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Dynamic Dak Prescott is fun, but his return to patience has Cowboys leading NFC East

Sometimes Prescott’s 400-yard passing games leave the Cowboys short on victory parades.

ARLINGTON — The homemade sign read “Welcome Back Dak,” a simple message that it had been 50 weeks since Dak Prescott played a regular-season game here in AT&T Stadium. That’s another way of saying it had been 50 weeks since the Cowboys played a relevant game in their audacious home.

On this particular night, Prescott gave Cowboys fans what they needed in a 41-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, more than what some might want. The performance was short on big-play histrionics but solidly filled with chain-moving plays. It was a reminder that a little Dak goes a long way and sometimes a lot of Dak — the 400-yard passing games he was delivering on a routine basis before last year’s fractured foot ended things — leaves the team short on victory parades.

Dynamic Dak is fun. Patient Prescott is better.

The winning numbers were 21 completions in 26 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Even with 80% completions, there were two reasons he didn’t throw more beyond the fact that Dallas led 20-7 by halftime. One is that Prescott was sacked four times. When you have 30 pass plays and four of them end with defenders on top of Dak, you really don’t want to overdo it.

The other is that Prescott enjoyed plenty of success handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott running this way and Tony Pollard running that way. The two combined for 155 rushing yards with both averaging around 5.5 yards per carry. It was an indication that the Eagles’ No. 4 ranking in total defense had as much to do with the offensive limitations of Atlanta and San Francisco as it did with a sudden resurgence of the Philly D.

As a result, the Cowboys are the only 2-1 team in the NFC East.

“It’s the momentum more than anything that we’re trying to capture,” Prescott said. “The first two games were close. To get a statement win like this, it was a complete game.”

Prescott had one miserable play that he would pay plenty for a do-over. With the Cowboys showing early dominance but pinned back at their own 5-yard line, he took too long searching for receivers, lost the football in midair as he took it back and it found the waiting arms of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox for a touchdown.

That sort of ugly mistake was not repeated except on the opposite side of the field when the Eagles’ young quarterback, Jalen Hurts, threw a pick-six to cornerback Trevon Diggs early in the third quarter. That raised the Cowboys’ lead to 20 points, although Philly cut the margin to 27-14 later in the period.

Typical of the “small play, big result” game that Prescott crafted was a fourth-and-goal at the 2 early in the fourth quarter. Needing one more score to put the game out of reach, Prescott wanted to throw to his left to Amari Cooper, who was well-covered. He drifted right away from pressure and pointed to CeeDee Lamb in the middle of the end zone, but he couldn’t provide an open target. Finally Prescott fired into the back right corner of the end zone where Cedrick Wilson had slipped free, and Dallas had a 34-14 lead.

The final touchdown was just for good measure. At the 22-yard line, Prescott threw to Dalton Schultz at the 19 and the tight end did the rest (with help from downfield blocks) to make it 41-14. Prescott made tight ends and backs his targets on 13 of 25 throws.

“When you have the playmakers we have, I’m going to take what the defense gives me all day long,” Prescott said.

While Lamb caught a 44-yard pass on the game’s first possession, he finished with 66 yards on three catches. Cooper had just 26 yards on his three. The one play to Lamb and the Schultz touchdown were the only pass plays in excess of 15 yards for Dallas.

Sometimes short and sweet is enough. Especially when it’s short and sweet and safe.

A year ago Prescott was averaging 370 yards per game when he got hurt. The Cowboys were 2-3. He threw for more than 400 yards in the opening loss at Tampa Bay, but got Dallas where it needed to go with 237 yards in Los Angeles and 236 against the Eagles.

Look around the Cowboys’ division at the quarterback position. Hurts threw for 326 yards Monday but, while intriguing, he is clearly a work in progress. Washington’s Taylor Heinicke threw two interceptions in a lopsided loss to Buffalo and is hoping to survive October with his interim job. The best you can say about Daniel Jones is he’s recovering more of his own fumbles this season for the winless Giants.

The Cowboys understand the advantage they have at quarterback, they pay for it now, and Prescott has to keep making the plays the team needs to maintain control of the division. There will be games where he is required to do more, perhaps as soon as Sunday when they host undefeated Carolina. For a homecoming performance to give his team the early lead in the NFC East, a steady hand was plenty Monday night.

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