Prescott has penchant for delivering in fourth quarter
FRISCO, Texas – Cole Beasley remembers his first thought on 4thand-15.
“Oh, crap,” the Cowboys’ slot receiver recalled Wednesday to USA TODAY. “Where’d he go?”
With 1:19 to play Sunday, Dak Prescott had told Beasley to expect the Giants to blitz. Dallas trailed 35-28 facing a long fourth down from New York’s 32.
Beasley ran the slant-and-go as Prescott had instructed. But looking over his inside shoulder as he began streaking toward the end zone, Beasley couldn’t find his quarterback. Then Beasley saw it. Prescott spun out of pass-rusher Olivier Vernon’s grasp, sprinted left and heaved a throw 32 yards to the back edge of the end zone. “An absolute dime,” Beasley said. Beasley laid out to grab the dart, falling out of bounds just after his knee landed in the end zone. A 2-point conversion later, the Cowboys sealed the 36-35 win.
Even though Dallas entered the day locked into the four seed for the playoffs, the score also sealed Prescott’s 14th career game-winning drive, the most by an NFL quarterback in his first three seasons. He led the NFC East champion Cowboys on four drives this season to push ahead after either a tie or deficit in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Prescott declines to describe the trend as having the “it” factor.
“I think I just let preparation take over for the most part,” he said. “I don’t get too riled up that I’ve got to make this throw because it’s this, because it’s that. I just go out there and react.
“It’s everybody being their best, when the best is absolutely needed.”
For the Cowboys to chase the franchise’s first NFC Championship Game appearance in 23 years, Prescott and his team will need that level of performance.
Comebacks, of course, are only necessary for teams that can’t mount and secure a lead early. That’s one of the problems facing a Dallas team converting on 48 percent of red-zone attempts this season (29th in the league).
But the Cowboys’ sixth-best scoring defense has kept Dallas alive at times when the offense has stalled. In those instances, the team has looked to Prescott for late magic.
“He always, even if we’re down 14, whatever the score is, he’s always saying it’s going to happen,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “We’re going to make it happen. We’re going to come back. Just that belief from our leader permeates to everyone else.”
Prescott credits coach Jason Garrett’s relentless two-minute drills.
“Nobody wants to do them,” Beasley said. “But it seems that all of our games come down to that.”
Prescott dreamed of that growing up, he says, counting down as he sunk buzzer-beating shots in his driveway that soon translated to game winners at Haughton High School in his Louisiana hometown.
He engineered game-winning drives on the gridiron as early as the eighth grade, continuing with a game-winning jailbreak fade in his first high school start. He won his junior year district title with an 11-play, 80-yard drive to pull ahead 41-38 with 7 seconds to play.
“There’s really so many,” Kyle Wilkerson, Prescott’s high school offensive coordinator, told USA TODAY of his former pupil’s game-winning drives. “He thrives when the stress level and pressure is at its highest. It’s like gasoline for him. It fuels him.”
The lore continued at Mississippi State in a November 2013 matchup with Mississippi in which Prescott didn’t even play before the fourth quarter because of a nerve injury in his nonthrowing arm. But with the game on the line, and doctors assuring then-Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen playing Prescott wouldn’t inflict further damage, the starter stepped in. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 115 yards, capping the night with a game-winning 3-yard rushing touchdown on 4th-and-1 in overtime.
“I’m not going to give someone the ‘it’ factor,” Prescott said. “I think to have the ‘it’ takes a lot more than that.”
How about after a game winner against Arkansas two years later, his school-record seventh total touchdown that game and fifth in the air?
By the time the Cowboys drafted Prescott in 2016, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wasn’t surprised to see his quarterback step up late in the NFL.
“The guy keeps playing and seems to get better as the game goes on,” Linehan said. “Never gets out of sync when he really isn’t having a great quarter or has a bad play. He has the starting pitcher mentality: You’ve got to keep playing.”
Prescott dismisses the notion that a flip switches late. The flip switches at kickoff, he insists.
But his 44 career TDs across the second and fourth quarters compared to 21 in the first and third suggest otherwise.
In Prescott’s lone playoff appearance, he found himself needing to score late again. The Cowboys fell behind 28-13 in the third quarter of a January 2017 divisional game against the Packers. Prescott added to Dallas’ woes with a thirdquarter interception on 2nd-and-1.
Then he engineered 15 points in the fourth quarter to tie the score. The Cowboys tied again at 31 but ultimately fell 34-31.
Sometimes, the fourth-quarter production is insufficient. Prescott might face that problem against Russell Wilson on Saturday and potentially Drew Brees if the Cowboys advance. Since Prescott’s 2016 rookie season, the three share the lead for most TDs (17) when the game is within seven points in the fourth quarter or overtime. Prescott is the only one of them without a Super Bowl ring. The Seahawks are the only team he’s played more than once and not beaten. He understands the stakes. “It’s everything,” he said. “I don’t pay attention to any stat but wins and losses. When you say success of a quarterback or a quarterback’s success depending on what they do in the playoffs, I think that’s where the checks are written and they make their money. Our job is to win no matter what.”
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown more touchdown passes (44) in the second and fourth quarters during his NFL career than he has in the first and third quarters (21).