ARLINGTON, Texas – Big game. Big stage. Big moment.
If Dak Prescott is going to legitimately propel his case for being considered the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, he needed an outing like Sunday night.
The much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback added a few more layers to the MVP argument with a near-flawless performance that fueled a 33-13 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.
By his own admission, Prescott didn’t exactly have a monster game before more than 93,000 fans at a raucous AT&T Stadium. But in passing for 271 yards with two touchdowns, his hand was steady enough to help the Cowboys (10-3) win a fifth consecutive game to move into in the NFC East lead via a tiebreaker.
For the seventh consecutive game, Prescott tossed multiple touchdown passes – the longest active streak in the NFL, which ties Tony Romo’s franchise record. The streak not only underscores a consistency over recent weeks that has catapulted Prescott into the MVP conversation. It also reflects a comfort zone in the growth in an offense that has taken on a new direction with coach Mike McCarthy now calling the plays.
And hey, MVP talk or not, Prescott for at least one night changed the narrative in the type of high-stakes matchup that so often has offered critics ammunition to suggest that he can’t win the big one.
“They ought to shut that door on questioning his ability to play in a playoff-type game,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones declared to the pack of reporters gathered outside the locker room.
Of course, the playoffs are still a bit down the road. Prescott will have to prove it again in January, and in the weeks closing out the final quarter of the regular season. Yet the Cowboys can certainly afford to visualize what may be different this time around, which extends beyond the quarterback.
Balance was the ticket during the latest primetime showcase. Dallas’ defense collected three more turnovers, increasing its NFL-high tally of forced fumbles to 34. The rookie kicker, Brandon Aubrey, added more footnotes to his record-setting debut season. Aubrey connected on all four of his field goal attempts, extending his NFL record to 30 consecutive successful field goal attempts to start a career. And with 59- and 60-yard treys, he became the first kicker in NFL history to connect on two kicks of at least 59 yards in the same game.
Still, nothing may represent Dallas’ hopes like its marquee player, Prescott. It’s no surprise that Jones, the loquacious team owner, didn’t hold back in campaigning for his quarterback.
“It really should be noted big-time in any consideration he has for Most Valuable Player,” Jones said, impressed by the subtle details that enabled better execution.
As the season has progressed, Prescott’s rhythm with his receivers has improved, and it appears he has even better recognition in finding soft spots in the defense. Jones mentioned the timing of the blocking. And the Cowboys are hitting on more shots down the field. On Sunday night, they scored on all three trips inside the red zone, with Prescott capping two of the drives with his arm – including a 13-yard toss to CeeDee Lamb as he extended the play and rolled to left before flipping a pass to the receiver running in the flat.
Prescott completed 24 of 39 passes and for the third time in four games didn’t crack the 300-yard mark. His 99.4 rating was solid, even if it wasn’t spectacular. His efficiency was perhaps better measured with his ability to help the Cowboys to sustain long drives. Five of Dallas’ seven scoring drives consumed at least 10 plays, illustrating a ball-control element that has marked Prescott’s offense this season.
All told, Prescott looked comfortable. But he was hardly content.
Prescott surely wasn’t campaigning for MVP votes afterward.
“Yeah, it was good enough to win,” Prescott said. “But I’m holding myself to super-high standards. Yeah, if I play my best game, we’re putting up 50 (points) out there.”
Prescott’s biggest mistake of the night came on a third-quarter play that he thought was poised to strike for a touchdown…if maybe he had another fraction of a second. Instead, Prescott was stripped by Fletcher Cox as he tried roll away from the pressure. Jalen Carter recovered the fumble and returned it for a 42-yard touchdown.
Prescott knows: MVP talk or not, if the Cowboys are going to legitimately threaten to compete for a championship, it will take complementary football.
Which begins with the face of the franchise.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dak Prescott: NFL MVP favorite? Cowboys QB states strong case