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Cowboys QB Dak Prescott after five-touchdown performance: 'I knew what this game meant'

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys may have saved their best for the postseason.

Dogged by whispers and doubts after throwing 11 interceptions and fumbling four times in his last seven games, Prescott put the naysayers on notice with an all-time outing as he led Dallas to a 31-14 win over Tampa Bay, completing 25 of 32 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns, plus 24 rushing yards and a score on seven carries to account for all of Dallas' TDs.

"I got away from the way I play this game," Prescott said postgame regarding his poor play to end the regular season. "Got greedy. Tried to just force some throws. Tried to take the big ones. And that's not who I've been throughout my career, just taking what they give me, waiting on the big shot. I think it was uncharacteristic. It was a way for me to just dial back in. But I wiped that clean, and I knew what this game meant. I knew how important it was for our side."

The game began ugly, perhaps a hangover from Dallas' putrid Week 18 loss to Washington, as Prescott and Co. managed a grand total of negative-5 yards on two three-and-outs before even four minutes had elapsed.

The Cowboys would hardly be stopped after that thanks largely to Prescott, who earned the first postseason road win of his career and the Cowboys' first such victory since 1992.

"As good as I've seen, that's for sure," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters when asked about Prescott's performance. "I think like anything, he's so consistent in everything he does. He had a couple plays there early but he was on it the rest of the evening. I thought (offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore) and the play calling, we stayed true to what we wanted to do. I thought he played extremely well and stayed aggressive. Took the check downs. I thought he had great command of the offense and excellent presence in the pocket."

Dallas closed the first half with three straight touchdown drives of 80, 80 and 91 yards. Prescott finished two of those with throws to tight end Dalton Schultz, but his biggest exclamation point came on a flawless play-action bootleg to score on a fourth-and-goal play.

"(It) was just a great play call by Kellen," Prescott said about his rushing TD. "The play call fooled the defense. I could've thrown it to Schultz. He already had one, so I figured I'd run it."

Prescott orchestrated another 80-plus-yard drive after his defense opened the second half by keeping the Bucs scoreless for a sixth straight possession. That long drive ended on Prescott's third TD pass, and he threw another two drives later on his second clutch fourth-down play -- this time to CeeDee Lamb on a wide-open wheel route from the Bucs' 18-yard line.

The score was 31-6 after that -- the game all but over with just over 10 minutes remaining and Prescott's magnum opus essentially complete.

Prescott joined Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan as the only players in the Super Bowl era with four-plus passing touchdowns and one-plus rushing score in a playoff game, and he became the first Cowboys player with five-plus total TDs in a postseason contest.

It was as clutch a performance as they come, and it would've likely taken on even greater importance had the Cowboys defense not played similarly up to task.

Tom Brady had to throw 66 passes on the night, and though he did amass 351 yards and two touchdowns, those successes came when he was chasing a game already far out of sight.

The Dallas D was everywhere on Monday night. Five players had two or more pass deflections. The unit forced five punts, two turnovers on downs and pressured Brady into a red-zone interception -- his first in a home game since 2016 -- on Tampa Bay's only first-half drive to exceed 25 yards.

"Defense, after the first two possessions, without them going to do what they do, creating those three-and-outs and just giving us the ball right back, it could be a different story," Prescott said. "As you said, complementary football. And that's the way it's been when this team is on fire. When this team is on, they make stops, we go and turn it into points, and just got to continue to build off that."

After a season in which he tied for the NFL lead in interceptions thrown despite missing five games, the way Prescott showed out will surely be a boon to Dallas' confidence moving forward.

Having dispatched the team he fractured his thumb and lost against in the season opener, Prescott's next revenge game comes Sunday against a 49ers squad that eliminated him and the Cowboys in 2021.

"We got to start fast knowing the team that they have, the offense that they have," Prescott said about San Francisco. "They're on fire. Win streak, I guess with the longest in the league right now. So, it'll be important for us to start fast. Get on top of them. I know the pass rushers they got, but once again, I'm confident in the guys that we've got. This group that we have and what we're capable of doing."

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