As Dak Prescott heads into the playoffs in his 7th season as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, he still has just one playoff win on his résumé. Whether it’s fair or not, quarterbacks are judged on playoff success regardless of context. Is there a little extra on the line Monday for Prescott?
A loss on Monday would make the noise surrounding Prescott even louder than it already is. There is a (valid) argument that Prescott’s 1-3 record in the playoffs isn’t his fault. He played well in the 2016 loss to the Packers, the 2018 win over the Seahawks, and the 2018 loss to the Rams. But he came up terribly short in the 2022 playoff loss to the 49ers, and that’s all anyone remembers right now.
The 2023 season has certainly been a wild ride for the Dak Prescott narrative. The season opened with arguably the worst performance of his career and a broken thumb made that evening against Tampa Bay even more of a disaster. Then Cooper Rush entered the fold and helped guide Dallas to a 4-1 record while Prescott was healing. With the two most recent memories of Prescott’s play being the disastrous losses to San Francisco and Tampa Bay, plenty of people (wrongly) suggested that Rush should remain the starter when Prescott returned.
Then came Prescott’s uncharacteristic run of interceptions. Entering the playoffs, Prescott has thrown an interception in seven straight games. He led the league with 15 interceptions despite missing five games. This run certainly requires some context, as just eight of his 15 interceptions have come on throws that Pro Football Focus graded as “turnover worthy plays.” While Prescott has made some uncharacteristically bad decisions recently, most of these interceptions haven’t been his fault. Even then, his league-leading 15 interceptions is still front page news on most NFL talk shows these days.
Prescott needs to be better. Throughout his career he has always been good at taking care of the ball, and I don’t think this odd stretch outweighs his six-year run of taking care of the ball. He isn’t Jameis Winston all of a sudden. As much as has been made about his interceptions, he has still been very good in 2022. He has more than overcome the interceptions, despite what the talking heads will tell you. Here are his numbers since Week 7 and where they rank (when Prescott returned from injury):
|EPA + CPOE Composite
|Completion % Over Expected
Hopefully those numbers help contextualize Prescott’s play this season. Despite the interceptions, he has produced at an incredibly high level. Another stat that shows how good he has been since his return is how good Dallas has been on 3rd down. Dallas’ remarkably inefficient early down running has put Dak and the offense behind the eight ball, yet Dallas is still 1st place in 3rd down EPA/play by a wide margin since Dak’s return. The gap between Dallas and 2nd place Kansas City (0.064 EPA/play) is about the size of the gap between 2nd and 5th place (Buffalo).
Between the rough outing on opening night, the 4-1 run with Rush under center, the run of interceptions, and how bad he looked in Week 18 against Washington, it’s been a roller coaster of a year for the Dak Prescott narrative despite his overwhelmingly positive contributions.
But if Dallas loses Monday to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, no one will care what his EPA/Play or his CPOE was. Prescott would fall to 1-4 in the playoffs. It would be two straight years that a 12-win Cowboys team came up empty in the postseason. Regardless of the result Monday night, Prescott is the team’s quarterback in 2023 and beyond. But he would face some serious questions and criticism and the noise surrounding his status as a viable QB would be deafening (fair or not).
Dallas has not won a road playoff game since 1992. Dallas has never beaten Tom Brady in seven tries. A win would be a great step towards the relevance Dallas has been chasing for almost 27 years. A loss would be a disaster on several fronts for the Cowboys. The list of what is on the line Monday is quite long and Prescott’s legacy is towards the top of that list. It’s on Prescott to decide what his legacy will be.
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