By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys closed the 2021 regular season in style. Last Saturday, Prescott threw a career-high five touchdown passes in a 51-26 romp over division rival Philadelphia. The Cowboys gained momentum for the postseason with the demolition of a playoff-bound — but depleted — Eagles squad and put the finishing touch on a 12-5 campaign and an NFC East title.
The former Haughton High star leapfrogged Tony Romo and set a franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (37). He also set career marks for completions in a season (410) and competition percentage (68.0). However, as he scurried past the media at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, he winked and said: “The real sh** starts now.”
They don’t pay quarterbacks $160 million to collect regular-season nuggets Prescott dubbed “just stats.”
That kind of cash is earned in the postseason.
Prescott is ready to attack the NFL’s playoff tournament. He can draw from two previous appearances, including a victory against Seattle in the Cowboys’ last postseason trip (2018 season), and is likely to be unfazed when San Francisco visits Arlington, Texas, for a first-round game on Sunday afternoon.
“Dak has played in these games, he’s played a lot of football. We feel very, very strongly about the type of player Dak is, so this is the time to go execute and see where it takes us,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said.
Prescott, 28, has seen his life change significantly since his last run at a Super Bowl berth.
There has been good, like the record-setting contract he signed in March, but the past couple of years have been stuffed with adversity. Prescott lost his brother, Jace, to suicide in April of 2020. A couple of months later, Dak Prescott opened up about his personal struggles with mental health, a longtime taboo subject in the NFL.
He believes the vulnerability he displayed curbed his anxiety and helped make him a better leader.
However, just five games into 2020, his fifth NFL season, a gruesome leg injury derailed the Cowboys’ campaign and left many wondering if Prescott had erred when he made a bet on himself by not signing a long-term contract.
Despite the setback, Dallas owner Jerry Jones showed faith in his signal caller and opened his checkbook.
No. 4 fought through a calf injury early this season and helped Dallas sweep the NFC East (6-0). Now he’s ready for a chance to earn that money and chase the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“None of (the regular season) matters now as we look forward,” Prescott said after Saturday’s victory.
According to Prescott, the 2021 edition of America’s Team has been fueled by a unique cohesiveness.
“You won’t get many teams like this. We have great camaraderie, great brotherhood – I haven’t played on a team where everybody has been this connected in all facets – not just the offense,” Prescott said. “The connection is going to serve us well.”
It’s a good bet Prescott’s battles with adversity will, too.
He lost his mother, Peggy, to colon cancer when he was a sophomore at Mississippi State. He was drafted by Dallas in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and took the reins of the franchise as a rookie when Romo was injured in the preseason.
Prescott led Dallas to a 13-3 record and a division crown behind 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
It was a feel-good story then, as is his current plight – conquering mental and physical setbacks and the pressure that comes with being one of the highest-paid athletes in sports.
“I’m excited for Dak. You can’t deny where he was last year and coming back the way he has,” Dallas’ second-year head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s a true leader of this football team. I want him to compete and have fun. Everything is attainable, we just have to play to our strengths and he’s a huge part of that.”
Fifteen months ago, Prescott was overcome with emotion as he was carted off the AT&T Stadium turf with a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle. It was a terrible end to a heartbreaking and trying year.
Now, Prescott needs to rip off four straight victories in order to appease the folks who believe a Super Bowl championship is the only appropriate complement to such a gaudy contract.
“You have to win to keep going and we plan on doing that,” Prescott said. “We’re ready to go and looking forward to making a good run.”
This time, Jace will join Peggy in the best seats in the house.
Photo: Christi Lang