By Dwain Price
The Dallas Cowboys used a gritty performance to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC East on Sunday. But what a heavy price they had to pay to get there.
Quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle when he was tackled by New York Giants safety Ryan Logan in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ come-from behind 37-34 victory. The gruesome injury brought a hush among the 25,147 fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, who cheered Prescott as he raised his right fist while he was carted off the field with tears rolling down his eyes.
Prescott, who has never missed a game in this his fifth NFL season, underwent successful surgery Sunday night and could possibly miss the rest of this season.
“I feel terrible for him,” Cowboys’ first-year head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He was having a tremendous year in my short time working with him.
“He’s made such an impression on me and he’s clearly the leader of this football team and I have no doubt that he’ll bounce back from this. This will be all part of his great story.”
The Cowboys won the game when Greg Zuerlein booted a 34-yard field goal as time expired to help Dallas snap a two-game losing streak and raise its record to 2-3. But those heroics took a back seat on a day when the unfortunate injury to Prescott may have derailed any hopes the Cowboys had of reaching the Super Bowl.
“It (doesn’t feel good) to see a warrior go down like that,” said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown. “I know we won, but it just (doesn’t feel good) to lose Dak, our leader.”
On the play in question, Prescott got flushed out of the pocket and was scrambling up the field when he was tackled by Logan following a nine-yard gain with 6:46 remaining in the third quarter. As he was on the ground writhing in pain, it was clear to Prescott this was a major injury that would have long-term ramifications.
“I saw it instantly as soon as it happened,” said rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who had eight receptions for 124 yards. “I don’t really like seeing things like that, so that’s when I turned away. Just to see him go down, it is upsetting.”
Well-wishes immediately poured in for Prescott from all across the sports landscape, even from players on rival NFL teams, including from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
“Rivalry or not, all our thoughts and prayers are with Dak Prescott,” said Giants head coach Joe Judge, whose team fell to 0-5. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a player, and even more as a person.
“You don’t want to see anybody get hurt. Our players are concerned about him, our coaching staff are concerned about him.”
After failing to reach an agreement on a new contract over the offseason, Prescott was playing his season on the franchise tag that was paying him $31.4 million. And he was hoping to parlay another exceptional season this year into a long-term contract.
“We are all heartbroken for Dak and this very disappointing injury,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement released by the team. “The outpouring of messages that I have received regarding his setback speaks volumes to the respect and admiration that he has earned from his teammates, former Cowboys players and Cowboys supporters everywhere.
“I know this young man very well. I know the personal hardship and strife that he has faced, dealt with and overcome in his young life. And I know of no one who is more prepared, from the perspective of mental and emotional toughness and determination, than Dak Prescott to respond and recover from this challenge that has been put in front of him.”
Linebacker Jaylon Smith has an idea of what Prescott is dealing with. While a senior at Norte Dame in 2016, Smith tore his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in the Fiesta Bowl, and after slipping from being a top prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft, he fell to the Cowboys in the second round.
The major knee injury subsequently forced Smith to sit out his entire rookie season.
“I know how it feels,” Smith said of Prescott’s horrific injury. “I’ve experienced it myself, but I know Dak’s a fighter.
“We came in (the NFL) together and built a great relationship. One thing I know about him, he’s going to fight.”
As has been their custom this season, the Cowboys fell behind again and had to fight their way back into Sunday’s game. The Cowboys found themselves down, 17-3, with 13:30 left in the second quarter after linebacker Kyler Fackrell picked off a Prescott pass and ran it back 46 yards for a touchdown and Graham Gano booted a 55-yard field goal.
But the Cowboys vaulted ahead, 24-20, at the half when Prescott – on a trick play – scored on an 11-yard reception from wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. And the Cowboys eventually assumed a 31-23 lead after Elliott’s 12-yard TD dash completed the 10-play, 79-yard excursion on the same drive when Prescott was injured.
However, back-and-forth they went as the Giants nudged ahead, 34-31, with 8:46 to go in the game following a 4-yard burst by Devonta Freeman. Nevertheless, with former TCU alumni Andy Dalton replacing Prescott, the Cowboys received a 40-yard field goal from Zuerlein with 1:56 remaining, and he later added that important game-winning kick.
Signed in the offseason as Prescott’s backup, Dalton completed nifty sideline passes to Michael Gallup of 19 and 38 yards to highlight the game-winning drive. A three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, Dalton led Cincinnati to five playoff berths during his nine seasons with the Bengals before he signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys during the offseason.
“You never want anything to happen, but you’ve got to stay ready,” said Dalton, who completed 9-of-11 passes for 111 yards. “You want to have the opportunity to play.
“Yeah, I knew the situation that I was in and I just tried to do my best to support Dak and everything that he’s doing. I feel like I was prepared for these moments.”
Now as the Cowboys prepare to host the Arizona Cardinals on Monday at 7:15 p.m., they do so knowing they may also have to play the rest of the season with Prescott.
“I know how much this means to him and how much being out there for his teammates means to him,” Elliott said of Prescott. “It’s hard, but all we can do right now is support him.
“We just got to support him, make sure he’s good and go out there and win ballgames for him.”