It was an ugly start for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys when they hosted the New York Giants in Week 5, but the finish was quite the Picasso painting. In a revenge game of the highest order for Prescott, one that saw him return to the scene of the crime against the same team that fractured his ankle in 2020, and in the same football week, the two-time Pro Bowler was looking to exorcise his final demon from last season's gruesome injury -- which led to him overthinking things a bit.
Prescott threw an interception and fumbled a snap in the red zone to start the game, two very uncharacteristic errors for a player who has otherwise put himself in to 2021 NFL MVP conversation. He is taking nothing away from the credit due to linebacker Lorenzo Carter for his tip drill interception, but the fumble was simply a mishandling by the Cowboys quarterback, and on the Giants' 5-yard line with Dallas nursing a narrow 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
"I think just a great play by the edge rusher there," Prescott said following the 44-20 blowout over the Giants. "Getting his hands up and tipping the ball in the air, and obviously just kind of falling in his hands. A great play by him and the second one, yeah, I kind of rushed the whole snap to handoff mechanics and threw the ball away right there and just definitely can't do that. Especially not in the red zone.
"It's situational, it's not good any time down there when you're guaranteed some points. That's a big swing. That puts the defense and puts the team in a tough spot, but we won the battle and came out on top."
It certainly wasn't rust that caused Prescott the slow start, which means the driver could've only been psychological, and he readily admits that was precisely the case -- knowing what this game meant as a punctuation mark to his year-long journey back to the field.
"I said that in the locker room," Prescott added. "I hugged [Cowboys trainer Britt Brown] there at the end and said I know what this meant. I told him thank you and I'm glad it's behind us. I said I don't know why I was in a slow mental fog I felt early but when it passed. I'm glad it's over with it, and I'm glad I'm past that.
"And I think this was the final shovel in burying this thing."
That wasn't the only thing Prescott and the Cowboys buried on Sunday, the other being the Giants themselves.
On the next offensive drive for the Giants, following the aforementioned fumble, defensive end Randy Gregory applied pressure that helped force New York into a three-and-out, and that mulligan awarded by the defense lifted the fog from Prescott's mind like a sunrise over Northern Ireland. On third-and-8 from the Giants 49-yard line, Prescott dropped back and launched a 49-yard touchdown bomb to streaking receiver CeeDee Lamb to give the Cowboys a 10-0 lead that hinted wildly at what was to come over the remainder of the contest.
And with that, the first half mishaps turned into a surgical dismantling of the Giants, to the point where offensive coordinator Kellen Moore refused to pull back on the reins and instead went full throttle at boat racing the division rivals at AT&T Stadium. Moore pulled more than one trick play out of his bag, with one in particular likely being the play that shattered the Giants hopes of mounting an upset in the wake of losing Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones and Kenny Golladay to injury.
When two-time NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott finished a strong run by falling on the pylon cam and then writhing in pain, it was thought he'd sit out a few plays to be evaluated. The Giants likely thought that as well, but Elliott returned quickly, and New York likely still believed he was banged up and wouldn't be a factor on how the drive ended. I mean, Moore wouldn't give Elliott the ball to run into the teeth of the Giants defense on the Giants four-yard line only moments after watching him helped to his feet by trainers and limping noticeably to the sideline, would he?
You're right. He wouldn't. What he would do, however, is call a trick play that had Prescott fake the pitch to Elliott, then fake a throw to his left only to throw back to a waiting Elliott in the flat, who would then dispel any notion of injury with a Deion Sanders-worthy high step into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 24-13 lead; from which they never looked back.
Prescott says that play isn't new, by the way.
"New? I don't know that I can say that," he said. "I feel like we may have run [it] before. As I continue to tell you guys, Kellen has so much great stuff and he knows when to call it. That was just another example of that."
Prescott and the Cowboys have now scored more than 35 points in their last three games and more than 40 on two of those occasions, and they're doing it with a mix of dominant running from Ezekiel Elliott with Tony Pollard in complement, and Prescott himself being relentless about finding the end zone time and again with his slew of targets. He'd finish with 302 passing yards and his three passing touchdowns against the Giants takes his 2021 tally to 13 TDs with only three interceptions -- one of the latter being accountable to Lamb and not the throw by Prescott in Week 1 -- his passer rating of 116.9 being the highest of his already record-setting career.
In the beginning of this game, it looked like the final demon from 2020 would haunt Prescott's production, but it was not to be. He became a demon himself once he realized he might cost his team a win, and all the Giants could do then was pray for mercy, but they received none whatsoever.
Prescott is now 8-2 against the Giants after having won eight straight, his only two losses being as a rookie in 2016. His bid for 2021 NFL Comeback Player of the Year and NFL MVP remain a rightful conversation heading into Week 6, and his eyes are now completely on the horizon after moving past the final mental hurdle in his recovery.
"[I'm most proud of] the way that I've grown," Prescott said. "Honestly, my growth. Personally, just off the field and on the field. I learned a lot about myself, tested myself. I think everything I do now is very intentional and purposeful to what I want and what I want to accomplish. Just to be able to do that and to know that everything that you're taking in is for the good and you're trying to exert that as well.
"Exert nothing but good energy and positive energy and support. I'm blessed and anything that I go through, I'm thankful for because I usually come out a better person -- as I did this."