Dak Prescott rebounds with 'statement game' in Cowboys' wild-card win

TAMPA, Fla. -- As Dak Prescott jogged off the Raymond James Stadium field Monday, there was no great exuberant cheer by the quarterback. He simply waved to the Dallas Cowboys fans crowding the tunnel to the locker room and casually tossed his hat into the stands.

Prescott was acting like what he just accomplished in the Cowboys’ 31-14 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was no big deal.

Except it was a big deal.

Eight days earlier against the Washington Commanders, Prescott had what might have been the worst game of his career. He completed just 14 of 37 passes for 128 yards in a 26-6 loss. He was intercepted for the seventh straight game and had a pick-six for the third time in four games.

On Monday, Prescott had a game for the ages.

He threw for 305 yards, completing 25 of 33 passes with four touchdown passes and, perhaps more importantly, he was not intercepted. He also ran for a touchdown.

“I got away from the way I play this game,” Prescott said of his Week 18 performance. “I got greedy, tried to just force some throws, tried to take the big ones -- and that’s not who I’ve been throughout my career; taking what they give me, waiting on the big shot. I think it was uncharacteristic. ... But I wiped that clean and I knew what this game meant. I knew how important it was for us.”

How good was he against the Buccaneers?

“I mean, as good as I’ve seen,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s for sure.”

McCarthy coached Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl with Rodgers.

How good was Prescott? He joined Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach as the only Cowboys quarterbacks with four touchdown passes in a playoff game. Like Prescott, Aikman’s also came without an interception in his Super Bowl XXVII performance against the Buffalo Bills. Staubach’s came in the 1975 NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams.

“I can doubt with the best of them, and Dak didn’t in terms of his play when it counted. And we ought to all build from a really -- I would say this without exaggeration: that was a great performance,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “That’s how you lift at that position. That’s how you help create a championship team right there. Because it was all against him ... and had a great player on the other side of the ball at his position [Tom Brady] and came out there and played at that particular level.”

Prescott outplayed Brady, who threw for 351 yards but needed 66 pass attempts and 35 completions to get there. Brady had two touchdown passes but was intercepted in the second quarter.

Coming off that interception, Prescott directed the Cowboys on a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. He completed all five of his passes to a different player: RB Ezekiel Elliott (9 yards), WR Michael Gallup (4 yards), RB Tony Pollard (5 yards), WR T.Y. Hilton (14 yards), TE Jake Ferguson (34 yards).

He ended the drive with a 1-yard bootleg that upped the Cowboys' lead to 12-0.

“He was unreal,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. “I mean like every time we gave him enough time, he was making plays … No surprise. Obviously, being the quarterback here, he gets talked about more than anyone, but the guy just keeps coming back, you know?”

Prescott set a Cowboys postseason record with 11 straight completions after missing on his first three passes of the game. He is the fifth player with four touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown in NFL postseason history and the first since Matt Ryan in the 2016 NFC Championship Game. By the way, McCarthy saw Rodgers do the same in the 2009 wild-card round.

Prescott became the second player in NFL postseason history with four touchdown passes and a rushing score while completing 75% of his passes in a game, joining Peyton Manning (2004 wild-card round against the Denver Broncos).

His 96.5 Total QBR was the third highest by a starting quarterback in a wild-card game since 2006.

“Dak showed that he’s a warrior,” wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said. “He’s a baller, and he came out slinging it. I feel like it was a statement game for him.”