As people reflect on the Cowboys bleak season, they see a lot of close loses where the Cowboys could have easily won. They also see Dak struggle the most in high-pressure scenarios. In these scenarios, Dak struggles to make passes that he practices every day. This was on display this season as many close losses can be traced back to bad throws from Prescott. Although his numbers suggest he has had his best season in NFL, his struggles in big games say otherwise. Throughout Dak’s entire football career he struggled in the games that are the most important, leading to the question of whether Dak will ever win a Super Bowl?
Dak’s struggles started before he was in the NFL and when he played in college. When Dak was a QB at Mississippi State he was 2-15 when playing against ranked opponents. His first two years he was 0-8 against ranked opponents, consistently losing to SEC powerhouses, Alabama and LSU. In his junior year, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-0 record beating his first two ranked teams, #6 Texas A&M and #3 Auburn. Dak had led the Bulldogs to #1 ranking as they went on the road to play against Alabama.
The pressure was on for Dak as he had to play in a tough environment as the number one team in the nation. The pressure would get to Dak early as he threw a pick and the offense had 3 three and outs during the first half. This would lead to Alabama jumping to a 19-0 lead in the first half. One play late in the third quarter really defined the pressure Dak was facing. It’s 2nd and 11 at the Alabama 15. Dak would drop back and have plenty of time before forcing a terrible pass straight to Cryus Jones of Alabama in the end zone. Dak would finish with 3 interceptions, including 2 inside the Alabama 25 as MSU lost 25-20. Mississippi State would go to lose against two more ranked opponents to finish the season.
Rookie 2016 season
In his first year in the NFL, Dak stepped into the role as the Cowboys QB with ease. Things were looking up as he threw for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns in his rookie year in a Cowboys run-based offense. Although he had a rough first game vs the Giants, he bounced back fantastically with 11 straight wins. During week 7 the Dallas Cowboys played division rival Philadelphia Eagles at home. Dak struggled early in the game, leaving passes short and even throwing a pick during the first half. Dak cleaned up his throws and kept the Cowboys in the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Dak led the Cowboys down the field making some terrific throws in the process. The drive would result in a great ball to Dez Bryant in the end zone tying the game up. Then in the first drive of OT, Dak led the Cowboys down the field to the Eagles 5 yard line. On second and goal Dak had to improvise, scrambling around till a receiver opened up. When he finally got away from the pressure he threw a great pass to Jason Witten to win the game. Dak stayed poised throughout this game, while also completing the Cowboys comeback showing a spark of his true potential.
The Cowboys finished the season and ended up with a first-round bye in the playoffs. The pressure was on as the Cowboys played against the Packers in a very anticipated matchup. Early in the game, Dak and the offense just couldn’t get going. This led to the Cowboys being down 21-3 with 7:37 to go in the 2nd quarter. Then with 6:09 to go in the second quarter, Dak stepped up in the pocket and threw a fantastic pass to Dez Bryant for a Dallas touchdown.
Jump to the third quarter, the Cowboys are deep in Packers territory and faced a 2nd and 1. What should have been an easy screen pass turned into a nightmare. Dak telegraphed a pass way in front of Cole Beasley who was waiting for the pass. This lead to the ball being picked off and returned to about the Green Bay 40. Dak would quickly shake this off and continue to play well keeping Dallas in the game. Eventually, Dak would lead the Cowboys down the field and tie the game on the two-point conversion with a QB draw. Unfortunately, the Cowboys defense just couldn’t hang on as the Cowboys lost 34-31. If Dak was able to get the offense going in the first half this could have been a completely different game for Dallas.
9-7 2017 season
The 2017 season was considered disappointing for the Cowboys organization as they had a winning record yet still missed the playoffs. This was Dak’s worst season of his career as he had his career lows in passing yards, TDs, and career-high in interceptions. Throughout the season Dak just looked completely different from his rookie season. His worst stretch was during weeks 10-12 where he had 14 sacks and 5 interceptions. Late in the season, the Cowboys would play a playoff elimination game against the Seahawks, with the winner staying in the hunt. The Cowboys would get a drive down the field, and then stall forcing Dallas to kick a field goal. The Cowboys would do this 3 times and going into halftime they were leading 9-7. Then with about 11:30 to go in the 3rd quarter, Dak throws a pick-six giving the Seahawks a 14-9 lead. On this play, Dak just doesn’t read Seattle’s zone coverage and panics when some pressure heads his way. He throws a terrible, short pass that is easily picked off by the Seattle defense. The Cowboys would produce similar results for the rest of the game and be eliminated from the playoffs due to lack of offense.
The LA Rams
The 2018 Dallas Cowboys season was a successful regular season for the Cowboys. They had a 10-6 record and won the division. They had many good wins including two against the Eagles and one against the Saints. Dak had a much better year with his numbers increasing from last year. Although he made a lot of mistakes in 2018. The season came on the line when the Cowboys played the Rams in LA.
The atmosphere in Dallas in the days leading up to the game showed that many people believed that the Cowboys could win the game. People were pumped up after the Cowboys finally won a playoff game. The game started and Dak left off where he started leading the Cowboys down the field on the first drive of the game. He would cap off the drive with a 29 yard TD to Amari Cooper. After that Dak started feeling the pressure and was shut down. It starts with about 6 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, it 2nd and 5 from the Dallas 30. Dak snaps the ball and telegraphs a pass intended for Amari Cooper. Instead, the ball is nearly picked off because Dak didn’t see the linebacker who pulled back into coverage. On the very next play, Dak sees an open Amari Cooper over the middle with one on one coverage. Dak steps up in the pocket and fires the ball high and out of reach of Cooper. This leads to the Cowboys punting, and the Rams driving down the field for another touchdown. The Cowboys went into the half down 20-7. Dak would come out of the half and play perfectly. He made clutch throws and even scrambled for yards when he had to. He was faced with many 3rd and longs and yet he found a way to convert them. Unfortunately, the Cowboys defense couldn’t hold late leading to LA being able to bleed the clock away. That night we saw two different versions of Dak Prescott and the 2nd half version was amazing. If only the Dak in the first half played better the Cowboys could have walked out with a win.
Weeks 10-14 2019
Although you could point to other parts of the season, these five weeks were the most important because this is when the Cowboys lost the division. They had the worst stretch of the season during this time as they lost 4 out of 5. In these 5 weeks, Dak’s numbers were at the season-low and he continued to attempt low percentage throws during this time. After doing this for a few weeks in a row all the mistakes had to be getting to Dak’s head, which also lowered his performance. His completion percentage suffered the most during this time as he produced consistently below-average numbers. Two games that stuck out the most were the back to back games against AFC East foes.
Dallas at New England
It starts with a play that quickly sets the game tone for Dallas. It’s the beginning of the 2nd quarter and 3rd and 2 from the Cowboys 26. The play starts with a high snap that Dak handles quickly after he controls the ball, he is forced to throw the ball into one on one coverage. This would normally be a high percentage throw under normal conditions. But due to on and off rain the field is wet and sloppy. Dak is forced to throw off his back foot and the ball is picked off. As you look back at this play, Dak has plenty of time and could have made a better decision that wouldn’t lead to a pick.
Now jump to the fourth quarter where Dak is getting more and more confident in his throwing ability. He is making plays when he is getting hit and continues to stay poised. A few drives have stalled in the red zone, but Dak is still making the right throws. Although late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys are facing a 3rd and 11. As Dak gets ready to snap the ball the Patriots are already showing a blitz. Dak clearly sees the pressure that is coming, yet when the blitz comes he still isn’t ready. The pressure ends up getting to him forcing Dak to throw to the ground. This ends up being the last chance the Cowboys get as the fourth down pass is dropped.
This game was rainy and tough in the first quarter after that Dak should have played much better, and overall he did. Yet when it was time for a big play, he couldn’t make it. The Cowboys were 2 for 13 on third down, one of those first downs being a run play. Dak’s performance in this game was simply not good enough as the Cowboys didn’t score a touchdown at all.
Buffalo vs Dallas
In the first quarter with 5:20 to go, it’s 3rd and 5 at the Bills 37. As the play develops Amari Cooper becomes open on the right sideline. Dak doesn’t read the defense well and throws a ball that is easily read and knocked away by the defender. Despite being on the move Prescott doesn’t make a read early enough, stalling the drive once again. This would continue to be a consistent mistake for Dak as the game continued. Now jump to the 2nd quarter where Dak makes another head-scratching play. It is 2nd and 10 at the Cowboys own 37. The Bills send in a blitz which Dak doesn’t see until the last minute. The play was supposed to be a screen play but with the instant pressure, Dak panics. Tony pollard the running back on this play is in no position to receive the ball, but Dak throws it anyway leading to the ball being intercepted by a lineman.
Now we move to the 3rd quarter with about 2 minutes to go, its 3rd and 10 from the Bills 47. As soon as the ball is snapped, pressure from the blitz surrounds Dak. Despite the pressure, Dak stays clam, doges two tackles, and runs over Tre’Davious White while getting the first down. A simple play that shows Dak has the potential in these tough situations. Jump forward in the drive and you see another of the consistent mistakes from Prescott. This time its a short, swing pass to Elliot on 4th and goal, yet Dak throws this ball short of Elliot leading to no points for Dallas.
Overall throughout this game, Dak struggled to make plays that overall cost the Cowboys the game especially in the few situations shown.
Dak’s NFL career will continue with the pressure always being on his shoulders as he is the QB of the most popular team in America. The only question about Dak is whether he can get himself together and step up in the big game situations. Throughout his college and NFL career, he has clearly struggled with pressure. If Dak can find a way to somehow clear his mind mentally, he will have a very promising career with the Cowboys. As for Dak the only way he can overcome his greatest obstacle is to simply face it head-on.
Top photo- Ryan Michalesko, Dallas Morning News