Dak Prescott’s play­off road re­sumes, where it once started

The Sun News - - Sports - BY SCHUYLER DIXON

So many ques­tions asked of Dak Prescott re­volve around two years ago, when the Dal­las quar­ter­back led the Cow­boys to an NFC-best 13 wins as a rookie be­fore los­ing his play­off de­but.

There’s a new an­gle to that old story line now that the 2016 NFL Of­fen­sive Rookie of the Year has his first post­sea­son vic­tory. Prescott and the Cow­boys (11-6) are headed to Los Angeles Me­mo­rial Col­i­seum for an NFC di­vi­sional matchup with the Rams (13-3) on Satur­day night.

That fa­mous venue was the site of Prescott’s NFL de­but in a pre­sea­son game that marked the league’s re­turn to LA after a 22year ab­sence. His daz­zling day wasn’t a huge deal then be­cause the Cow­boys had no rea­son to be­lieve Tony Romo wouldn’t be their quar­ter­back.

Two years later, it’s a sig­na­ture mo­ment in the sud­den trans­for­ma­tion at quar­ter­back for Amer­ica’s Team, trig­gered when Romo was in­jured in an­other pre­sea­son game. And now it could be the setting for Prescott to reach some­thing Romo never could: an NFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

“I guess I couldn’t imag­ine it be­ing back in the Col­i­seum against the team I started off my ca­reer, but I’ve al­ways talked about the con­fi­dence I’ve had in my­self and this team,” Prescott said. “Noth­ing has changed.”

This is Prescott’s second shot at a di­vi­sional win after Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Pack­ers stole the first with some last-second magic. Just as Romo had nine years ear­lier, Prescott lost at home as the NFC’s top seed in his team’s post­sea­son opener.

Dal­las missed the play­offs last sea­son, in large part be­cause of a six-game sus­pen­sion for Prescott’s fel­low first-year star from a year ear­lier, run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott. A 3-5 start this year with a sput­ter­ing quar­ter­back and of­fense had the Cow­boys look­ing like also-rans again.

They’ve run off eight wins in nine games since, with a much more ef­fi­cient Prescott throw­ing to a new No. 1 re­ceiver. Amari Cooper was ac­quired in a trade with Oak­land, one game be­fore the surge to a second NFC East ti­tle in three sea­sons with Prescott and El­liott.

Armed with a 24-22 wild-card win over Seat­tle, and a clutch run on a quar­ter­back draw that helped seal it, Prescott will try to match the star Rams quar­ter­back-run­ning back duo of Jared Goff and Todd Gur­ley while fac­ing NFL sacks leader Aaron Don­ald.

“What­ever the sit­u­a­tion is,” coach Ja­son Gar­rett said, “rookie mini­camp, first op­por­tu­nity playing in a pre­vi­ous game against the Rams with all those play­ers you men­tioned, or on into the reg­u­lar sea­son that year or any year, he just han­dles the suc­cess and the ad­ver­sity of this game re­ally, re­ally well, as well as any­body I’ve been around.”

In some ways, Prescott is as po­lar­iz­ing with fans as Romo was. While his pre­de­ces­sor was crit­i­cized for not win­ning enough big games, Prescott is per­ceived as a game man­ager with ac­cu­racy is­sues. The crit­ics were loud when the Cow­boys were los­ing. They aren’t com­pletely silent now.

Prescott said he was with a friend when he hap­pened to hear his name in a talk ra­dio con­ver­sa­tion re­cently.

“He wasn’t talk­ing very highly,” Prescott said. “I just kind of laughed. Ob­vi­ously the com­ment I made, he knew to turn it down so I couldn’t hear it. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily bring it around me. They know it serves no re­gard to how I do or how I feel about my game.”

Prescott says his only mea­sure is wins, and New Eng­land’s Tom Brady is the only quar­ter­back with more in the reg­u­lar sea­son (35-32) since the Cow­boys drafted the for­mer Mis­sis­sippi State star in the fourth round in 2016 — 131 picks after tak­ing El­liott fourth over­all.

“I’m glad to be his team­mate,” said El­liott, who has won two rush­ing ti­tles in three years. “He’s a hell of a leader, a hell of a player and I can’t wait to go win some more games with this guy.”

Prescott showed it in his pre­sea­son de­but in LA, again in that play­off loss to the Pack­ers by lead­ing two drives to ty­ing scores in the fi­nal five min­utes and again with a fourthquar­ter rally to beat the Sea­hawks .

One more fi­nal-quar­ter come­back in the post­sea­son, and Prescott will have as many as Roger Staubach, the fran­chise leader with two. Right now, he has as many as Romo and three-time Su­per Bowl win­ner Troy Aik­man.

“I don’t re­ally try to keep up with the past so I can’t just re­late di­rectly to what hap­pened in 2016 or just how­ever that went,” Prescott said. “I just know how spe­cial this team is and how spe­cial this sea­son has been. Ex­cited for, as I con­tinue to say, Satur­day.”

The sur­round­ings will be fa­mil­iar, the stakes ex­po­nen­tially higher.

RON JENK­INS AP

Dal­las Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott re­turns on Satur­day to the Los Angeles Me­mo­rial Col­i­seum, where he made his NFL de­but dur­ing a 2016 pre­sea­son game.

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