DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys travel to Southern California this week to take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. This is a bit of a throwback game for many reasons and not just because LA will wear their old school blue and yellow uniforms.
From 1973 to 1985, these two franchises met in the playoffs eight times, including a NFC Championship in 1976 which resulted in a Super Bowl berth for the Cowboys. This game also means the return to where Dak Prescott’s NFL career began.
The story of Dak Prescott and the start of his NFL career began on August 13, 2016. The fourth-round selection was drafted to back up Tony Romo but was initially listed as the third-string guy behind his current quarterbacks’ coach, Kellen Moore.
An injury to Moore elevated Prescott to backup and the eventual injury to Romo two weeks later elevated him to starter. Prescott started this game and led Dallas on two scoring drives that ended with touchdown passes to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. It gave fans a semblance of hope that if Romo went down, they wouldn’t be doomed to fail much like 2015.
While you can argue that he was facing a vanilla defense in the first preseason action for either team, Prescott showed a lot in that game. Prescott began his career by completing 10 of 12 passes and tossing two scores against the Rams. His debut in LA showed that the team could have faith in him and that faith was needed almost immediately as Dak rose to become the starter as soon as Week 1 in 2016.
Over the ensuing months, Prescott has since proved that he was worthy of his rapid ascension to become the quarterback in Dallas. In fact, since the beginning of 2016, Dak leads the NFL in completion percentage, game-winning drives and most wins in primetime (if you believe QB wins are a worthwhile stat).
You can look at Saturday’s matchup from another angle as well as it features two quarterbacks that were selected during the 2016 NFL Draft. The ways in which they have arrived at this moment have been very different, however.
Rams’ QB Jared Goff was touted as the best of the 2016 class and was picked first overall by Los Angeles while Prescott was drafted as a compensatory pick in the fourth round. Prescott had immediate success in Dallas after climbing the depth chart and claiming the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors while leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 season.
You would think the first overall pick would have been the guy with the rookie accolades but Goff struggled in his first season and was already trying to shed the dreaded draft bust label before the Rams brought in current head coach Sean McVay to salvage Goff’s potential.
Goff under McVay became a revelation in Los Angeles and he is now enjoying his second Pro Bowl season in three years. Prescott still bests Goff in almost every statistically category through their first three seasons but Prescott has also played in 10 more games. With all the drama from the winding ways that have lead each of them to the Divisional Round brushed aside, the slate is clean for Saturday and all that is left is a quality matchup between two successful quarterbacks.
What stands out most as we sit here in the present is how Prescott’s level of play has risen over the last eight weeks. The question now is will he be able to sustain that during a difficult road test? I learned a while back to never count Prescott out of any battles.
This season, when Dallas has been down a score or in a tied game, Prescott has played his best. Prescott has completed 67.3% of his passes for 2,294 yards, 14 touchdowns to two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 105.8 while Dallas trails. If the Cowboys expect to beat the number two seed in the NFC, it’ll be because they received a top game from a quarterback who seems to have a clutch factor to how he plays.
The Cowboys are looking for their first road win in the playoffs since the 1992 season. Coincidentally enough, that game also took place in California but the stakes were a bit higher. That game came against San Francisco was for the NFC Championship. For Dallas in 2019, they’re hoping Dak Prescott returns to the scene of the first step in his career and leads them back to an NFC Championship game.
Do you think Dak Prescott will lead Dallas to a victory over the Rams in his return to the LA Coliseum or will things play out like the 28-24 loss the Cowboys suffered there nearly exactly 29 months ago? Share your thoughts on Dak’s return to LA with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.