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Sep 20, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) gives an interview to fox after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With 2:57 to go in the Dallas Cowboys home opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Falcons had a 99.9% chance of winning the game according to ESPN’s Probability tracker. Once the clock struck zero, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys had a 100% chance of winning. How they got there in such a short amount of time was due to Prescott’s leadership, his offensive weapons, and some pure, dumb luck.

But they would have never been in that situation without Prescott. More than any other, this game showed why a Dak Prescott contract extension makes sense for both sides.

The media talked endlessly about the Dak Prescott contract extension this offseason. At one time, it was reported that Prescott was asking for as much as $40 million per year. But later reports clarified that the biggest impasse between Prescott’s representatives and Dallas was over the years. Prescott wanted a four-year deal and the Cowboys wanted a five-year deal. His theory is that if he plays well enough during those four years, he’ll be in position to get an even larger deal in a shorter period of time.

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The two sides never came to an agreement. This means Prescott is playing the 2020 campaign under the franchise tag. The pressure was firmly placed on his shoulders. Every single game is another opportunity for the Cowboys to evaluate him and decide if he’s worth their long-term investment.

The first game against the Los Angeles Rams didn’t do much to sway the team either way. But Sundays’ game against the Falcons showed that Prescott was right to take the chance on himself. He finished the game with 450 passing yards, 1 TD, 3 rushing TDs, and no interceptions.

Five traits that make a Dak Prescott contract extension vital for the Cowboys

Toughness

It was an inauspicious start for Prescott and the Cowboys with four fumbles (including one from Prescott) and a turnover on downs in the first quarter. With that said, of the most important traits of a quarterback is mental toughness. His team was down 29-10 at halftime and it didn’t look like things were going to get better any time soon.

Prescott kept plugging away, risking his body on quarterback runs in a game that many said wasn’t even worth trying to win anymore. His main protectors, starting left tackle Tyron Smith and starting right tackle La’el Collins, were out. This means Prescott was under pressure every play. He even took a shot on a late hit that had the potential of knocking him out of the game, but he only missed two plays after getting checked out by team doctors. Of course, he scored on a quarterback sneak with his first play back. All said, Prescott was hit a total of six times.

Running ability

The Dallas Cowboys have had legendary quarterbacks through the years, most notably Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. To a lesser-extent Tony Romo and Danny White fit that bill. Staubach was especially noted for his athleticism and ability to run with the football, but no Cowboys quarterback has ever done what Prescott did on Sunday. He ran for three touchdowns, a Cowboys record.

The combination of he and Ezekiel Elliott’s running abilities makes Dallas one of the most dangerous red-zone teams in the league. Defenses have to sell out to stop the punishing running of Elliott. They can’t forget that Prescott has power and speed, too. It’s a deadly combination.

Ball protection

Sunday’s fumble notwithstanding, Prescott has an amazing ability to protect the football. That’s especially true when compared to Dallas quarterbacks of the past. He’ll likely overtake Don Meredith for fifth place on the Cowboys all-time passing list this season, but he’ll do it with significantly less interceptions than the other player on the list. His interception percentage currently sits at 1.7%. That is a full percentage point below the second-best in the top five, Tony Romo.

Staubach, White and Aikman have much higher interception percentages. And, no, that’s not because Prescott is throwing shorter passes. His yards-per-attempt are higher than Aikman and almost even with Romo and Staubach. Among current starting quarterbacks, Prescott ranks second only to Aaron Rodgers. When it comes to negotiations over the Dak Prescott contract extension, putting your name above Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson in a category like this is certainly helpful.

Leadership

To take a team back from such a huge deficit requires more than skill and toughness, it requires leadership. Prescott isn’t the type of player to stalk the sidelines looking for teammates to berate for not doing their jobs. Instead, he leads by example and with positivity. He never looked beaten on Sunday, a key trait in a leader that inspires the rest of the team. This is the same guy who stepped in as a fourth-round pick and replaced a legend, all the while winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He’s unflappable.

Situational awareness

This is an area that his head coach, Mike McCarthy, certainly failed in Sunday. McCarthy called for two fake punts that failed, went for the two-point conversion at the wrong time and had his team playing desperate too early in the game. Meanwhile, Prescott understood that the comeback wasn’t going to happen in one play. He didn’t make risky passes or try to stretch plays too far. Against the Rams he didn’t play well on third down, but watch these highlights and see how many times he converted huge third downs. The Falcons jumped offside twice and Prescott took advantage by throwing the ball further down field than he may have originally intended to. Those plays ended up being massive in the course of the game.

Prescott is no longer the young quarterback who surprised everyone by replacing Romo. He’s now the veteran who leads with toughness, skills, and intelligence. Performances like Sunday’s against the Falcons will go a long way in silencing the doubters and earning him that huge pay day.