,” Jones conceded. “We’ll really need to see come Sunday and that’s a few days away, as you know. We’ll have to take a good look at it at that time. But he’s preparing to play and he’ll be prepared to play and he’s doing really well.

“You get into it is he doing well enough to go out there and try and see how it goes? Probably.”

That belief in Prescott’s physical and mental ability to effectively control the game Sunday has been largely consistent through the organization. The bigger question points to the risk of reinjury.

“There’s no question he’s going to be the most pro person on the planet to play,” Jones said. “I think we understand the competitive aspect of that thing. (But also) I think he’s aware of what’s at stake here and what’s the future.”

How the injury happened

Prescott suffered the calf strain on the final play of a 35-29 overtime road win against the New England Patriots in Week 6. Prescott had escaped right on a designed rollout, bypassing his first read (tight end Dalton Schultz, covered in the flat) for wide receiver CeeDee Lamb as Lamb streaked down the right sideline. Lamb secured the catch and raced toward the end-zone to cap off his 149-yard, two-touchdown night. But Prescott “came down funny” and felt pain in his calf. During his postgame press conference and at the Star the next day, he wore a walking boot.

The Cowboys’ QB depth

The Cowboys first signed backup Cooper Rush as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He spent three years as Prescott’s backup, rejoining the team last year after Prescott’s injury. He knows the system and his teammates closely, but a start Sunday would be his first as a pro. Rush has attempted just three passes in his NFL career, completing one in a 2017 contest. He rushed twice in that contest for 13 yards. Teammates and coaches express confidence in what Rush could do surrounded by weapons and protected by what Pro Football Focus ranks as the league’s top offensive line. The Cowboys could activate their third quarterback, Will Grier, as well.

“Cooper’s had a really good week,” McCarthy said Friday. “Will’s taken a lot more snaps so it’s good for him. I think both those guys, any time you get reps as a quarterback.”

The big-picture outlook

That future Jones referenced? That’s the Cowboys playoff and Super Bowl hopes, which 5-1 Dallas is open about even while emphasizing a determination to “stay neutral” and take the season week by week. Dallas boasts the league’s best offense, a defense vastly improved by a rash of takeaways and depth at several positions. If this were a playoff game, Prescott said, he’d play. If he doesn’t, it will be with the goal of maximizing his playoff effectiveness.

Prescott’s recent past is also relevant: Think back to Oct. 11, 2020, and NFL fans will remember tears streaming down Prescott’s face as he was carted off Dallas’ Week 5 game. Prescott underwent emergency surgery that evening and a subsequent December operation to further stabilize his ankle. He rehabilitated incessantly through spring, returning in limited fashion to offseason activities and then gaining full clearance for training camp. The Cowboys felt so confident in his chance at a fully recovery they signed him to a four-year, $160 million deal before he was cleared. But some reactions can’t be tested until game time.

“What I went through last year was a pretty traumatic injury to the leg. I honestly think this calf had something to do with it,” Prescott said. “I still have to be very cautious and conscious of working on it, keeping it in the right position, strengthening it, staying focused, making sure the mobility is there on it and I’m sure that’s something I’ll have to do for the rest of my career. “

“So yeah, it’s frustrating but I think it’s just another wakeup that, ‘Hey, that was bad last year and you’ve got to be buttoned up every game and every day that I come out here and play such a physical game.’”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dak Prescott: Will Cowboys QB play Sunday night NFL game vs. Vikings?