Dak Prescott followed up a game he’ll remember his whole life with one he’d just as soon forget.
The Cowboys quarterback picked a bad day to have a bad day, going just 23-of-37 passing for 206 yards and a lone touchdown in the team’s 19-12 loss to San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But beyond the obviously disappointing postseason exit, Prescott’s poor showing brings to light an unsettling notion.
Cowboys fans watched last week’s four-touchdown, 143.3-passer-rating day in Tampa and saw what Prescott is capable of doing when all the stars align.
Prescott’s 63.6 passer rating this past Sunday was the lowest of his six total playoff appearances, and it was just the 18th time in his career he’s ended a game with a rating of under 70.0.
The Cowboys’ record in those games: 2-16.
Worst of all? Four of those sub-70 outings have come in the Cowboys’ last 20 games.
They are: last year’s wild-card loss to the 49ers, the 2022 season opener at Tampa, the 2022 season finale at Washington, and this past Sunday’s divisional defeat.
All four still hurt, they’re so fresh.
That all-too-recent history suggests that it’s Dak’s wild-card showing that was actually the anomaly… and what we saw on Sunday was, unfortunately, closer to the inconvenient truth.
While Prescott got to enjoy last week’s surgical performance versus Tampa Bay for just a few days, this latest loss will linger for an entire offseason. The Cowboys were in the game right until the end, but they’ll once again watch the conference championships from home, just as they have for the past 27 years.
“Those guys in that locker room gave it all, both sides of the ball,” the quarterback told reporters from the podium Sunday night. “Put me in a position to go win the game, and I wasn’t able to do that. I put it on my shoulders. When you play this position and you play for this organization, you’ve got to accept that. That’s the reality of it. It’ll make me better. It sucks that I don’t get another shot at it for a long time.”
Most troubling for Prescott and Cowboys Nation, though, were the passer’s two interceptions, building on the theme that will live on as the lead story of the team’s entire 2022 season.
“Just two throws that I can’t have, you can’t have in the playoffs, you can’t have when you’re trying to beat a team like that, you can’t have on the road,” Prescott admitted. “No excuses for it. Those two are 100 percent on me.”
The first came early, ending Dallas’s second offensive possession. Prescott dropped back on a third-and-nine and hurled one toward Michael Gallup on the sideline, not realizing that 49ers cornerback Deommodore Lenoir had run the route even better than the Cowboys wide receiver.
That turnover gave San Francisco outstanding field position and led to an easy field goal and first-quarter lead for the home squad.
Prescott’s second pick proved even costlier.
Driving deep in 49ers territory late in the second quarter, Prescott tried to force a throw to CeeDee Lamb through a very tight window. Jimmie Ward deflected it, and linebacker Fred Warner was waiting with open arms.
That mistake not only ended what appeared to be a scoring drive by the Cowboys, but allowed San Francisco to tack on another field goal before halftime. What should have been a seven-point Dallas lead at the break was instead a 9-6 deficit.
“I’ve got to play better than I did tonight, simple as that,” Prescott said.
But of course, it wasn’t just Sunday night. Prescott’s 2022 pick problem dates all the way back to opening night, when Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield Jr. jumped a Noah Brown route in Week 1 and nabbed a bad Prescott toss.
Prescott went on to finish the regular season with 15 interceptions, a career-worst for him. And that’s with him sitting out five full games due to a fractured thumb.
Some of those turnovers came from receiver miscommunication. Some were the result of a poor quarterback decision or just a bad throw. Some came off an unlucky bounce.
But whatever the reason, they all counted. They all haunted Prescott over the course of a rollercoaster season. And after a wild-card week hiatus, they came back Sunday in Santa Clara.
“They all have their own story,” Prescott said. “Two tonight. As I said, unacceptable. I can’t put the ball in jeopardy like that, whether they’re tipped up in tight throws or whether I’m late on a stop route. Can’t happen. The number that it’s gotten to is ridiculous. I can promise that the number will never be this again. I can promise that.”
Problem is, Prescott had been promising to clean up the misfires for most of the season. And in a game when the defense held the powerhouse 49ers to under 20 points, these latest self-inflicted wounds helped prove fatal to the Cowboys’ postseason run.
“For us to only put up the points that we did, that’s unacceptable. And it starts with me. I’ve got to be better. No other way to sugarcoat it.”
That’s the taste that the Cowboys- and especially Prescott- will have in his mouth from now until the 2023 season.
Sadly, it’s more than a postseason problem, although the team’s 27-year absence from the conference championship round seriously stings the day after getting booted from the tournament.
Ultimately, Prescott says he doesn’t know why the club can’t seem to get over that hump.
“If I had the answers, we would have won tonight,” he told media members. “I promise you, we will, though. In my time, playing on this team, for this organization, we will.”
But not if Prescott can’t figure out why this keeps happening to him, with increasing and alarming frequency, playoffs or otherwise.