By Tyler Dunne
New York Times
Utterly dismantling a Carolina Panthers defense that has dominated the rest of the NFL this season, Dak Prescott looked like a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback that Jerry Jones doubted he ever would be.
After all, it was Jones who had originally preferred Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook to Prescott in the 2016 draft. The Dallas Cowboys owner was apoplectic when the Cowboys failed to trade into the first round for Lynch. That weekend, Prescott was little more than a consolation prize, and there were even members of the Cowboys’ front office who didn’t even view Prescott as a draftable player then.
Jerry’s World is a wacky place, indeed.
Prescott won — instantly — and was forced to wait six years to get paid.
After using the franchise tag on Prescott in 2020, Jones finally gave the quarterback a long-term deal before this season. Now, Prescott appears ready to reward the Super Bowl-starved Jones. The biggest takeaway from Week 4 in the NFL?
Dak Prescott is singularly capable of ending the misery in Dallas.
Against a Carolina defense that has been suffocating offenses — No. 1 in sacks, No. 1 in quarterback hits, No. 2 in points allowed through three weeks — Dallas’ new $160-million-dollar man coolly completed 14 of 22 passes for 188 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.3 passer rating in a convincing 36-28 win.
Granted, the season is young. There’s still time for either Jones or coach Mike McCarthy to meddle with what’s working, via a bizarre trade in the middle of the season or mind-boggling clock mismanagement. Both are capable of sabotaging a potential champion, as we’ve seen. But one is in the booth and one is on the sideline. It’s Prescott with the ball in his hands every play and Prescott absolutely gives the Cowboys a real shot at ending a 25-year championship drought.
With the score tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter, on fourth-and-1 near midfield, the Panthers had all of Dallas’ receivers blanketed. Prescott did not hesitate. He saw a crease and took off for 21 yards to keep the drive alive. Three snaps later, he knifed an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Blake Jarwin.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold ran in for his second rushing touchdown to push Carolina ahead 14-13, Carolina missed a field-goal attempt on its first drive of the third quarter and Prescott struck again.
With Carolina deploying a single-high safety, Prescott was decisive again.
Planting his right foot at the Panthers’ 44-yard line, he rainbowed a beauty to Amari Cooper for a touchdown that put Dallas ahead 20-14. Few defenses in today’s NFL ever cede a one-on-one opportunity along the boundary like that. Prescott read it and pounced on exactly the sort of throw these Cowboys need to consistently make against elite defenses. Further, the Cowboys’ offensive line did an excellent job picking up the exotic blitz.
Dallas never looked back, eventually extending its lead to 36-14.
Even in a league full of quarterbacks married to the sport, Prescott’s maniacal work ethic stands out as rare. Since 2016, he has drastically improved every aspect of his game: accuracy, athleticism, arm strength. If he was a caretaker as a rookie, he’s indisputably one of the best playmakers in the NFL today.
Around the NFL
Seahawks 28, 49ers 21: You cannot let Russell Wilson hang around. With every opportunity to bury Seattle early, San Francisco’s offense kept short-circuiting. And as he’s done his whole career, Wilson turned it on when needed, scoring 14 of the Seahawks’ 21 second-half points.
Cardinals 37, Rams 20: It’s time to stop sleeping on the Cardinals, who smacked around a team that seemed borderline invincible to start the season. Kyler Murray didn’t turn the ball over, Arizona rushed for 216 yards and, now, the Cardinals are in total control of the NFC West. The question now is if coach Kliff Kingsbury can keep this offense humming and avoid a slide similar to last season’s, when Arizona started 5-2 and went 3-6 the rest of the way.
Packers 27, Steelers 17: Everything for Pittsburgh turned on an offsides penalty before the half. Officials ruled that cornerback Joe Haden jumped before the snap, negating a blocked field goal-attempt that Minkah Fitzpatrick returned for a touchdown that would have given the Steelers a 17-14 lead. Alas, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to play from behind. As we’ve learned this season, that’s not a pretty sight.
Ravens 23, Broncos 7: Facing the best defense he’s seen this season, Lamar Jackson finished with 316 yards and a touchdown through the air and ran the ball only seven times to hand Denver its first loss of the season.
Washington 34, Falcons 30: One of the biggest shocks of this season is how bad the Washington Football Team’s defense has performed. Of course, it didn’t matter against an equally porous Falcons defense. Running back J.D. McKissic supplied the heroics by going airborne at the goal line with 33 seconds left.
Bears 24, Lions 14: Whenever hysteria reaches its fever pitch at Halas Hall, it seems like the Bears always have a get-right game on the schedule. The rebuilding Lions were the perfect medicine, and running back David Montgomery (106 yards, two touchdowns) continued to bludgeon linebackers as one of the best players we don’t talk nearly enough about.
Bills 40, Texans 0: One day, there will be a “30 for 30” documentary written solely on how the 2021 Texans managed to win a football game. Not this week, though.
Colts 27, Dolphins 17: Jonathan Taylor was a force on the ground (103 yards, touchdown), Carson Wentz was efficient enough on those two bad ankles (24-of-32 passing with two touchdowns) for Indianapolis to get a much-needed win after three emotionally taxing losses.
Chiefs 42, Eagles 30: Andy Reid surely knows he needs to clean up his rickety defense. Kansas City again gave up yards and points in chunks. But as long as Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill exist, this Chiefs offense can outscore any team in the league. On 12 targets, Hill caught 11 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
Jets 27, Titans 24 (OT): OK, so Titans receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown were both sidelined. Jets coach Robert Saleh still got his first NFL win behind a defense that hit Ryan Tannehill 14 times and a rookie quarterback, Zach Wilson, who played with the swagger the team has been missing.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.