Cowboys QB Dak Prescott acknowledges ‘mental fog’ hit on injury anniversary vs. Giants

Jori Epstein

ARLINGTON, Texas — Dak Prescott tried to downplay it.

He tried not to think about the one-year anniversary of his gruesome ankle injury even as a rematch with the same opponent on the same field awaited one day short of the year mark.

His subconscious, he says, had other plans. In the back of his mind, this game was different.

“I don’t know why I was in a slow, I guess, mental fog I felt early,” Prescott said after the Cowboys’ 44-20 win. “I would say I didn’t feel quite as energetic or myself earlier in the game.”

Prescott’s first quarter was rocky.

On fourth-and-2 in the first series, Giants linebacker Lorenzo Carter swatted Prescott’s short pass to the left and secured the ball for an interception.

On the Cowboys’ second drive of the game, Prescott and Co. stalled in the red zone. A play-action attempt to wide receiver Amari Cooper fell incomplete, an end-zone dart to tight end Dalton Schultz dropped. Dallas settled for a field goal.

Then came the Cowboys’ third drive, another red-zone opportunity, another touchdown opportunity at their fingertips. Prescott says he “just kind of rushed the whole snap-to-handoff mechanics and threw the ball away right there.” In what should have been a split-second transfer from center Tyler Biadasz to Prescott to running back Ezekiel Elliott, the ball popped loose. Giants linebacker Reggie Ragland recovered the fumble.

“Definitely can’t do that,” Prescott said.

Before long, fans would be hard-pressed to remember he had.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott stands in the end zone before the start of an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021.

Prescott needed just four plays to score in the second quarter, thinking quickly as receiver CeeDee Lamb won his release down the right sideline. Lamb outraced Giants cornerback James Bradberry, safety Julian Love’s pursuit too late to meaningfully help.

Lamb caught the Prescott dime in stride for a 49-yard touchdown pass.

Prescott fed off the energy, snapping out of his funk.

“That touchdown to CeeDee was when I just starting rolling and got in the groove,” Prescott said.

For the final three quarters, Prescott did not turn over the ball. He followed up a 37.5% completion rate in the first period with 79.2% during the duration of the game. Prescott completed 19 of 24 passes in that stretch for 282 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys never trailed.

Prescott’s coaches and teammates were less ready to pin a sluggish start on their quarterback feeling off, instead pointing to his composure as plays went askew. More than one person and factor contributed to each negative play, they said. They lauded Prescott for guiding them to stability.

“Never blinked,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said of Prescott. “He’s so dang focused in everything he does. His disposition never changes, his attitude, his energy. I think it clearly was evident in how he finished the game, the numbers that he put up.

“I thought he played very well, particularly after those two giveaways.”

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones praised Prescott’s “ ‘it’ factor” as a key to the win.

Even so, Prescott himself was willing to acknowledge the emotional gymnastics he confronted when the Giants retook the field. A rash of New York injuries meant three separate players were carted off the field—running back Saquon Barkley with a badly swollen ankle, quarterback Daniel Jones with a concussion and cornerback Rodarius Williams with a knee injury.

Prescott wished the cart hadn’t need to arrive, the flashback of his immobilized ankle and tears streaming eyes returning when it did. He was careful to shift his focus back to the game quickly—but for a fleeting moment, he was transported.

“When I saw the cart, it definitely came in my head,” Prescott said. “Like, ‘Get that thing out of here.’ But flip the page quick. I’ve got a short memory so obviously I thought about it in that moment, thoughts went for it and hope (Jones) is OK, hope Saquon and all those guys. … (Then,) turning the page and staying focused to what my job was.”

Ultimately, Prescott followed up his initial Lamb touchdown with a 24-yard scoring strike to Cooper, a 4-yard touchdown pass to Ezekiel Elliott and increasingly clean game management that established offensive dominance to the tune of 515 total yards. The Cowboys threw for 300 yards while also gaining 200 rushing yards for the first time since 1983.

The Cowboys improved to 4-1 with their fourth-straight victory, Prescott extending his win streak vs. the Giants to eight games. He has not dropped a contest to the division foe since his 2016 rookie season.

Prescott exchanged words postgame with Giants safety Logan Ryan, who tackled him on the injury play last season and subsequently mailed Prescott inspirational books. The quarterback reunited with Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Prescott’s first NFL head coach. Then Prescott went back to the locker room and found Cowboys director of rehabilitation Britt Brown.

Prescott hugged Brown, grateful for the man who pushed him to again walk, run, jump and cut during a lengthy rehabilitation process. Brown told Prescott he understood what the day meant.

“I’m glad it’s behind us,” Prescott said of his injury recovery and its first anniversary. “I’m glad it’s over with. I’m glad I’m past that.

“I think this was the final shovel in burying this thing.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.