ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott thought he could improve while not playing after the season-ending ankle injury last year by appreciating the chance to watch from a different perspective.
The star Dallas quarterback, who then missed most of training camp this summer with a shoulder injury, believes he was right.
“Going back, the experience obviously has helped but just studying and preparing myself and then all the work that I’ve put in just to get back healthy, not only the leg but the shoulder and just this playbook,” Prescott said. “I feel like I’m playing the best I’ve ever played.”
Prescott had the third-best passer rating of his six-year career in his first home game since fracturing and dislocating his right ankle at AT&T Stadium last October. The 143.3 mark came in a 41-21 victory over NFC East rival Philadelphia on Monday night.
The Cowboys (2-1) lead the division with the second of three consecutive home games coming Sunday against Carolina (3-0). And they're proving Prescott's theory that the club is better off when he doesn't have to throw more than 50 times for more than 400 yards.
After a 31-29 loss to defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the opener, Prescott had thrown for more than 400 yards in four consecutive full games going back to before the injury. The Cowboys were 1-3 in those games.
In victories over the Los Angeles Chargers and Eagles, Prescott has thrown for a total of 475 yards while the Cowboys have averaged 179 yards rushing after finishing with just 60 against the Buccaneers.
Two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott had a season-high 95 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles.
“I think it starts with Dak and he’s been doing a great job with our tempo in the offense,” right guard Zack Martin said. “We’re moving in and out of the huddle quick. We may be feeling it a little bit, but we know the defense is really feeling the pressure.”
After spending most of last season at or near the bottom in turnover margin, the Cowboys are tied with New Orleans for the best at plus-5. Dallas leads the NFL with eight takeaways, highlighted by Trevon Diggs' 59-yard interception return for a touchdown off Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts. Diggs' brother, All-Pro Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs, was at the game. “I know he was really excited,” Diggs said. “He said, ‘I want you to get an interception and score a touchdown.’”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Game management late in the first half has been an issue for coach Mike McCarthy twice already this season. The latest was letting most of the final two minutes run off without using one or both of his remaining timeouts after the Eagles ended up in second-and-31 with the Cowboys leading 20-7. Philadelphia gained 19 yards on third-and-24 and punted to the Dallas 11-yard line with 11 seconds remaining.
“The decision was to take the lead going into halftime,” McCarthy said. “I was comfortable given where the ball was at.”
In the opener, the Cowboys tried an ill-advised 60-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half after kicker Greg Zuerlein missed almost the entire preseason coming off back surgery. Tom Brady and the Bucs couldn't convert a decent chance to steal three points.
DT Osa Odighizuwa became the first Dallas rookie with at least 1½ sacks in a game since Maliek Collins had two in 2016 against Cleveland. Fellow rookie and first-round pick Micah Parsons, drafted as a linebacker, played mostly defensive end for the second consecutive game and shared the second sack with the former UCLA player. Parsons had his first career sack last week against the Chargers, and Odighizuwa had his first against the Eagles.
LG Connor Williams was called for holding three times, including twice on a drive that ended in a touchdown anyway. C Tyler Biadasz also had some issues, the biggest coming when he couldn't get the push needed on Prescott's fourth-down sneak from inside the 1 in the first half.
McCarthy said the Cowboys came out of the game without any injuries. The coach said S Donovan Wilson would likely miss a third consecutive game against Carolina with a groin issue. Dallas has been without at least one player because of COVID-19 protocols for all three games. The two who missed the Philadelphia game will also be in question for Carolina: LB Keanu Neal and DE Bradlee Anae.
7 — The Cowboys have forced at least two turnovers in seven consecutive games going back to last season. It's the longest active streak in the NFL and is tied for the club's sixth best since the 1970 merger.
After having little trouble moving the ball with the No. 4 offense against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, the Cowboys will face the league's top defensive unit against Carolina. The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2015, when their 14-0 start included a blowout victory at the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.