There are Cowboys lovers and Cowboys haters. I am neither. But, as a football fan and realist, I can come to only one conclusion after watching Dak Prescott perform in his first ever playoff game, and during his first season as a whole. The young quarterback and the Dallas Cowboys have a bright future ahead of them.
Cowboys’ fans were understandably crushed after Dallas’s heart-wrenching 34-31 defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers and their all-world quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. But Sunday’s loss does not diminish the extraordinary performance put forth by Prescott, albeit in a losing effort.
Prescott completed 24 of his 38 pass attempts for 302 yards, while throwing three touchdown passes, becoming the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw three touchdown passes in a playoff game. He brought the Cowboys back from a 28-13 fourth-quarter deficit, culminating in a 7-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant and a 2-yard quarterback keeper for the game-tying two-point conversion.
After Green Bay took the lead again on a field goal with 1:33 to play, Prescott led the Cowboys down the field once more, putting them in range for a Dan Bailey field goal to tie the game again, this time at 31, with 35 seconds left in regulation.
Unfortunately, 35 seconds proved to be too much time on the clock when the opposing quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers connected with Jared Cook for a beautiful 32-yard reception on the sideline to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning 51-yard field goal.
Prescott no doubt held up his end of the bargain against the league’s hottest team and best quarterback, but that was only to be expected after his spectacular regular season.
Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and posted the third highest passer rating in the league (104.9), behind only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady and decimal points ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Prescott threw 25 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, while completing 67.8% of his passes, good for fourth in the NFL.
Those are remarkable numbers for anyone, and particularly for a rookie, but still many naysayers provided excuses for Prescott’s success throughout the year. Many pointed to the Cowboys’ stellar offensive line and running game, asserting that Prescott somehow had it easy, with time to throw and a great running back to hand off to.
It’s funny that you didn’t hear many people say the same about the player that Prescott most reminds me of, Troy Aikman.
Aikman, too, was known as an accurate, if not flashy, passer who made it look easy with a great offensive line and a fellow Hall of Famer to hand off to, in Emmitt Smith. But Aikman is rightfully recognized as one of the best quarterbacks of his era and in Cowboys history because of that accuracy, his ability to handle the pressure of leading “America’s Team” and most importantly, because he was a winner.
Prescott has a long way to go to be recognized as the winner that Aikman was, but he is well on his way. Aikman was 0-11 as a starter in his rookie season, though under drastically different circumstances. And while Aikman’s reputation as an accurate passer is not disputed, he only had one year (1993) when his completion percentage was higher than Prescott’s rookie season clip.
The scary thing about Prescott, of course, is that this was his first season and he can get better. It is almost unimaginable that he could have handled any more pressure any better than he did. On top of being asked to lead one of sports’ most popular franchises, he did so with one of its most popular players breathing down his back.
One can only assume that next season and in seasons to come, with the added confidence (as if he needs it) of an outstanding rookie campaign and the weight of Tony Romo off his back (and maybe on another team), Prescott will be even better than he was this season. There is no doubt that he has proven to the Cowboys’ organization, fans and his teammates that he is special.
So Cowboys’ fans can cry, and their haters can laugh for a few more weeks. But love it or hate it, that Dallas star is very likely to shine bright in the near future.
Jamal Murphy is a contributor to CBS Local. He writes extensively about college basketball, the NBA and other sports, often focusing on the intersection of sports and social justice/awareness. Listen to Jamal on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast (iTunes & Soundcloud) that he cohosts with legendary sports columnist, Bill Rhoden. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @Blacketologist.