ARLINGTON, Texas — Dak Prescott knew what was on the line Saturday.
“When you say success of quarterback or a quarterback success depending on what they do in the playoffs, I think that’s where the checks get written and they get their money, to be honest,” Prescott said.
In just the second playoff game of his career, Prescott did whatever he could to will the Cowboys to a win against the Seahawks, including running through three tacklers and flipping through the air on a third-and-14 fourth quarter run.
A play later, Prescott scored the clinching touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 24-22 win against Seattle.
It wasn’t just Prescott who had a lot on the line. So did Jason Garrett, who had just one playoff win as head coach. So did Jerry Jones, who gave up a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper seven games into the season. So did Ezekiel Elliott. So did a defense that showed signs of cracking in the final three regular season games.
Prescott finished with 226 yards on 22 of 33 passing with a touchdown pass in addition to his touchdown run. Elliott, who did not play in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants in order to rest up for the playoffs, had 26 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown. Cooper, who had just 13 catches for 83 yards in the three games leading into the playoffs, caught seven passes for 106 yards.
The playoff win over the Seahawks should put to rest any thoughts that Garrett would not be back for the final year of his contract. And Jones moved a step closer to what he has yearned for: a fourth Super Bowl.
Now the Cowboys will have to see if they can clear the hurdle of the divisional round. They have not played in a conference championship game since 1995 on their way to winning Super Bowl XXX. The 1996, 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 seasons all ended in the second round of the postseason.
The 2007 and 2016 Cowboys had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and lost their first playoff games. The 2014 Cowboys felt like they had their season stolen from them at Lambeau Field after Dez Bryant’s fourth-down catch at the Green Bay Packers’ goal line was overturned by replay.
The Cowboys will either have a rematch with the top-seeded New Orleans Saints, whom they beat 13-10 in the regular season, or face the Los Angeles Rams.
Beating the Seahawks, however, required just about everything they had.
It was far from an artistic pleasure. The Cowboys have struggled against Seahawks in recent years, scoring just one touchdown in 33 possessions against Seattle in regular-season losses in 2015, 2017 and this past September.
The Cowboys scored just two touchdowns Saturday but it was enough. The timing of both could not have been better for the Cowboys, answering Seattle scores both times.
After Seattle took a 6-3 lead with 1:43 left in the first half, Prescott directed the Cowboys on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was highlighted by a 41-yard run by Elliott and capped off by an 11-yard fade to rookie receiver Michael Gallup.
The Seahawks took a 14-10 lead on a Russell Wilson zone read touchdown and a Mike Davis 2-point conversion with 1:59 to play in the third quarter. But then Prescott led the Cowboys down the field on a nine-play drive that was highlighted by a 34-yard completion to Cooper.
Prescott’s 10-yard touchdown run was overturned correctly by replay, but Elliott bulled his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score two plays later.
The Cowboys’ clinching drive was about the fight that Garrett talks about all the time. It went 11 plays, covered 63 yards and lasted 5 minutes, 12 seconds. It featured an Elliott stiff arm of Shaquille Griffin on a first-down run and Prescott’s head-over-heels 16-yard run on third and 14.
Oh, the defense made it interesting by giving up a 50-second touchdown drive and 2-point conversion, but when Cole Beasley secured the on-side kick attempt, the relief inside AT&T Stadium was palpable.
Next up is another legacy-defining game for Prescott, Elliott, Garrett, Cooper, Jones and that defense.