Dak Prescott wasn’t good enough Sunday night and the Dallas Cowboys have to stew in the bitter juices of another playoff disappointment.
If this is what we can expect in upcoming seasons, then the Cowboys are in huge trouble.
The San Francisco 49ers are a Super Bowl contender, but they would be home for the postseason had Dallas gotten more out of its franchise quarterback. Instead, Prescott, who has pocketed $95 million over the last two seasons, was outplayed by Mr. Irrelevant. Third-string quarterback Brock Purdy made the most meaningful plays for his team, played turnover-free football and showed the clutch that must be on display at this point of the season.
Dak is a good guy, but the team can’t live off politeness and nice suits. The Cowboys need playmaking and Dak’s playmaking pockets were filled with holes for most of the evening. You can’t really blame this one on coach Mike McCarthy although owner Jerry Jones must ask himself if the head coach can lead this franchise to special places.
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Dallas won 12 games for the second straight season behind Prescott and McCarthy and finished second in the NFC East behind Philadelphia after winning the division in 2021, but the Cowboys heading home before championship weekend for the 27th straight season.
The 19-12 loss was the seventh straight divisional round setback dating back to 1996 and the latest kick in the slacks for the Jones family, which hasn’t tasted that sweet Super Bowl nectar since the Clinton administration.
“We’ve got a locker room full of sick of players and coaches to go along with hundreds of thousands of Cowboys fans who are also sick,” an emotional owner Jerry Jones told reporters after the game.
They could have won: A win was actually possible.
The Cowboys’ defense did not produce a takeaway but held the Niners to one touchdown The special teams recovered a fumble and Brett Maher actually made two field goals despite Governor Greg Abbott tweeting that he could do a better job of kicking. Still, Dak and the league’s fourth-highest scoring attack couldn’t make it happen against a talented Niners defense.
This is where we need to have a a big-boy talk about Dak, who dropped to 0-3 as a starter in the divisional round and 2-4 in the playoffs, marks that are identical to his predecessor Tony Romo. That Tampa Bay celebration lasted for only a week because he threw two interceptions in a game for the sixth time this season and missed on a couple of routine throws that he used to make in his sleep. His numbers — 23-of-37 for 206 yards, one touchdown and the two picks — were representative of a real defensive game, but there just weren’t enough difference-making plays from the Pro Bowler.
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It hurt even more when the Cowboys lost running back Tony Pollard — their most explosive player — to a broken leg late in the second quarter. Ezekiel Elliott, the owner of two rushing titles, isn’t that player anymore and didn’t bring it with increased totes. He has likely played his final game in Dallas as the organization is unlikely to pay him $10.9 million next season.
Running issues aside, this was on Dak.
“The defense gave us an opportunity to win this game,” Prescott told reporters. “We played hard against a really good offense and for us to only put up the points we did is unacceptable and it starts with me. I’ve got to be better. There is no other way to sugarcoat it.”
There is an I in inconsistent: It’s not the same consistent Prescott who forced Romo into retirement after a spectacular rookie season. Prescott was an iron man with zero missed games his first four seasons. Better yet, he was a great dual threat who ran for 1221 yards with 21 rushing touchdowns. Over the last three seasons — which included those 11 missed games due to foot surgery in 2020 — he has rushed for 421 yards and five touchdowns in 33 games.
Two seasons removed from a career year when he threw 37 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions to earn him that massive contract, Prescott was weirdly pedestrian in Season 7 with 23 touchdowns and a league-leading 15 interceptions in 12 games. He hasn’t played two consecutive games without a turnover since 2019. That’s 49 games and counting.
He isn’t going anywhere, with two years remaining on the four-year deal that he signed before the 2021 season that guarantees him $166 million.
Prescott bristled after the regular season when asked if his coach needed a deep playoff run to keep his job, but those are the questions, especially with former Dallas assistant and Metroplex resident Sean Payton apparently ready to end his retirement.
McCarthy is 30-20 at Dallas and has produced a single playoff win in his three seasons. The 11-10 career postseason record includes a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but he’s 6-8 since that title. The guess is he will be back for another year. Jerry hasn’t fired a coach with at least 24 wins over his last two seasons since he canned Jimmy Johnson after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.
And we know how that turned out even if Switzer won a title with Jimmy’s players in 1995.
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The Cowboys are no longer mediocre — consecutive 12-win seasons is solid — but the expectations, as usual, have outweighed the results. It’s who they are.
Whether it’s Payton, McCarthy or Jerrah throwing on a headset, Dallas isn’t going anywhere if the most important player on the roster is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback.
It begins and ends with Dak.
Farewell to a friend: The sportswriting profession and the American-Statesman family lost a true great in our friend Randy Riggs, who died last week of cancer at age 71.
I didn’t know him as well as Kirk Bohls or other Statesman colleagues John Maher, Rick Cantu, Mark Rosner, Kevin Lyttle, Mike Leggett, our buddy Tom Dore or the “Sports Diva” Suzanne Halliburton — they all spent 30-plus years with him — but I did my best to catch up in my 24 years of friendship with Riggles. I called him Randolph just to be different, but it was Riggs or Riggles to everybody else.
We spent many an afternoon over Franklin’s barbecue or Chinese food at Lotus Hunan in Westlake — he loved the eggplant with chicken — but I’ll most remember that dry wit that was always on display in the office and in the press box.
I also remember our first assignment together. I was hired in October 1999 as a high school writer and our then-sports editor David Humphrey — whom Riggs called “Skeets” because he ran track in college — threw me a bone by sending me and an intern to the 1999 Alamo Bowl between Texas A&M and Penn State along with Riggs, the most senior beat writer on staff.
I must have asked him 20 questions about his career and he told me stories of covering the Houston Oilers during Earl Campbell’s heyday and the time an in-his-prime Julius “Dr. J.” Erving came up to his hotel room for an interview.
“We talked for about an hour and after the interview, he actually thanked me,” Riggs said with a chuckle.
We teamed up again one year later to cover a blizzard of an Independence Bowl between the Aggies and Mississippi State. The Aggies fell 43-41 in overtime and I remember us having to scrape off the license plates of our blanketed cars in the parking lot to figure out which one was ours.
His story the next day was cleaner than a showroom Porsche and it read just as smooth.
The layout guys and editors always said if they were getting their butts kicked on deadline, they would just send Riggs through without reading him. His copy was always spotless.
Riggs was notoriously early to each assignment — that bird never beat him to the worm — and it became a running joke on the staff. He laughed with us, but rarely fully acquiesced to time negotiations on road trips.
We accepted it because it was Riggs.
We loved him, but more important, we respected him.
Better early than never.
We will miss you, brother.