So much for Dak being in a slump

On Thursday afternoon in Frisco before a small cluster of reporters, Dak Prescott announced that he was not in a slump. Or at least he said he did not regard his recent play as “slump material” even though he acknowledged he had not been playing “my best ball.”

On Sunday night, on a considerably larger world stage, Prescott made amends. Or he cured whatever it was that was ailing him and the Dallas offense (the Washington defense had a hand in this). Prescott threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns before trotting to the locker room.

At halftime.

Maybe the best way to explain what happened Sunday night is that Cooper Rush hit Malik Turner for a short pass that turned into a 61-yard gain. That was in the third quarter.

It was a wildly productive night for the Dallas Cowboys. Crowned champions of the NFC East an hour or so before kickoff by virtue of a Raiders win that gave Dallas all the necessary tiebreakers in their favor, the club celebrated with 42 first-half points (tying a team record) and completely dismantled Washington, 56-14.

Keeping in mind that the NFC East has produced a new winner in each of the last 17 years, it was difficult to accept this was the 2021 champs facing off against last year’s winners. Just two weeks ago, the Cowboys stumbled their way to a 27-20 win at Washington. But in prime time Sunday, the visitors looked every bit the beaten down 6-8 team that had to play in Philadelphia Tuesday night before coming to Dallas for this contest five days later.

And the Cowboys looked as good as they have in every phase in every way in years.

It was hard to believe this was the same Prescott we have seen in recent weeks. The big plays from the passing game had nearly vanished. Last week against the worst team in the division, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup accounted for just 90 yards receiving. On Sunday night, they combined for 204 yards — all of it in the first half.

Any thought that Prescott was incapable of sliding back into the role of dominant field general he has performed many times in six seasons disappeared when he completed 20 of his first 22 passes Sunday night.

Barely playing in the third quarter before calling it a night, Prescott finished with 330 yards on 28-of-39 completions for four touchdowns. For a quarterback who had managed just one 300-yard game in the last seven, who had five touchdowns and five interceptions in the last five games, this was the breakout performance the team needed.

“Dak was right on point,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought he was in total control. The numbers reflected that in the first half.”

On a night when Turner and DeMarcus Lawrence and Chauncey Golston and Terence Steele all scored touchdowns, one could almost forget that Prescott got the fun started with touchdown passes to Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz in the first quarter. Except for one overthrow to Tony Pollard on a play that had broken down, everything was on target for nearly two quarters.

“I don’t know if we’re in the world of sending messages as much as just trying to get better,” Prescott said. “I agreed that I wasn’t playing my best ball. At the same time, I just continued to work and trust the guys around me, trust the process.”

If Prescott’s confidence had not wavered in recent weeks, it’s fair to say the same was not true for all Cowboys fans. Certainly all the Dak doubters had a field day in recent weeks. The fact the Cowboys could capture the East with some uneven play from the quarterback position and the offense in general did not change the fact that Dallas needs to be better in January if winning the East is not to be the final achievement of the season.

The only team with a better record than Dallas’ 11-4 remains Green Bay, and it seems almost a foregone conclusion that Aaron Rodgers is bound for his fourth league MVP award. If the Cowboys find their way to Green Bay next month, Prescott has to produce at a high level even if he does not necessarily have to match Rodgers throw for throw. It will be about more than those two players.

But before anyone worries about that, the Cowboys have what looks like a playoff preview looming. The Arizona Cardinals are no longer the surprise story of the NFL — they have slid from 7-0 all the way to 10-5 — but next Sunday’s game will provide Dallas a reasonable look of what lies ahead.

It’s just the next challenge on the list for Prescott. But at the very least, the questions he answers in a few days will be about something other than a prolonged slump.

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