It simply wasn’t Dak Prescott’s finest hour.
Not in the final moments of the game.
And certainly not in the moments immediately after the game.
As the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise quarterback, Prescott simply wasn’t good enough when it mattered most in their 23-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC wild card game AT&T Stadium.
The stage was set for him to prove himself worthy of his $40 million salary and begin the process of shutting up critics who say he isn’t in the elite class of quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers and never will be.
His play for much of Sunday, which included the bumbling aftermath of the game’s final play, will only fuel the notion Prescott can’t get it done in the biggest games and the biggest moments.
Prescott took ownership of his play. “Not good enough. Simple as that,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in my job. I take accountability in his loss. Well before that last play. Certain situations in the game, certain plays in the game. I got to be better to help this team win and overcome some of the things we put ourselves into.”
To his credit, Prescott has always been a stand-up guy, amazing leader, great teammate and humanitarian off the field, which is why he is Cowboys candidate for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
So it was very disappointing to see him delve into the gutter, make excuses and applaud the angry and classless fans at AT&T Stadium who tossed plastic bottles at the officials as they left the field.
“Credit to them then,” Prescott said when told the fans were throwing debris at the officials and not his Cowboys teammates as both groups ran into the same tunnel after the game. “Yeah, credit to them. Credit. Credit to them.”
Knowing Prescott, the type of family has come from and the man he has become, I reset the question and gave him a chance to clarify his response. I tried to give him an out.
Surely, Prescott wasn’t condoning fans throwing trash at the officials, putting them at risk for injury.
“Yeah, I mean, yeah, if they weren’t at us, and if the fans felt the same way as us and that’s what they were doing it for, yeah,” Prescott with a response even more vociferous than before. “I’m guessing that’s why the refs took off and got out of there so fast. Yeah, I think everybody is upset with the way that this thing played out. As I said, I’m sure a fan would feel the same way that we do.”
Prescott should expect a hefty fine from the NFL this week.
Say what you will about Prescott’s play and whether he will ever live up this contract as an elite winner in Dallas, but I know he is better than this.
The notion that officials cost the Cowboys on Sunday is to remain in denial about who this team has been all season: the league’s most penalized team. And to be clear, we’re not talking about split-second 50-50 calls. We’re talking about neutral zone, false starts, offsides and delay or game violations. These are infractions that players should be able to master in high school
The Cowboys were penalized 14 times for 89 yards on Sunday. The penalties were a big reason why Prescott and offense that set a franchise record for points in 2021 were sitting at only seven points early in the fourth quarter.
And it was a Prescott interception in the third quarter that allowed the 49ers to score what would become the game’s deciding touchdown and take a 23-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
And never mind that the Cowboys got the ball back with 2:42 left in the game, trailing 23-17, setting up the perfect scenario for Prescott to engineer an historic comeback and begin to build a possible championship legacy.
But a sack and three straight incompletions with no chance of success, saw the Cowboys give the ball back to the 49ers with 1:42 left.
It was a shock that they even had yet another chance to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat, but that’s exactly what happened in the final 32 seconds. It was an even bigger surprise that they were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds left and no timeouts.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called for a quarterback draw to try to get close enough for a shorter throw on a final Hail Mary at end. Prescott ran 17 yards to the San Francisco 24, and the Cowboys scrambled to the line to try to spike the ball before time ran out. But they did not account for the amount of time it takes for the officials to set the ball.
“We were going to get some yards and get down and clock it,” Prescott said. “It’s something we’ve practiced over and over again. Ran. Went and got some yards. Went down. As I was getting behind [center] Tyler [Biadasz], saw four seconds left. I thought there was obviously time to make sure everybody was set, and then honestly, just got hit from behind [by the umpire]. Still, when I got up [under center], I saw two seconds. I thought I could get the snap and get it down before time expired. I’m not sure what happened other than that.”
Prescott and the umpire bumped into each other as umpire Ramon George tried to set the ball.
“Don’t necessarily know exactly why the hit happened,” Prescott said. “I knew he was going to come in and touch the ball. You can say, yeah, he needs to be closer to the ball or whatever. In hindsight, just tough. Yeah, tough to accept.”
“I’d like to get a play off, knowing everything that happened, thinking that I spiked the ball in time,” Prescott said. “That or not, yeah, I mean with the official getting in the way of the play as well. Tough. Tough. Just tough.”
Prescott also could have stopped his run shorter, leaving more seconds on the clock.
It’s even tougher and more disappointing that Prescott resorted to blaming the officials and condoning trash being thrown after the game.
Leave to owner Jerry Jones to be the voice of reason when asked about the importance of the final play. “The team shouldn’t have been in position for that last play to be something controversial,” he said. “I am not going to make it something bigger than it is.”
What Jones did say was that the Cowboys were too good and too talented to lose in the first round to the 49es and he said doesn’t remember the last time he was this upset after a game. “This is extremely disappointing and surprising that we didn’t win this first playoff game,” Jones said. “I thought we would go out and win this game.”
It was all right there in front of the Cowboys. It was right there for the taking with the ball in hands of his franchise quarterback and the opportunity to get over the hump and possibly make a bid for the first trip to the Super Bowl since 1995.
That’s why you paid Prescott $40 million.
“The hump is advancing in the playoffs,” Jones said. “There have been some good quarterbacks to not advance in the playoffs. I am sick, [that] we are one of them. I am surprised and sick.”
The Cowboys and Prescott simply underachieved. He passed for 254 yards with one touchdown and one interception and a had quarterback rating of 69.3 following a season in which he set a franchise record with 37 touchdown passes.
Advancing in the playoffs and getting the Super Bowl is how great quarterbacks are measured. He is now 1-3 in the playoffs as a Cowboys quarterback. The Cowboys have now gone 26 years without reaching the NFC title game or the Super Bowl.
It’s now Prescott’s cross to bear.
“You understand, it’s the Super Bowl or nothing,” Prescott said. “Having the team we have definitely underachieved and it sucks. Point blank.”
Maybe it was the pressure of failing and underachieving that resulted in Prescott condoning throwing debris on referees.
But he is better than that.