The Dallas Cowboys needed a win in the worst way in Week 6 after being dropkicked 42-10 at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, and they got it in the form of a nail-biting 20-17 road victory at the Los Angeles Chargers on "Monday Night Football." While many in the NFL reserve the term "must-win' for the playoffs, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was just fine talking about how badly Dallas needed to beat the Chargers ahead of their Week 7 bye.
"Shit yeah, it was a must-win," Prescott said postgame on Monday. "It's early in the season but there is a huge difference between 3-3 and 4-2. We talked about after last week, not allowing this thing to landslide and obviously I think a win like this allows you to really close that book. Obviously, we closed that book throughout this week preparing for this game moving on not just talking about it but being about it, practicing the right way and preparing the right way to do that. When you get this one like we did, you definitely can move on. Now we'll move forward from this one and enjoy the bye."
Prescott finished with 272 passing yards and one passing touchdown on 21 of 30 passing in addition to 40 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven carries. The quarterback orchestrated a clock-draining drive the Cowboys needed, following a Chargers touchdown on a pass from Justin Herbert to Gerald Everett on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 midway through the fourth quarter. Kicker Brandon Aubrey's 39-yard field goal with 2:19 left to play put Dallas ahead for good. For his efforts, Prescott earned a 90.0 Pro Football Focus grade for his performance, tied for the highest of any quarterback in the NFL in Week 6 who played a minimum of 25 snaps along with Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Comparing Dak Prescott's stats the last two games
|Week 5 at 49ers
|Week 6 at Chargers*
"It was big," Prescott said. "Coming off the performance last week and just wanted to respond. This game couldn't have come fast enough if you asked any one in our locker room. We just wanted to get that taste out of our mouth and move forward. That's what the message was this past week."
Dallas has now won eight consecutive games after a loss and outscored their opponents 260-123 in that span. Expand that further back, and the Cowboys have won 11 of their past 12 games following a loss. While resiliency isn't a new trait for Prescott, especially after a loss, his teammates are still in awe.
"I am very impressed of course," Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said postgame of Prescott's performance on Monday. "Obviously, we came out of it with dub. He is much more focused, and us as a team we do our part to make him look as good as he should be."
Getting Lamb going was a significant priority for the Cowboys after he openly questioned Dallas' offensive identity following the debacle against the 49ers. He spoke about how he and Prescott are going to have more direct communication. The public complaints worked as he was successfully targeted on the first two plays of Dallas' second drive, gains of 11 and 23 yards. He finished with a game-high 117 receiving yards on seven catches.
"Everybody was frustrated from last week honestly, I was just as frustrated as he was," Prescott said Monday. "Maybe it wasn't as visible. I tell CeeDee all the time that nobody is a bigger fan of his game than I am. We're on the same page. Me and that guy have put a lot of work into this thing... When they give him opportunities like they did tonight, he's going to take advantage of them. I'm going to take advantage of them. He is a hell of player and one of the best that I have been around."
Despite the public lack of confidence in his team's offense a week ago, Lamb's confidence in himself certainly didn't wave, and he said he used his frustration as motivation on Monday night.
"When things go good or bad, I'm still confident in myself," Lamb said. "I like me versus anybody in man-to-man. Just coming out here and being able to provide for my team and contribute to a win is the best thing for me. I feel like I am an impactful player. For us to get this going early was very important. I told the offensive line to block their tails off and the least I could do was give them a 20-yard gain."
Biggest play of the night
However, Prescott's longest scoring play of the night wasn't a throw to Lamb. It actually wasn't a throw to anybody. Facing fourth-and-one from the Chargers' 18 in the first quarter, Prescott kept the football on a read-option play and zoomed into the end zone untouched as the field parted in front of him. Essentially the entirety of the Chargers defense collapsed on Pollard while a couple stray defenders followed Lamb off to the right after he was sent in motion. This sequence evened the game at seven just under halfway through the opening quarter.
"I had CeeDee [Lamb] in motion as an option," Prescott said. "The defensive end took [running back] Tony Pollard. The two other guys ran towards CeeDee. It just allowed me to cut up field. Great play call, honestly. They were going all-out. It wasn't necessarily sound on their end. Somebody has to have the quarterback, but not showing my legs, not running early in the year, I think played a part in that. I was just able to go get it."
That play didn't happen by accident. Prescott talked about needing to use his legs more in the red zone after the Cowboys' shocking 28-16 loss against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, and head coach Mike McCarthy noticed something about Los Angeles' defensive alignment on film that made the play an easy choice for him at that early, critical juncture.
"If you look at the design of their defense, their edge rushers are extremely wide, so the focus was on some of the things we wanted to do inside," McCarthy said postgame on Monday. "He [Prescott] did a good job of taking that and trusting his feet, coming out of there and extending plays... That's part of the issue of playing the 3-4. That's probably as wide as we had seen all year... Stepping up and out [of the pocket], I thought he did a really nice job of that tonight."
Prescott's scrambling abilities didn't just result in rushing yards. Their longest play from scrimmage Monday night happened after Prescott spun out of sack and stepped up in the pocket to check the football down to Pollard, who after a broken tackle, hit the gas for a 60-yard gain.
"As I got out, I saw some grass in front of me to potentially run," Prescott said. "But always just trying to keep my eyes down field, look back, looking for a tight end, a receiver coming across, and here comes Tony out of the backfield. Threw it to him and he then went and got a lot more than the play that I made.... Huge play."
"I was helping block on Khalil Mack, and next thing you know, Dak scrambled, I got loose, and we made eye contact," Pollard said postgame on Monday. "He threw me the ball, and I made a play from there. It's been a long time since I have had that much open field. I have to get back in the lab and get my wheels right so I can get in the end zone. It felt good getting into the open field."
Prior to Pollard's gruesome playoff leg injury against the San Francisco 49ers last January, he likely finishes that play in the end zone. He finished with 110 yards from scrimmage on 21 touches. Lamb couldn't help but tease him after he didn't conclude the big play with a touchdown.
"Shoutout TP," Lamb said. "We all know what he should done [scored a touchdown]. He was on the field for a couple of the plays that drive, I give him the benefit of the doubt. Shoutout to TP for that."
"That's that's how the game unfolded," Prescott said of his scrambles. "A little bit of maybe a conscious effort by myself. Just just coming off of last week, realizing that maybe that's something I could use and we could use. I think it's something that we could benefit from."
Cooks breaks through
New Cowboys wide receiver Brandin Cooks also benefitted from that play because six plays later he caught his first touchdown of the season from two yards out. He finished with four catches for 36 yards on all of his four targets.
"He was due for a night like this," Prescott said. "Happy for him, and it will only grow from here."
"Brandin is the ultimate pro," McCarthy said. "He is the same man every day and a joy to work with. He has a vast volume of experience. He is excellent to the young players, so it doesn't surprise me that he has made that statement. That's the way he comes to work everyday. He is very, very consistent. Frankly, hat's a lead we need to follow because we need to be more consistent. That's a focus moving forward."
Not only was simply getting the win helpful for the Cowboys to move past their embarrassment against the 49ers but doing so in a one-score game was even more critical since Week 6 marked Dallas' first game of 2023 that wasn't decided by double-digits.
"This is huge," Prescott said. "I told the offense in the huddle before the kneel downs that these are the types of games we are going to be in. We have had some blowouts and some games that haven't gone our way. We haven't had close games, but this is what the NFL is all about. We have to get used to this and stay confident in this. These close one-score, touchdown or field goal games we have to believe in ourselves finishing it on our terms with the ball in our hands. Thankful for our defense getting us that ball and turnover to be able to do it. That is what the NFL is all about. Close games and winning the game at the end."
"It's huge to go into the bye week with momentum," Prescott continued "I just said it to somebody in the locker room, 'Now, I can go enjoy the bye week.' That's what it's about. Four and two a little over a quarter of the season, that puts us right where we want to be. We got this big win on the road. We can build off this one, give us confidence coming out of the bye week to continue to stack and get better as a team and chase every goal that we have in front of us."