Sure, the Washington Football Team was reeling, tiring and depleted due to COVID-19 and a personal tragedy.
They came into Sunday’s record-shattering 56-14 loss against the Dallas Cowboys on just four days of rest because their previous week’s game was postponed until Tuesday because they had 23 players on COVID-19 list.
And then they had to deal with the tragic situation of safety Deshazor Everett being involved in a car accident that killed a female passenger on Thursday night.
But while those were mitigating factors they shouldn’t take away from the season-shifting offensive explosion put on by quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense Sunday night.
Simply look at depleted Washington as a much-needed slump buster for the Cowboys, who scored the most points of any team in a game this season.
Not only did Prescott pass for 330 yards with four touchdowns in less than three quarters before resting in the fourth, he became the first player in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass to a running back, a receiver, a tight end and an offensive lineman in the same game.
“You tell me? I never said we were in a slump. Those were your words,” Prescott said after the game. “I think it’d be hard for you to say that now. Yeah, tonight was great. Great performance by the offense. Great performance by the team. We scored in all three phases, scoring by all the different ways that we did on offense. Yeah, a great team win, a great team effort.”
It’s an effort that’s been missing from Prescott and the Cowboys offense over the last two months even while playing other COVID-19 and injury-depleted teams during that span.
And it’s one the Cowboys are going to have to build on if they hope to realize their next goal of having success in the playoffs and reaching the Super Bowl after clinching the NFC East title on Sunday.
“I want to make sure we are peaking at the right time,” Prescott said. “We’ve just encountered great situations to learn from. We went through great experiences to learn from and to make sure we got better from those. We’re not going to hang our hats on this game. We’re going to learn from the mistakes. We’re going to take from the good and we’re going to continue to go in the right direction and make sure we get better from this.
“So we have to make sure we just continue trending in the right direction and playing our best ball that we have all year long moving forward.”
Prescott and the Cowboys took a step forward against Washington by looking like the team that opened the season with the league’s most explosive offense, not the one that has struggled of late, even during a three-game road winning streak heading into the Sunday night’s game.
The Cowboys averaged 460.8 yards and 34.2 points per game during the first six games of the season. But that was before Prescott missed a game with a calf strain and receiver CeeDee Lamb missed a game with a concussion, receiver Amari Cooper missed two games with COVID-19 and running back Ezekiel was slowed by a knee injury.
The offense averaged just 25.1 points over the seven games preceding the Washington win with Prescott passing for only nine touchdowns and six interceptions combined in those contests. He had 16 and four in the first six games of the season.
On Sunday, the old Prescott was back and seemingly better than ever.
And he got it going early and often.
He passed for four first-half touchdowns, including tosses of 5 yards to Elliott, 9 yards to tight end Dalton Schultz, 1 yard to offensive tackle Terence Steele and 13 yards to Cooper.
His 322 yards in the first half were the most passing yards in a first half of his career, and the second-most in either half. He had 320 yards in the second half against the Green Bay Packers in 2019.
His four passing touchdowns were the most ever by a Cowboys quarterback in a first half, and tied for the most passing scores in either half. Tony Romo had four against the Denver Broncos in the second half of a 51-48 loss in 2013.
The Cowboys had four receivers who had at least 50 yards receiving in the first half in Cooper (85), Schultz (74), Lamb (66) and Michael Gallup (53). According to the Cowboys, it was the first time since at least 1981 that the team had four different receivers with at least 50 yards in the same half of a game.
“Well, Dak was right on point,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought he was in total control. I think his numbers in the first half reflected that. I really like the way he played tonight. I thought Dak played very well.”
Cooper complained last week about a lack of touches and the Cowboys made a point to get him the ball, but nothing appeared forced. They played more tempo and Prescott still spread the ball around to 10 different receivers in the first half.
“I just think it’s really the way we play offense,” McCarthy said. “I think Amari’s comments were really about wanting to do more, that’s the way I viewed it. We didn’t change anything. We just emphasized the things we know we need to work on. It’s nice when you see those things pay off.”
It also helps when your quarterback feels the best he’s felt all season.
Prescott says his previous decline in play had nothing to do with lingering issues related to his calf injury, and he attributed Sunday’s success to the work the offense has put into improving their performance.
“The calf injury has been behind me for weeks now,” Prescott said. “You guys can continue to talk about it if you want. As I said, I hadn’t played my best ball, but I promise you it’s not because of my calf.”
But there is no question that Prescott was more decisive as a passer and runner against Washington than he has been all season. He had four scrambles for 21 yards and was more accurate as a roll out passer than anytime over the last two months.
“I think the opportunity came. I saw some lanes, felt the pocket a couple of times, and that allowed me to get out,” Prescott said. “I just feel good. The body feels good. I felt fast. Obviously back home, back on the turf and it felt good.
“You do [the work] to make sure that at this time of the year you are feeling the best,” Prescott said. “When a lot of people are hurt and trying to deal with things, I feel fortunate that I am probably feeling better than I have all season long.”
That is the best news for the slump-busting Cowboys.
A breakout doesn’t care who it comes against and the resulting confidence can pay dividends down the road.