Is Dak Prescott’s interception spike a cause for concern for Cowboys?
Dak Prescott had just finished a marvelous game on Christmas Eve, in which he threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns against one of the best defenses in football. He even ran for 41 yards, too.
But when he stepped behind the podium moments after the Dallas Cowboys had knocked off the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles, he wasn’t in a mood to look at the bright side. He had something else on his mind.
“Let’s start with the interception,” he said after the Cowboys beat the Eagles 40-34.
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Unfortunately for Prescott lately, that is the right place to start.
As impressive as the Cowboys quarterback has been this season — a season in which he’s completed a career-best 69 percent of his passes so far — and as much as he’s super-charged the Dallas offense since he returned from a fractured thumb, interceptions have been a surprisingly major part of his story. He has thrown a ridiculous 12 in his 10 starts. That’s just one short of his career high (13) which came in 16 games way back in 2017.
That’s opened a fair and worrisome question for a man who is playing like he could’ve been in the NFL MVP conversation if he hadn’t missed five games: Sure, he’s been playing like a quarterback who could carry the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl in 27 years, but could he be the one that costs them their shot, too?
“He’s on a unique swing right here,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week. “He’s played lights out, but his one critical play has been a critical play for the other side a couple times here of late.
“But the most important thing is he needs to keep firing. Trust me, he knows that. He doesn’t need to be reminded of it.”
That’s been the Cowboys’ approach to Prescott’s odd turnover tendencies, as they head into their second-to-last game at the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. They know Prescott is a huge reason the Cowboys are 11-4 and probably the biggest threat to the Eagles in the NFC. They are willing to accept his bad moments because of the overwhelming amount of good.
And the good has been great. Since his return from injury, Prescott has completed 74.6 percent of his passes for 2,326 yards with 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in nine starts. That would give him a passer rating of 105.2, which would be good for second in the NFL.
But those interceptions would still stand out as a major concern — at least on the outside.
“I think when guys go through (a spike in interceptions) for the first time, some react differently,” McCarthy said. “One thing I have learned over the years, the eyes tell you a lot. He doesn’t ever blink. I haven’t seen him blink a whole lot since I have been here.
“I think that’s where he is as far as his journey of playing the quarterback position in the NFL. You don’t see him get up too high or too low. He’s very, very consistent.”
In other words, Prescott remains unbothered by the interception deluge.
“The only way to keep going is by responding,” he said. “Showing that whatever happened last play really doesn’t matter. It’s all about the next play.”
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It’s worth noting that not all of the interceptions have been Prescott’s fault. Two were passes that deflected off receiver Noah Brown’s hands. Receiver Michael Gallup fell on one of them (and was probably pushed). Prescott’s arm was hit as he threw on another. Twice there was a miscommunication that led to his receivers running incredibly bad routes.
Of course, all quarterbacks have to endure a measure of bad luck and bad bounces. And that still leaves six interceptions that appeared to be completely on Prescott’s bad throws or bad reads. Regardless, no matter how they are broken down, no matter what reasons or excuses are given, the numbers are still shocking. Prescott’s current pace would’ve put him on track for 20 interceptions if he made all 17 starts this season.
That’s absurd, considering not a single NFL quarterback has thrown 20 interceptions in the last two seasons. In fact, only five have done it the past eight seasons. The last time it happened was 2019 when three quarterbacks — Jameis Winston (30), Baker Mayfield (21) and Philip Rivers (20) — threw that many.
Before this season started, Prescott had only thrown 19 interceptions in his previous 32 games.
That makes this onslaught odd enough. It makes it worse that when Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat reached up and grabbed a Prescott pass in the first quarter last Saturday and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown, it was the second pick-6 Prescott had thrown in a span of four passes over two games.
“As I was chasing him down, I go, ‘Is this really happening?'” Prescott said after the game. “You’ve got to look right at myself. I guess I just misjudged his length. Yeah. He made a great catch. I don’t know if he’s had an easier interception and return than that one. (But) I was chasing him down like ‘Is this happening again?'”
It was, just like it happened in the Cowboys’ shocking, 40-34 loss in Jacksonville six days earlier, when the game ended with a Prescott pass being returned 52 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Rayshawn Jenkins with 6:52 in overtime — one of the two interceptions this season that have bounced right off Brown. And those two pick-6s haven’t been the only costly interceptions Prescott has thrown this season. He’s also thrown four others other that were converted into touchdowns.
In all, his 12 interceptions have resulted in 50 points.
The Cowboys, though, would prefer to remember that Prescott is responsible for scoring a lot more points than that. The Cowboys are the No. 3 scoring team in the NFL this season, averaging 28.9 points per game. But they were only averaging 18.3 points per game through the first six games of the season.
They’re scoring 36 points per game since Prescott came back.
And that, they say, is Prescott has shown a unique ability to shake the interceptions and bad throws off. That’s what he did Sunday after he got over the déjà vu he felt watching Sweat return his third pass of the game for a touchdown.
Prescott then completed his next 14 passes in a row, kickstarting what was probably his best performance of the year.
“I don’t know if you could respond any better,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know how else to say it, except that’s who he is. Adversity is something he eats for lunch. He doesn’t blink. And that’s such a huge part. I think it speaks volumes to his approach.”
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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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