'If I was a fan, this is a game I'd watch': Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott will battle for first time

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FRISCO, Texas — The mutual respect is there: They tout athleticism, arm strength, effective weapon utilization.

Each is an established starting quarterback in the NFL. Each has been paid handsomely for his services during the last 18 months.

And yet, when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes are asked about each other, neither speaks immediately of the other’s tangible gifts or contract.

“First off, he’s a tremendous leader,” Mahomes said this week ahead of 6-4 Kansas City's home game vs. 7-2 Dallas. “I think you can see that even when you’re just watching as a fan of him and of them.”

What impresses Prescott most?

“His competitiveness,” Prescott said Thursday from Cowboys headquarters. “He never believes he’s out of the game, thinks he can make every throw. That’s huge at that position just to have that confidence. I think it goes a long way in bleeding to your other teammates. Those guys feeding off that as well. It’s huge.

“He’s a big-time playmaker.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes will battle for the first time on Sunday.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes will battle for the first time on Sunday.

The Cowboys travel to Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium in what will be a game of firsts for many players. This will be Mike McCarthy’s first game coaching the Cowboys at Arrowhead and every player but left tackle Tyron Smith’s first experience as a Cowboy playing there. A few players have experienced Chiefs fans’ raucousness while on other rosters, Amari Cooper regaling teammates with stories during practice Thursday of the rancor during his three visits as a member of the Raiders. Cooper's Raiders lost all three games.

But despite the newness and the noise and the visit of an up-and-coming Super Bowl contender to a team that has reached the biggest stage each of the last two seasons, perhaps no matchup will delight NFL fans more than the duel between two top-tier quarterbacks.

“We look at this as two excellent teams coming together,” McCarthy said. “If I was a fan, this is a game I’d watch on Sunday. Especially with both quarterbacks.”

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Mahomes’ resume is well established. At just 26 years old, he’s already earned three Pro Bowl berths, an NFL MVP award and a Super Bowl championship. He’s tossed 139 touchdowns to 34 interceptions in 56 career games, winning a whopping 44 of those contest (78.5%). Mahomes has struggled more this season than during the first four years of his career, as he aims to compensate for an in-flux offensive line and a defense allowing the seventh-most yards (373.2) and 11th-most points (24.1). But Mahomes’ production still ranks highly. He leads the league in total offense (3,080 yards), pass attempts (412) and completions (271).

It’s that ability to make plays that leads defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to remind the Cowboys defense that Mahomes can threaten both horizontally and vertically, accurate even on the run and from an array of angles and balances. Defenders are on notice: Expect extended plays after the 2.3-second threshold oft discussed around the Star.

“We’ll have to be exceptional in what we call 'plaster,' when the ‘second’ play begins,” Quinn said. “Those six or eight plays that happen in a game where the quarterback is outside of the pocket – it may start as a quick throw, and then man, this is going to be a six- or seven-second play.”

The Cowboys warn of Mahomes’ gift as an “escape artist,” emphasizing the need for rush discipline, coordination of rush and coverage, and prime secondary leverage that Dallas hopes will compensate for its top two pass rushers landing on injured reserve (DeMarcus Lawrence had foot surgery, Randy Gregory is battling a calf strain). Expect safety Jayron Kearse, with his effective size/speed combination, to enter the game plan for defending talented tight end Travis Kelce. A secondary coming off a three-interception game will aim to keep pace with speedy star receiver Tyreek Hill. And against Mahomes? Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who has dabbled in pass rush throughout the season, worked more than usual this week with defensive linemen in portions of practice open to the media.

“His throw power, his ability to throw no-looks — this is a guy I like on Madden,” Parsons said. “(But) I ain’t worried about where he’s throwing it, I worry about sacking him.

“They are definitely not a team you can take lightly. I’ve just got to give 100, 120 (percent) this week. Not even 100. You’ve got to come out there and be ready to play.”

The Chiefs defense best be ready to play, too.

Because as productive as Mahomes has been, it’s actually Prescott who leads the league’s most productive offense and posts superior efficiency numbers. In eight games, Prescott leads the league in passer rating (110.8) and adjusted net yards per attempt (8.22). His 70.28% completion rate edges Mahomes’ 65.78, with Prescott throwing four times as many touchdowns (20) as he has interceptions (5) while Mahomes has 25 TDs to 10 INTs in two more games. Prescott played his worst game of the season two weeks ago in a 30-16 loss to Denver, only to rebound and play arguably his most fundamentally sound game in a 43-3 win over Atlanta last Sunday.

The Chiefs need not fear the no-look pass — Prescott has tried it for fun, he says, and found his receivers are caught off-guard more than he’d like — but Prescott’s decision-making, accuracy and command of the offense will threaten in Arrowhead. The Cowboys aim to “aggressively take what the game plan gives us" and their quarterback’s elite mental game offer them the perfect tools to do so.

“However he goes, we go,” said Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb, who leads the team with 726 receiving yards and six touchdowns. “Ultimately, Dak is the leader of this team.”

Prescott insists he views this game not as a measuring stick of raw quarterback talent but as a chance for his vastly improved Cowboys team to demonstrate competence in a hostile environment against a talented, high-achieving team.

Mahomes, meanwhile, will get his first crack at facing the team he grew up rooting for from his Texas hometown of Tyler, roughly 1.5 hours from Dallas.

“I was a pretty big Cowboys fan, growing up,” Mahomes told Kansas City’s 610 Sports Radio on Monday. “My dad was a big Cowboys fan, so we went to games and stuff like that. It’ll be cool to play against them (with) a lot of history. I’ll have a lot of family members up at the game

“Hopefully they’re cheering me and not the other team.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter: @JoriEpstein

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes meet for first time