FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott points to a poor throw here or a bad decision there while trying to explain possibly his worst game as a pro in a season quickly going south for the Dallas Cowboys.
There’s one direction the star quarterback won’t look in seeking to understand the missing magic of a year ago — the absence of running back Ezekiel Elliott, his co-creator of a remarkable rookie season that helped carry the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC.
Prescott’s first three-interception dud in three years — the previous one was during his junior year at Mississippi State — came in the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year’s second game without Elliott, both lopsided losses. The 2016 league rushing leader is on a six-game suspension over alleged domestic violence.
A year after winning a franchise-record 11 straight games, the Cowboys (5-5) are all but eliminated in the NFC East and just trying to stay in playoff contention going into their annual Thanksgiving game, a visit from the Los Angeles Chargers (4-6).
“For me it’s just about being the same whether it’s winning or losing,” Prescott said. “It’s about being the same and never wavering, never showing lack of confidence in myself and my teammates.”
And that means rejecting any notion that Elliott’s absence is making it harder on the passing game.
“No, can’t say they have,” Prescott said when asked if defenses looked different without Elliott.
And it means shaking off the suggestion that he’s trying to do too much without his potent runner, such as when Prescott forced a downfield throw to Dez Bryant for his second interception in a 37-9 loss to Philadelphia that all but clinched the division for the Eagles last weekend.
“If people were here I’d probably still want to take the shot downfield,” said Prescott, who is 15 points off last year’s NFL rookie-record passer rating of 104.9. “It has nothing to do with people being absent or not. It’s just about me being aggressive.”
With seven interceptions, Prescott already has three more than last season. He’s also lost a fumble in each of the past two games, including a 27-7 loss to Atlanta when he was sacked a career-high eight times.
The Cowboys played both of those games without four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, who appears set to return against the Chargers after battling back and groin issues.
Hold it, though, if you expect Prescott to acknowledge that Smith’s absence is why the Cowboys have one touchdown in two games and have bogged down inside the 20 after being one of the best in the league in that category.
“We’re not saying that one was the issue,” Prescott said. “There’s a lot we’ve got to do better. But that will definitely help us out and benefit us.”
Alfred Morris had 91 yards rushing against the Eagles, but it didn’t help Prescott in the passing game.
The 68 percent passer as a rookie was at just 58 percent (18 of 31) and had his third game without a touchdown toss. Prescott had three such games last season not counting a meaningless finale when he mostly sat.
The loss to Philadelphia was the first time as a pro that Prescott has been intercepted without throwing at least one touchdown pass.
“I’m not worried about that,” receiver Brice Butler said. “He’s going to play for a while. He’s not going to not throw picks, you know what I’m saying? He knows that. We all know that. It’s not like we’re looking at him any different.”
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan never looks at Prescott any differently.
“He just proves his resiliency and his competitive nature and his never-give-up attitude and approach,” Linehan said after Prescott’s eight-sack game, and before the three-interception game. “You’ve got to sustain some tough days once in a while and then bounce back.”
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