FRISCO, Texas -- Seattle Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs made sure to let Jake Ferguson know about the hit he just laid on the Dallas Cowboys' tight end in the third quarter of Thursday's game at AT&T Stadium.
For the briefest of moments, Ferguson had to collect himself, but as soon as he could, he got up and made a first-down signal in Diggs' face after picking up 14 yards on a second-and-13 play that eventually led to a Tony Pollard touchdown.
After Diggs yapped, fellow safety Jamal Adams began pointing at Ferguson and eventually the two were facemask to facemask before they were separated by teammates.
"Just letting them know I got the first down," Ferguson said. "You can talk all you want."
Ferg with the fight 💪 pic.twitter.com/yqMe8uG030— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 2, 2023
In the fourth quarter, trailing, 35-30, Ferguson was matched up against Adams on second-and-7 at the Seattle 12-yard line. Quarterback Dak Prescott made a quick hitch, Ferguson jumped inside to create room from Adams and scored the eventual game-winning touchdown with 4:37 left to play.
Quickly, Ferguson stared down Adams and went with a loud spike to celebrate.
"He's a baller," Prescott said. "His mentality, first and foremost, is why he is the guy that he is and having the success that he has."
Ferguson's development in his second year has been one of the main reasons for the success the Cowboys have had offensively. Since Prescott became the starter in 2016, he has relied on his tight ends, from Jason Witten to Dalton Schultz.
The Cowboys never made a big push to retain Schultz, who played on the franchise tag last season before signing with the Houston Texans during the offseason. The Cowboys were deep in discussions to sign free agent Robert Tonyan, who was on the Packers when Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was in his final season in Green Bay, but he ended up signing with the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys ended up drafting Luke Schoonmaker in the second round.
Yet Ferguson, a fourth-round pick in 2022, has become every bit the security blanket for Prescott that Witten and Schultz were.
"There's a lot of trust there," McCarthy said. "I mean just on that last touchdown throw, you don't throw the ball to a guy that you don't have a lot of reps with. I think you're seeing that with him and pretty much most of our perimeter. And we have to have that. We can't play the aggressive brand of football in the passing game if we don't have that."
With 46 catches for 498 yards and five receiving touchdowns in 12 games, Ferguson is second on the Cowboys to receiver CeeDee Lamb (90 catches, 1,182 yards , 7 TDs) in each category. Schultz has 40 catches for 455 yards and five touchdowns for the Texans in 11 games. Among NFL tight ends, only Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens) and Sam LaPorta (Detroit Lions) have more touchdowns than Ferguson and Schultz this season. Ferguson's seven career touchdown receptions are tied with Witten for the second most by a Cowboys tight end in the first two seasons of a career. Billy Joe DuPree has the most with nine.
"That's just the game now, right?" Cooks said. "Because they can block, and at the same time they can be playmakers in the pass game. It's definitely huge."
As a rookie, Ferguson was limited to 19 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns while playing 430 snaps. McCarthy said the rigors of the NFL game wore Ferguson down as his rookie year went on, so much so that his weight dropped to nearly 240 pounds. In the offseason, Ferguson added more mass and has been able to keep it on during the season (currently 252 pounds) while playing 606 snaps in 12 games.
"I think you're seeing a natural maturation with this strength, his conditioning," McCarthy said.
But McCarthy still saw enough as a rookie to be convinced Ferguson could handle more. Ferguson's background -- he is the grandson of former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez -- was also a plus.
"Jake is definitely high in football IQ, instinct and awareness," McCarthy said. "You can definitely contribute that to his upbringing."
In the offseason, Ferguson was a regular at Prescott's house for backyard workouts. He was part of the group that went to Lake Oconee in Georgia before training camp. Like Lamb and Prescott, the connection between Ferguson and Prescott has grown.
"The dude's slinging it," Ferguson said. "I have the ultimate confidence in him. I mean he's making these plays, these throws in practice, so it doesn't really surprise me. That's the kind of guy he is. That's the kind of quarterback he is. That's the kind of man he is, and that's someone you want to get behind. I'm good with that, and he's our leader, so I'm right behind him. I tell him that every day."
The work has drawn Prescott to Ferguson, just like it did with Witten and Schultz.
Prescott said Ferguson is "a guy that's not satisfied, loves the game of football. Just as importantly, loves his teammates. Loves who he's doing it with. He puts a lot into this game. We expect a lot out of him, and he's taken all responsibility of that. He's just going out there, each and every week, continuing to get better. And that's why I've had his back and continued to preach on his bright future because I see what he does week in and week out. ... He's a big-time guy for us."