What QB Dak Prescott’s imminent surgery means for Jerry Jones, Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott exited the bowels of AT&T Stadium just before 11:30 pm Sunday wearing silk suit pants and a white button-down shirt. Also in Prescott’s wardrobe: a black brace stabilizing his right hand, an indication of the surgery that awaited on Monday.

Prescott sustained a fractured joint near his thumb in the fourth quarter of Dallas’ 19-3 loss to the Buccaneers, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed to reporters Sunday night.

Prescott, who didn’t miss a game during the first six years of his NFL career, has missed 12 and counting since 2020.

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Here’s a breakdown of what happened and where the Cowboys go from here:

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) hits his hand against Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) as he throws the ball during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium.

What do we know about Dak Prescott’s injury?

Jones and Prescott each spoke to the media about the injury. Prescott said he initially thought he jammed his finger after Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaq Barrett swiped at Prescott’s hand on a screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott with 6:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, Prescott realized he was unable to grip the football. He jogged to the sideline and asked trainers to “yank” it back into place. A cursory evaluation suggested stronger treatment was needed. By game’s end, X-rays confirmed Prescott had suffered a fracture and would need surgery. Disappointment hovered, but Prescott noted that he was told the break was “much cleaner than it could have been.”

How long will Dak Prescott be out for?

Jones, the eternal optimist, said Prescott will be out for “several” weeks. ESPN reported early Monday morning that Prescott’s recovery timeline is expected to be more in the six-to-eight-week range. The Cowboys host the Bengals next week, then travel to the Giants for Monday Night Football, then host Washington and then travel to the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Prescott seems highly likely to at least miss those matchups. It is possible he misses subsequent games against the Eagles, Lions and Bears before the Cowboys visit Green Bay on Nov. 13.

“I can’t necessarily control it,” Prescott said. “It’s just unfortunate. Obviously, I am going to miss some time and not be there for my team. That’s what hurts more than anything.”

How does this affect the Cowboys’ playoff chances?

Let’s be real: It’s too early to predict this. And yet, the long-suffering NFC East posted three wins on opening weekend. Only the defending division champion Cowboys lost. And, frankly, the Cowboys struggled mightily even in Prescott’s three-and-a-half healthy quarters. The Cowboys drew 10 penalties for 75 yards (Tampa lost 25 yards on five flags, in comparison) and too often sapped their own rhythm with false starts. No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb did not yet look the role, he and Prescott connecting on just 2-of-11 targets for 29 yards. An offensive line already down two departed free agents and eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (knee fracture/hamstring tear) lost left guard Connor McGovern to an ankle injury on the first quarter. Prescott had little help, and it showed. The Buccaneers’ defense deflected six passes, including an interception, as Prescott tried to involve young receivers and spark offensive cohesion. Prescott’s injury made matters worse — but his decision-making and execution fell far short of his own and others’ expectations before that.

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“We have a lot to work on,” Lamb said. “We kind of got to find ourselves.”

Jones was “surprised” by how ineffective the Cowboys’ offense was.

“The entire team, I think, got out of sync,” he said. “Tremendously disappointing way to start the year.”

Who will start as Cowboys QB next week vs. Bengals?

Cooper Rush finished the game Sunday night, completing 7-of-13 attempts for 64 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Rush also replaced Prescott last season when a calf strain sidelined the franchise quarterback for a Halloween Sunday night matchup at Minnesota. Rush quarterbacked the team to a win that night, completing 30-of-47 passes for 422 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He found then-Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper for a 5-yard touchdown on a game-winning drive to lift Dallas to the 20-16 win. Rush will have neither the receiver depth nor the offensive line protection this year.

And yet, the Cowboys value Rush’s intense familiarity with a system he’s spent at least part of every year since 2017 studying and practicing.

“He can play at a level that we can win ball games,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday night. “The main thing about him as a backup quarterback is that we didn’t have to alter the offense to have him. That’s a good thing to have continuity. That’s the main reason he won the job. Just count on him. He threw a couple good balls out there.”

What will this mean for Cooper Rush?

Jones compared the chance of Rush to rewrite his story to Prescott’s rookie year when a preseason injury to then-starter Tony Romo thrust Prescott into the Week 1 spotlight as a fourth-round rookie.

“Candidly, we have to look at it and I don’t see this in the horizon, but I’m going to use it as an example, of how I felt when Tony Romo went down against Seattle,” Jones said. “And how I felt two and a half, three months later, when you had to make a decision whether Tony was starting or Dak.”

Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, who caught seven of nine targets for 62 yards Sunday, said the team can lean on its experience adjusting to a Prescott injury before.

“Cooper has been slinging since I got here,” said Schultz, a Dallas 2018 fourth-rounder now playing on the franchise tag. “Obviously, I think we’ve got a lot of confidence in him and his ability to lead the offense. Obviously, he is going to step into the big shoes, the big role.

“We just got to do what we can to get ready.”

What was the emotion like in the locker room?

As Prescott was assisted into changing into his dress clothes in the postgame locker room, teammates were mostly unaware of the severity of Prescott’s prognosis. Lamb found out from reporters that Prescott needed surgery.

“I didn’t know that, but now I do,” he said. “Well, that sucks.”

Schultz similarly asked reporters for clarification before reiterating how he and his teammates needed to rise to the occasion. He described Prescott’s midseason return timeline as a “light at the end of the tunnel” and challenged his teammates and himself to elevate their play until then and afterwards.

“The way I see it, it’s just a storm,” Schultz said. “You got two choices: You can either run away from the storm or you can run right into it. I know myself included and everybody in this locker room is going to run right into that. … That is just how I approach it .

“That’s the challenge right now: Go to next week and go grow.”

What did Dak Prescott say?

Prescott was disappointed to miss time helping his team, he said, after his 14-of-29, no touchdown, one interception day. But he implored his teammates and fans to “not hit the panic button” after just one week, expressing confidence in the organization to rally from both its mistakes on offense and his absence.

“The things that we did badly started with the self-inflicting errors, so if we remove those, we give ourselves a better chance,” Prescott said. “I know we’ll do that going forward. Our coaching staff will find the best position and best spot to put Cooper in every game.”

Prescott was asked whether news of surgery left him in disbelief.

“Obviously it’s not what you want to hear,” Prescott said. “But it’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me. It’s just another bump in the road and I’ll keep moving forward.

“I’ll do what I’ve always done anytime adversity comes: take it head-first. I’ll give it my best and I’m sure I’ll come out of this thing better.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dak Prescott injury requires surgery: What it means for Cowboys

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