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The Unfortunate Truth Of The Cowboys Playoff Loss And Future

The Dallas Cowboys 2022-23 season has come to an end with a 19-12 defeat from the San Francisco 49ers. After a hard-fought game, there is one clear issue that was the downfall of Dallas.

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The Cowboys now have their season end in back-to-back seasons from the hand of the 49ers. It was a hard-fought game for Dallas but they couldn’t put enough points on the board in the end. The defense was incredible as they held the 49ers’ top offense in the league to only 19 points, their lowest amount scored since Brock Purdy started. Purdy had a QB rating of 87.4 with only completing 19 passes out of 29 attempts for 214 yards and was sacked twice. Even with the best skill position group in the league, each player didn’t have a great day outside of George Kittle. 

PlayerCarriesCatchesRushing YardsReceiving YardsTouchdowns
Chrisitan McCaffrey10635221
Deebo Samuel4411450
George Kittle050950
Brandon Aiyuk020260
Elijah Mitchell1405100

Even the Dallas special teams came up big as Kelvin Joseph made a great play on Niners’ punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud to force a fumble that was recovered in the red zone at San Francisco’s 21-yard line. KaVontae Turpin had a good day returning the ball on kickoffs, he averaged 30 yards per return and finished with 120 yards on four returns. After a bad start with a blocked field goal for Brett Maher, he bounced back and scored two field goals which would be the last points Dallas would score. 

The Cowboys’ defense and special teams did their part on Sunday, but now the offense did not. There were so many mistakes and missed opportunities by the Cowboys’ offense, the unfortunate reason is on the shoulders of one player: Dak Prescott.  

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Falling Back To Old Ways

There is no sugarcoating this game by Prescott. He had his best playoff performance of his career against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and followed that up with the worst playoff performance of his career. Prescott looked like a completely different quarterback this week. Give respect to Niners’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryan and his #1 overall defense, but this was self-inflicting mistakes being made. 

The wildcard game is an anomaly at this point since the track record of Prescott’s play this year was straight-up bad. He ends his worst season as a pro with 17 interceptions, even after missing five games, this is the most in his career and the league. 

He was the difference in their 19-12 loss. The offense kept leaving points on the board as they could not finish drives with touchdowns. Prescott had two costly interceptions, one of those being in the red zone at the Niners’ 18-yard line. So many missed opportunities for Prescott and his offense, it was their own ruining this game. 

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Tony Pollard suffered a fractured fibula in the second quarter which changed the game but the Cowboy’s ground game never found a rhythm as they only averaged 3.5 yards per carry on 22 attempts for a total of 76 rushing yards. This was expected coming into the game because of the stout Niners’ run defense which only allowed 77.7 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys’ offensive line might have not been able to get a good push in the run game but their pass blocking was good. They only allowed one sack on Prescott and elite pass rusher Nick Bosa only had two tackles and one quarterback hurry. 

Ceedee Lamb had a great game as he did what he could with his opportunities. He finished with 10 catches for 117 yards for an average of 11.7 yards per catch. He also had two rushing attempts for six yards, one of which was a critical fourth-down conversion. Lamb was the entire passing offense against this Niners defense. He accounted for 56.7% of the 206 total receiving yards by Dallas.

No matter which way someone looks at this game, the loss falls upon Prescott’s shoulders with his turnovers and missed opportunities. He came up short as he finished with a stat line of completing 62.2% of his passes for 206 yards, an average of 5.6 yards per pass, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a loss. 

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The Reality of Prescott

Prescott is turning 30 years old in July this year. He’ll be the oldest quarterback in his division, assuming Carson Wentz is no longer a Washington Commander. There are no drastic improvements at the age of 30, this is who Prescott is in his career. Can he improve from this season into the next? I believe he can, but it should go without saying his 17 total interceptions need to go down.

Will it be enough to get the Cowboys past the divisional round and make a real Super Bowl run? My answer is no. This is the reality of Prescott and his ceiling as an NFL quarterback, it isn’t going any higher. With an elite defense, a top-10 and arguably top-five offensive line to protect him, and decent but not great weapons around him, he can’t make it to the NFC championship. He now falls to 0-3 in the divisional round of the playoffs for his career. 

Every football fan knows Prescott is not Patrick Mahomes but I want to compare the two situations coming into this year to put this narrative into perspective. Both the Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs traded their number-one wide receivers in the off-season, Amari Cooper and Tyreek Hill. 

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We know how Prescott’s season went, but the drop-off between 2021 to 2022 is alarming. In 2021-22 the Cowboys were the #1 total offense as they led the league averaging 31.2 points per game and 407.0 yards per game. Through the air, they averaged 282.4 passing yards per game. Even with a great offensive season, the Cowboys only scored 17 points in their home wildcard loss to the 49ers.

Everything went down this season as they fell to #11 in total offense. Their points went down to 27.5 points per game, total yards down to 354.9 per game, and passing yards only averaged 219.8 per game. Prescott’s interception rate went up from 1.7 in ’21 to 3.8 in ’22. Dallas did win in the wildcard this year with a great performance against the Bucs but lost yet again to the 49ers in the divisional round and only put up 12 points this time around. 

A total regression all around for this offense but in both years the Cowboys couldn’t make it to the NFC conference championship. His top weapons this season were Ceedee Lamb, Dalton Shultz, Tony Pollard, and Michael Gallup. It’s clear that Cooper is still being missed in this offense and you can argue even Cedrick Wilson as well. 

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Mahomes had his best season since his breakout 2018-19 season. He had career highs in completion percentage and passing yards while throwing for 41 touchdowns. Mahomes’s top weapons were Travis Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jerick McKinnon. Mahomes led this group to improve his offense to the #1 in total offense this season, scoring an average of 29.2 points, 413.6 yards per game, and 297.8 passing yards per game. All three categories were best in the NFL. The Chiefs now host the AFC conference championship in Kansas City for the fifth time in a row. Even after trading Tyreek Hill, a top-five wide receiver in the league, the Chiefs are doing just fine without him. 

What does this prove comparing the two? Even though both players lost their best wide receiver, one quarterback is elevating his offense while the other has regressed and is now out of the playoffs. Prescott is light years away from Mahomes, that’s obvious. Prescott also needs a perfect offense around him in order to succeed. If he doesn’t have a good run game, elite weapons, and a great offensive line, he won’t be able to take this team on a Super Bowl run. Asking Prescott to carry this current Cowboys offense isn’t working and it won’t in the future unless they add pieces around him. Which gets even trickier with his contract situation.

Unlikely Solutions To This Quarterback Problem

After a tough loss by only seven points in the divisional round and on prime time, it’s easy to be emotional about what changes need to be made at the quarterback position. But it is always easier said than done to make a move at the most premium position in football. 

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To get an obvious option out of the way, no the Cowboys are not cutting Dak Prescott. It doesn’t make sense because they don’t have a succession plan to replace him with and his contract is too big. With the 27th pick in the first-round of the draft, there will not be a quarterback prospect worth taking at that spot. The top four quarterbacks, Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson will all be drafted already as they’re all projected and will very likely be selected in the top 20 picks. 

The idea of signing one in free agency isn’t bright since the upcoming class is not one to get excited about. The top names are Tom Brady, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater, Geno Smith, and Daniel Jones. Outside of Tom Brady (depending on whom you ask) every other quarterback is a lateral move or a downgrade from Prescott. The other part that wouldn’t work out for the Cowboys to move on from Prescott is his contract as it not only complicates cutting him but also trading him. 

Dak Prescott’s Remaining Contract
YearTotal Cap HitDead Cap
2023-24$49,130,000$89,070,000
2024-25$52,130,000$39,940,000
2025-26Free Agent $21,810,000

Prescott is on schedule to be the second-highest salary cap hit of the 2023 season, behind Deshaun Watson ($54.9 million). Only a handful of teams have the salary cap to take on a Prescott-size contract. For this reason, trading him also seems unlikely. It isn’t impossible though because teams manipulate the salary cap by making moves such as cutting players, restructuring contracts, etc. to make room for a large contract. Which team is realistically trading their great quarterback? None unless the Baltimore Ravens give up on a deal with Lamar Jackson, but that’s another story.

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It’s a clear observation that there are a lot more average/bad quarterbacks in this league than good/great quarterbacks. Those who fall under the good/great category also don’t leave their teams because NFL front offices know how rare it is to acquire these talents at quarterback. A realistic trade scenario would be the Cowboys making a move similar to the Rams sending Jared Goff and two first-round picks to the Lions for Matthew Stafford. It’s a hefty price to pay and an unlikely suitor for Dallas to find. 

At the end of these potential scenarios, it would legitimately take a miracle or disaster depending on how people would feel for Jerry Jones and the front office to move off of Prescott. The bottom line for the Cowboys is they’re likely to ride out Prescott until the 2025 season when he hits free agency. The team needs to surround him with upgraded talent around him. This won’t be easy since Pollard and Shultz are pending free agents and their spending ability is decreasing with how large Prescotts’ contract is growing yearly. Unless he makes a miraculous turnaround of improvement at the age of 30, I don’t see a Super Bowl anytime soon for the Dallas Cowboys.


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Written By

Young, up-and-coming writer in the sports media industry. Currently a writer for primetimecowboys.com and a graduate student at St. Bonaventure University. Noah is also a lifelong football fan who is following his passion and staying involved in the sport.

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