The theme dominating local sports talk heading into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was that the Cowboys needed to avoid falling into the quintessential trap game. With a huge, potentially division-deciding matchup against the league-best Eagles on Christmas Eve, the worry was that Dallas would be looking ahead and letting it draw their focus away from the lowly Jags. After barely escaping the dumpster-fire Texans the week before, it seemed especially important that the ’Boys take care of business against the nauseating, ’90s-relic-teal-and-gold-uniform-donning, if-Florida-Man-was-a-football-team Jags.
Through the first two quarters of the game, it appeared that Dallas was. Quarterback Dak Prescott trotted off the field at the half boasting a stat line of 15 of 16 for 137 yards and two touchdowns. The 93% completion percentage pointed to likely the best statistical half of his career. The Cowboys, with a cushy 21-7 lead, seemed comfortably on their way to their eleventh win of the season.
Then, halfway through the third quarter, the wheels came spinning off and Dallas began to succumb to the contest’s truer opponent: themselves. It played out like a runback of the Week 9 matchup in Green Bay, when a middling Packers team capitalized on the decisively better Cowboys’ inability to stay out of their own damn way. Kaiser Söze and the rest of Dallas’ Usual Suspects all showed up to take over the direction of the game. Leaky Run Defense, Vulnerable Corner Play, Horrid Game Management, and Untimely Turnovers all got their requisite screentime. The decision to air it out on third-and-10 in the game’s final minute, especially while holding the lead, should get someone fired. The incompletion allowed Jacksonville to retain their final timeout as the Cowboys punted the ball away.
The only thing worse than that call was the embarrassingly uncatchable ball Dak threw on the play. With a timeout in hand, the Jaguars would send it to overtime just three plays later.
The Dallas defense would make up for much of their second-half meltdown by managing to force a Jags 3-and-out on the OT’s first drive, setting up Dak and Co. for only a field goal to win. Yet the self-inflicted wounds weren’t over yet. Jaguars’ safety Rayshawn Jenkins would snag a tipped-ball interception out of the air and return it 57 yards to the endzone, stunning the Cowboys and dropping them to 10-4 on the season, all but ensuring the lid is nailed shut on an NFC East title and glorious first-round playoff bye.
As soon as the ball flew off the hands of Dallas receiver Noah Brown (again) and into Jenkins’ gentle embrace, you knew the rabble would be dragging Prescott. That pick was Dak’s second of the game and eleventh of the year. It also makes for a multi-interception game in four of Prescott’s last six outings. The 11-pick figure is just two shy of his career season high of 13, a stat line way back from his sophomore campaign in 2017. What’s more alarming is that he’s run his current troubling total up in seven fewer games, nearly half a season less.
With the interceptions piling up, haters and fans alike are taking aim at their favorite target: Dallas’ controversial QB1. The water cooler talk on Monday morning, call-ins to sports talk radio, memes on social media, and those unwatchable screaming-head sports “debate” cable shows (seriously, who watches that shit?) all have been dominated by Dak trashing.
There seems to be no more controversial figure in all of sports than a Cowboys QB, and with Prescott’s salary, his oftentimes questionable accuracy, and his stubborn lack of literally being Troy Aikman or Roger Staubach make him all the more so. Don’t get me wrong, the mounting INT figures are certainly disturbing, but if you look at the bulk of them, the blame shouldn’t fall on Dak alone.
The O-line bears some responsibility. Several of the throws have been tipped at the line of scrimmage or Prescott has had his arm hit during his throwing motion. Such a play cost him five games earlier in the year due to a broken thumb, an injury that could also be playing a role in his current issues. His receivers aren’t helping him out either. From letting balls bounce out of their hands or simply running the wrong routes and leaving behind only the welcoming arms of defensive backs, the wideouts own at least half of those picks. It’s a reality that is no doubt feeding the front office’s obsessive pursuit of receiver help, i.e. T.Y. Hilton, and the still lingering courtship of Odell Beckham Jr.
Prescott isn’t blameless. The same aggressiveness that has helped him lead the offense to averaging nearly 36 points per game since his return has obviously contributed to some very poor decision making, especially at extremely inopportune times. (The near fatal interception late in the fourth against the Texans and the walk-off one this past Sunday against the Jags come to mind.)
Yet I think there are other issues with the team as a whole that are far more concerning: namely, the side of the ball that carried Dallas in Dak’s absence earlier in the year. There have been a handful of games over the last several that have seen this defense that many, including myself, had proclaimed “elite” show signs of fading. A once unstoppable pass rush can’t seem to get home, a still suspect run defense continues to allow yards on the ground, and an injury-depleted secondary is starting to give up big chunks through the air. These are problems that need to be addressed as much or more as Prescott’s present recklessness.
They’re also issues that a QB playing like he’s out for blood can help overcome as easily as he can potentially exacerbate them. I definitely want Dak to rein it in a bit, but I prefer his aggression to the scared, panicky Prescott we saw several times last season. I’m still of a mind that if the Cowboys have a chance at competing for a Super Bowl this season, it will be because of Dak Prescott, not in spite of him.