How Dak Prescott used his feet to get Cowboys the victory in ‘must-win’ game

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Dak Prescott held a towel above his head as he looked to the SoFi Stadium roof in celebration. He then yelled, “Thank you!”

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback’s reaction came after cornerback Stephon Gilmore hauled in the game-winning interception Monday night. Prescott then kneeled-out the clock as the Cowboys improved to 4-2 heading into their bye week, defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 20-17.

This was bigger than just another Week 6 game. Dallas desperately needed it coming off the previous week’s embarrassing 42-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. After the game, Prescott acknowledged that it was a “must-win.”

“S— yeah,” Prescott added. “I mean, it’s early in the season, but 4-2 or 3-3, it’s a huge difference.”

Chargers QB Justin Herbert is regarded by most as one of the NFL’s top five at his position. With help from the Dallas defense, he was outplayed by Prescott on Monday night. Prescott completed 21-of-30 passes for 272 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and posted a 109.3 passer rating. He also rushed seven times for a game-high 40 yards and a touchdown. Herbert was 22-of-37 passing for 227 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and an 84.0 passer rating.

Dak Prescott had 45 total rushing yards in the Cowboys’ first five games. He ran for 40 on Monday against the Chargers. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

A major factor for the Cowboys was Prescott using his legs more than usual, as a runner and to extend passing plays. He said it was partly because of the way the game unfolded, but also because he felt it was needed coming off the previous week’s loss.

“Realizing that’s maybe something we could use,” he added. “And obviously (the Chargers) had some great coverage at the beginning of the play. Mike (McCarthy) is always preaching about (extending plays after the initial 2.3 seconds). The guys did a great job of coming open after, staying alive, the offensive line keeping their bodies on someone, giving me a chance to get out in different lanes.”

Prescott got the Cowboys on the board late in the first quarter when he scrambled for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 18-yard line. It’s the longest TD run of Prescott’s eight-year career.

“I had CeeDee (Lamb) in motion as an option,” Prescott said. “The defensive end took (Tony Pollard). The two other guys ran towards CeeDee. It just allowed me to cut up field. Great play call, honestly. 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.”

The Cowboys’ second touchdown drive started late in the third quarter with the score tied 10-10. The key play came on third-and-11 when Prescott was nearly sacked but scrambled to eventually find Pollard, who broke a tackle and turned it into 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. He then went and got a lot more than the play that I made. Huge play.”

Five plays later, Prescott found WR Brandin Cooks moving across the front of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. It was Cooks’ first TD catch since being traded to the Cowboys in March. The play also gave Prescott his first career TD pass against the Chargers, which now gives him at least one passing TD against each of the NFL’s other 31 teams.

It was a big play for several reasons, one of which is that the Cowboys have been trying to get Cooks more involved. He finished with four catches for 36 yards on four targets. He also turned a handoff into a 14-yard gain.

“He was due for a night like this,” Prescott said. “It will only grow from here.”

Prescott’s top receiver was Lamb. A week after the team’s top offensive playmaker was visibly frustrated on the sideline from a lack of opportunities against the 49ers, he finished with a game-high 117 receiving yards on seven catches.

“Me and that guy have put a lot of work into this thing,” Prescott said. “When they give him opportunities like they did tonight, he’s going to take advantage of them (and) I’m going to take advantage of them.”

After the Chargers tied things 17-17 with 7:11 remaining, the Dallas offense respond with its longest drive of the night, 14 plays (54 yards) setting up a 39-yard Brandon Aubrey field goal that ended up being the game-winner with 2:19 remaining. It marked Prescott’s 20th game-winning drive, which is the second-most in franchise history behind Tony Romo’s 24.

It was also the first game this season involving the Cowboys that finished with a single-digit margin of victory. The previous five were decided by 40, 20, 12, 35 and 32 points.

“These are the games we’re going to be in,” Prescott told his teammates as they lined up to kneel out the clock. “This is what the NFL is about. We’ve got to get used to this.”

To be clear, the Chargers don’t have the 49ers’ defense. This outcome doesn’t erase what happened at San Francisco. Los Angeles came into Monday night allowing 26 points per game. But things looked like they could start heading down an ugly path with another Cowboys loss going into the bye week. Last Sunday night, the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles were pulling away in the NFC standings. Fortunately for Dallas, both were surprisingly handed their first losses Sunday.

Prescott said those outcomes didn’t impact a Cowboys team that is “running our race.”

“The last thing we can do is start watching other teams,” he added.

Credit to the Cowboys for having yet another bounce-back performance following a loss. Dating back to the start of the 2021 season, Dallas is 10-1 in weeks following defeat. That .909 winning percentage is the highest among teams in weeks following a loss during that time.

“It’s huge to go into the bye week with momentum,” Prescott said. “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.”

(Top photo of Dak Prescott: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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