The table was set for Dak Prescott. Sunday offered the best chance in seven years to change perception and take the next step as an NFL quarterback.
Again, it didn’t happen.
A 19-12 NFC playoff loss at San Francisco closed the book on another disappointing finish to a season. This didn’t happen at the hands of an Aaron Rodgers miracle or a team vastly better than the Cowboys.
This time, Prescott got bounced by a rookie — a third-stringer who was the 2022 NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant just eight months ago.
No, Brock Purdy didn’t light up the Cowboys defense. The uber-talented 49ers didn’t ride his right arm into the NFC Championship Game. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 214 yards.
However, the kid played mistake-free football.
In tight games, especially in the postseason, that can be the difference.
Sunday, Prescott was the difference.
The 29-year-old, who ended a lengthy turnover streak with a dazzling five-touchdown performance a week earlier against Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, fell back into his 2022 ways.
The former Haughton star threw two interceptions Sunday, one in the first quarter that led to a San Francisco field goal and another in the red zone during a tie game in the final 90 seconds of the second quarter. The Niners also added three points from that mistake.
The second half was littered with opportunities for Prescott and the Cowboys to take the reins.
They managed six points.
The 23-year-old quarterback who makes peanuts, the guy with just six prior starts, prevailed. Not the seven-year veteran with the $160 million contract.
Just when all appeared lost for the Cowboys, San Francisco running back Eli Mitchell gifted the Blue Stars a chance to pull off a miracle after he ran out of bounds when the 49ers had a chance to run out the clock.
It wasn’t meant to be for Prescott. Again.
In addition to a pair of picks, Prescott tossed one touchdown and completed 23 of 37 throws for 206 yards.
San Francisco has reeled off nine straight victories. The Niners are a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl. However, the Cowboys had the supposed edge at quarterback Sunday. In the playoffs, that’s supposed to be enough – especially in tight games.
Rookie quarterbacks, especially third-stringers, have almost no track record of success.
Prescott has been there. When he arrived in Dallas as a fourth-rounder in 2016, many had him pegged as third-stringer. However, injuries to Tony Romo and Kellen Moore vaulted Prescott to the top spot before his rookie season began.
Prescott stunned many by leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record that season. He’s since helped the Cowboys build one of the league’s most potent offenses. He’s amassed big numbers and an impressive amount of victories in the regular season. However, after Sunday’s loss he heads to the offseason with two career playoff wins and four losses.
Purdy is headed to the conference title game after two playoff wins in two playoff starts. It’s a place Prescott has not been.
This doesn’t spell the end of the road for Prescott. His career will not be defined by Sunday’s loss or a tumultuous 2022 campaign. His overall body of work is too good to ignore, but the mistakes that labeled this season must be an anomaly.
He’s already a good quarterback, arguably really good. Can he be great?
Assuming he stays healthy, Prescott can still quell the naysayers. Will any of the opportunities be as good as the one he faced Sunday? There is certainly no guarantee.
All we know right now: The lost seasons are piling up.
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