ARLINGTON, Texas -- As he walked on to the AT&T Stadium field with 2:17 to play, Dak Prescott did not carry with him any extra pressure, even if the Dallas Cowboys’ season might have been on the line.
In the first three games of the season, the offense scored four touchdowns and was ranked close to the bottom of the league in many statistics, except rushing and this was not the time to run the ball, down two points to the Detroit Lions.
Prescott thought only of the possibilities after Matthew Stafford’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate gave the Lions a 24-23 lead.
“We’re still good,” Prescott said on the sideline before the final drive. “We’ve got a lot of time.”
In Thursday’s practice at Ford Center at The Star, Prescott led the offense down the field for a last-second Brett Maher field goal.
He made Sunday just like practice.
Nine plays later, Maher connected on a 38-yard field goal as time expired to give the Cowboys a 26-24 win.
As important as it was for the entire team, the win perhaps was more important for Prescott.
Entering Sunday, he had not thrown for more than 200 yards in nine of his last 11 games. His numbers were Osweiler-ian with eight touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. This season, he had not thrown for more than 170 yards in a game. He had been sacked 11 times. He was averaging 5.7 yards per attempt.
He left Sunday with a win and perhaps some restored confidence from others even if he said he had not lost it in himself.
“He handles adversity as well as anyone I’ve been around at that position,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a great leader. He never blinks.”
The winning drive started with a 7-yard completion to Geoff Swaim, but nearly ended a play later when Da’Shawn Hand poked the ball free from Prescott.
“Just the way the ball came out and I saw the guy on the ground and I didn’t feel any pressure anywhere else, to me it was pick it up, turn around and you might just get a freebie or someone wide open down the field,” Prescott said. “Sometimes it happens with crazy plays like that.”
Unable to find an open receiver, Prescott flung the ball out of bounds.
“He had presence of mind to get it, field it properly and get back up and do something with it,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “And I think, as I do with some of these quarterbacks, I will always remember that play.”
On third down, Prescott found Allen Hurns on a contested catch for 9 yards and a first down.
Two plays later, he went to Ezekiel Elliott on an inside fade route down the sideline for 34 yards.
“It’s the coverage that was given to us,” Prescott said. “You go man to man and we like our match-ups, especially with Zeke on a linebacker. I’m willing to take that matchup any day of the week.”
It was what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan talked about last week when he said he wanted to “sling it around,” against the Lions. He wanted the offense to take “the weight of the world,” off their shoulders, although in a more specific sense he was talking about Prescott.
Prescott has been programmed to avoid mistakes, but the more a quarterback looks to avoid mistakes, the fewer plays he makes. Defenses can condense the field and suffocate an offense. Early Sunday, Prescott went down the field to Michael Gallup in the first quarter for 37 yards. He went down the field in the second quarter to Tavon Austin but the receiver could not come up with the pass in the end zone.f
With linebacker Jarrad Davis over the top of Elliott, Prescott knew he was going to Elliott before the snap.
“Dak made the perfect throw,” Elliott said.
At the Detroit 25, the Cowboys used the next three plays to get Maher in position for his winning kick.
“He was locked in,” Elliott said. “There was no doubt we were going to go down and score. That’s what I expected out of Dak. He went out there and he commanded the offense and he led us.”
Prescott finished with 255 yards on 17-of-27 passing. He had a 38-yard touchdown pass on a screen to Elliott and 1-yard floater to Geoff Swaim. He was sacked three times but did not give the ball away.
It was hardly Prescott’s best game, but it was what he needed. And what the Cowboys needed.
“I know what I can do and I know what kind of player I am,” Prescott said. “And I never waiver and I’m never going to get down on myself. All of us have good days and bad days and if all of us were judged by our bad days in our jobs, we’d all be in trouble.”