Dak Prescott melts against 49ers, leaving the Cowboys in chaos

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SANTA CLARA — If you didn’t know better, you’d think Dak Prescott was the unheralded rookie in this game.

And now we all must wonder where this leaves the Dallas Cowboys in their never-ending chase of a title in the post-Jimmy Johnson (sorry, Barry Switzer just doesn’t get credit) world. With octogenarian owner Jerry Jones getting more desperate each year to prove that he is truly a great football mind and not just a latter day P.T. Barnum, you’d have to think everything is on the table.

Dak Prescott
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 22: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on prior to a game against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi’s Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Does coach Mike McCarthy go to make room for Sean Payton before Payton lands elsewhere? Does offensive coordinator Kellen Moore get sacrificed after a year in which Prescott regressed to a pedestrian mean and led the NFL in interceptions despite playing only 12 games.

And yes, there will be some idiotic ideas, like some fans saying that Cooper Rush should take over for Prescott. That said, Prescott did himself no favors as he played an inexplicably awful game in a 19-12 loss to the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. It was the second straight year that Prescott and the Cowboys were eliminated by San Francisco.

While this one didn’t end in some bizarre failure by Prescott to fall down soon enough to set up field goal, it also wasn’t anything even that valiant. This was more of a whimpering finish with Prescott looking like a little boy lost in a big man’s suit. He threw two woefully awful interceptions and nearly threw two others.

His first interception came deep in his own territory and set up the 49ers first field goal. His second, thrown into double coverage, wiped out at least a field goal attempt for Dallas at the end of the first half.

In the key moments of the second half, he couldn’t find open receivers. He was, as he has always been, overmatched by big third-down plays.

Dak Prescott
SANTA CLARA, CA – JANUARY 22: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws a pass during the NFL NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

That said, he is the Dallas quarterback for the foreseeable future. His four-year, $160 million contract is like some literary vehicle from a classic novel, as if it was the scarlet letter M burned on the helmets of the Cowboys.

Mediocrity is thy fate.

Sure, this tends to overlook the greatness of what the San Francisco defense was able to accomplish. After giving up a touchdown midway through the second quarter, the 49ers allowed only two field goals the rest of the way. Dallas was hampered by the loss of running back Tony Pollard at the end of the first half, but that only meant that Prescott was even more under the spotlight.

And, ultimately, Prescott faded from that spotlight rather than step up to it to playing a leading role. On the other side, 49ers rookie Brock Purdy continued his amazing out-of-nowhere performance by navigating the Dallas defense. Purdy wasn’t pretty, but he was effective in ways that the 49ers needed, setting up a critical touchdown by running back Christian McCaffrey in the fourth quarter.

More than anything, the Purdy story, which includes eight victories and no losses so far, has at least another week to play out.

The Prescott story, by comparison, has a brutal next chapter ahead. His play in this game puts so many people on the hotseat other than himself. At this point, Prescott is so far down the path of league-average quarterback you have to wonder if any really talented coach would want the task of trying to build around him.

Yes, someone will take Jones’ money to coach this team if Jones decides to oust McCarthy, but the idea of making something great from something so average seems so far-fetched at this moment.

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.


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  1. I am a lifetime Niners fan (going back to the 1960s), which makes me a lifetime Cowboys hater. However, articles like this drive me nuts. Niners beat the Cowboys by 7 in a hard-fought game, and I can tell you that I didn’t relax until the final gun went off. To put this solely on Prescott is absurd. He was playing against the best defense in the league. Think that had anything to do with the loss? This wasn’t an upset; this was a meeting of two of the three best teams in the NFC. Someone had to lose. All this hand-wringing about Prescott “blowing it” is just Twitter BS.

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