Cowboys’ Dak Prescott comes up big vs. Bucs, but bigger challenge awaits

After a night in which Dak Prescott provided all the necessary answers and plenty more, there was only one question that popped to mind:

What’s bigger than the biggest?

Confused? Let’s explain. Monday night brought about the biggest performance of Prescott’s postseason career, in the biggest game of his life, against the biggest-name rival quarterback of them all, in the biggest show of evidence to sway those who say his skill set is not one of the NFL’s, well, biggest.

But what comes next for the Dallas Cowboys and their seventh-year quarterback? Even bigger.

Prescott was moodily majestic at Raymond James Stadium, as Dallas strode defiantly to a 31-14 trouncing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and straight into an absolute humdinger on Sunday, a divisional round visit to the San Francisco 49ers (6:30 p.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports App).

Fueled perhaps by a week in which it was openly wondered whether his playoff record of 1-3 coming in was an indicator of something lacking, either in terms of mentality or steeliness or technical prowess under pressure, he architected a sublime masterpiece, albeit one with a seemingly permanent snarl etched on his face.

“I didn’t listen,” he told ESPN postgame. “I simply just didn’t listen to anybody else’s opinions, anybody else’s thoughts. Made sure I was conscious of what I put in my own head. Just stayed focused on what I can do.”

In doing so, he reminded us that no one dislikes the narrative of his and the Cowboys’ postseason problems — this was their first road playoff win since 1993 — more than him, and that he’s on a mission to do some serious historical rewriting.

Next week, against a 49ers squad that is resembling a juggernaut after 11 straight wins, will be a sterner and weightier test than Tom Brady and Tampa were able to provide.

And yet, if ever there was a time to face such a predicament for Prescott, it would be now, coming off a confidence boost huge enough to match the hype that will overwhelm the build-up to Sunday.

Make no mistake, San Francisco won’t relish taking on Prescott in this kind of form. No one would.

For this wasn’t the nervous youngster of six years ago against Green Bay. Or the timid version that showed up against the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. Or the inconsistent guy who went to the ground too late against the Niners a year ago and saw time expire before his eyes.

This was a bristling, assured, resolute performance, from a man who looked like he sensed it was coming.

Prescott wanted to be out there, wanted to be involved, wanted the responsibility, wanted the gravity of the situation. He needs to want the next one just as much. 

At times, it seemed like he was playing Monday’s game in slow motion with everyone else at real-time speed. He read the pressure, reacted instantly and sucked the life out of the Bucs’ resistance.

In the end, nothing else mattered. None of the preamble. Not the record that said Brady was 7-0 lifetime against the Cowboys. Not the cooling of public opinion on Dallas in the wake of a stuttering end to the campaign. Not their losing record on grass fields. And not Brett Maher’s swath of missed extra points.

Prescott was responsible for five touchdowns in total, one of them from a delightfully disguised run, rolling to the left, plus scoring throws to Dalton Schultz (twice), CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup

It wasn’t just him and the offense, naturally, with the way the Dallas D shut down Brady and his crew amounting to nothing less than ruthless strangulation on that side of the ball.

However, if the Cowboys are to turn this campaign into something close to what they’re dreaming of, they’ll need their $40 million-a-year QB, the man whose big deal set off the current run of similar contracts for signal callers in the top third of the league at their position.

Prescott wants a loftier status than that, and if he can shine when it matters, shine like this, then he will convince many that’s a possible target.

He wants the Cowboys to be in this position every time, not fleetingly. And among QBs he wants to be one of the big dogs. 

Or bigger.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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