Dak Prescott needs to solve turnover issues for the Cowboys to be a legitimate playoff threat

NASHVILLE – Short-term memory.

That was Dak Prescott’s take on the turn of events at Nissan Stadium on Thursday night when he committed three first-half turnovers but still left the place with another W.

Prescott’s two second-half touchdown passes to tight end Dalton Schultz provided the cushion for the Dallas Cowboys to defeat the injury-depleted Tennessee Titans, 27-13, and well, wipe the egg off the face of the quarterback.

“In order to play this position, you’ve got to have short-term memory,” Prescott told reporters afterward. “You’ve got to be able to turn the page and move on. Good or bad, I’m going on to the next play.”

If there’s a next play. Remember, that last play in overtime in Jacksonville in Week 15, when a Noah Brown-aided interception by Prescott ended it with a pick-six.

There was a similar forgettable play during the second quarter against the Titans, as rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot juggled a pass over the middle and into the hands of safety Kevin Byard. So, while it counts against Prescott’s docket, it was hardly the quarterback’s fault.

Dak Prescott tosses the ball in the fourth quarter Thursday night against the Titans.

Before that, though, Prescott lost control on the exchange and lost his first fumble of the season. Later, Byard collected a second pick on a throw that was behind Schultz. The Cowboys finished the first half with three consecutive drives that ended with Prescott turnovers.

That’s a pattern that the Cowboys (12-4) and their marquee quarterback may want to forget, but they might be better off remembering how the turnovers could ruin those precious hopes to end the season in Super Bowl 57.

In other words, the type of mistakes that derailed Dallas early against the Titans won’t cut it in the playoffs. Short-term memory could become short-term playoff exit.

Prescott threw an interception for the sixth consecutive game, with 10 picks during that span. No, all of the gaffes haven’t been on him. But he just notched the dubious distinction of setting his career high of interceptions in a season with 14 (which ties Derek Carr for the NFL high) – a season in which he missed five games after suffering a fractured thumb in Week 1.

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He refused to call it a “rash,” but whatever it is, they’ll need to stop the spread ASAP.

“I don’t sit there and think that this is going to continue to happen,” Prescott said. “As much as anybody, I’ve got to fix the ones on my end and I’ve got to make sure that the receivers and everyone who may take part in them, just focus and understand that we don’t have a lot of opportunities .

“As we move forward, this last (regular-season) game and all those playoff games, every drive matters. We have to play every play like it’s going to win the game. That’s the reality when you get to this position.”

It’s striking to note that despite Prescott’s interception issues, the Cowboys entered the week leading with the NFL’s best turnover margin (+12). That’s a credit to the big-play defense that posted two more turnovers against the Titans.

Prescott, meanwhile, gets credit for his resilience. His all-white uniform got plenty dirty with grass stains, and with the turnovers, the Cowboys couldn’t put the game away early against an overmatched opponent playing without its best player, running back Derrick Henry, or its starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. But Prescott made several money throws that reminded of the potential of the explosive offense when it is clicking with consistency.

Teammates also pointed to his poise after the early setbacks.

“Once again, he’s able to overcome adversity and put this game away,” said receiver Cee Dee Lamb, who caught 11 passes for 100 yards. “Quarterback is the hardest position in this sport that we play. Obviously, there’s going to be some good and bad, some things you learn from.”

Added Schultz, “He’s the king of not getting too high, not getting too low. Whether he just threw a pick or a 99-yard ball, you know exactly what you’re getting from him.”

The Cowboys, who close the regular season in Washington, still have a long shot of winning the NFC East, provided the Philadelphia Eagles drop their final two games. At worst, they have already clinched the best wild-card playoff slot, the fifth seed in the NFC.

It has been another season of hope and hype, but there is plenty of substance.

When the possibility of a deep playoff run was mentioned to Prescott, he sounded determined, if not defiant.

“It will go that far,” he flatly stated.

Still, the scrutiny has intensified with the turnover issues – as if leading the highest-profile team in the NFL isn’t enough. With constant debate about Prescott’s ability to win big, it might seem like the Cowboys are a long way from 12-4.

Regardless, Prescott sounds like he’s not sweating the critics.

“That’s all external and outside of our locker room,” he said. “That’s why I compliment the brotherhood and everything that we’ve created. We have a culture and brotherhood that knows what they are capable of doing. We’re going to double down on that and trust the process.”

And they’d better hope that it wasn’t a playoff tune-up against the Titans. Or else it could be a short-term playoff stay.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys can’t be legit playoff threat until Dak solves turnover issues

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