Dak Prescott is a good quarterback. So was Tony Romo before him.
The Dallas Cowboys need a great one, though. You can reach, not to mention win, a Super Bowl with a Joe Flacco or even a Nick Foles. But it’s a whole lot easier to do so with a Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes or Peyton Manning.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t shy away from a singular goal: winning it all. He isn’t here for fruitless trips to the divisional round, even though that’s all Dallas has managed the past 27 years. Sunday’s bitter 19-12 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers was the latest.
“We’re sick,” Jones said after. “We’re sick.”
So what’s the cure?
Prescott isn’t the only reason Dallas lost Sunday. Coaching, mismanagement, injuries and the play of the Niners' defense, of course, all had a hand in it.
Yet Prescott is the quarterback, and the great ones find ways to make up for deficiencies elsewhere and deliver victories. They certainly don't set the team back.
Instead, Prescott threw two picks Sunday, which was hardly a surprise considering that his 15 in the regular season led the league despite his playing 12 games. He completed 23 of his 37 passes for only 207 yards. He had a touchdown and also a sack. He missed open receivers, misread open routes and never elevated his game when it mattered. He also doesn’t run like he used to, either by design or due to past injuries or both.
Prescott had two chances to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, only to go three-and-out and then oversee a drive that appeared as organized as a Jackson Pollock painting. That marked the second consecutive year the Cowboys' season ended in comedic fashion.
Again, it wasn't all Prescott's fault, but that’s when the great ones go win the game. In last year’s playoffs, Mahomes led Kansas City to a game-tying field goal in 13 seconds flat. Dallas is lucky to snap the ball that quickly.
“Guys played their asses off, defense gave us an opportunity to win this game, played hard against a really, really good offense,” Prescott said. “For us to put up the points we did, that’s unacceptable. And that starts with me. I’ve got to be better.”
This is the undeniably great part of Prescott. He’s a leader, a standup superstar. He shoulders the blame even when play-calling and wide receiver effort (not to mention talent) could be used as scapegoats.
He’s everything you want in a Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Well, except the "great" part. He’s now 2-4 in playoff games, the same record as Romo.
Dallas is married to Prescott for now. He has two years left on a contract that averages $40 million. And while Jones noted that turnovers were the difference against the 49ers, he is still an owner/general manager who has long shown he will run this team with his heart.
And he still loves Dak Prescott.
“I would like to be right back here [next year] with the same hand, the same opportunity, with Prescott as the quarterback, and go get it,” Jones said. “ ... if we’ve got him at quarterback, I’ll take my chances.”
Prescott is one of the Cowboys' best stories. A fourth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State, he seized the job from Romo, himself an unlikely star out of Eastern Illinois. Prescott was offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and a Pro Bowler that year and in 2018. He was an instantly likable figure.
He has put together some impressive seasons, including avoiding interceptions — just four as a rookie. Yet he has been erratic at times, and turnovers have become a huge problem.
He’ll turn 30 this offseason, and thanks to age and the broken leg that cut his 2020 season short, he isn’t the bulldozing runner he once was. His first three years in the league, he ran for six touchdowns per season. He has had just two total since the injury.
What you expect from a quarterback in the middle of what should be the prime of his career — no longer young but not yet old — is a better appreciation of how to play the position and avoid mistakes to win games, if not make the plays that get it done.
That, more than anything, is what Prescott is missing. A 3.8 interception percentage, or a 23-15 TD to INT ratio, isn’t going to cut it. Not this past year. Not any year.
The Dallas defense was good enough to still be playing. It didn’t need a lot. Instead, it was San Francisco that rode that formula with rookie Brock Purdy to the NFC championship game on Sunday in Philadelphia.
Prescott could only vow to do better in the future. And Dallas could only hope it’s true — or else the divisional round might be the ceiling for this club.
The Cowboys have their franchise quarterback, but they’ve been waiting for him to show that he is great, not just good.
And so far, he has been only so good.