Turning Point: Dak Prescott, Cowboys can't recover after Stephon Gilmore's pick

Turning Point: Dak Prescott, Cowboys can't recover after Stephon Gilmore's pick

FOXBORO -- The Cowboys came into Gillette Stadium with arguably the most efficient passing offense in the league. Dak Prescott averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt, best in football. He helped Dallas cook up 47 explosive pass plays, leading to the third-best explosive-play percentage in the NFL. 

The Cowboys left Gillette Stadium with some abysmal numbers. Prescott's yards-per-attempt number was down more than two full yards (6.2). He completed just 18 of 32 attempts and didn't break 200 yards for the first time this season.

The weather wasn't exactly conducive to a good-looking passing attack for either side, but Prescott ran into the best pass defense in football and came away with a 13-9 loss. 

The play of the night for the Patriots defense? The Turning Point this week? That came early, with 14:17 remaining in the first half. Prescott felt it a good time -- on third-and-two from his own 26 -- to target No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper for the first time. 

It wasn't. 

Running through the traffic schemed up by the Cowboys on an over route, Stephon Gilmore stuck with Cooper stride for stride and then cut off Prescott's wobbler for an interception. Cooper was officially targeted just once more. (He caught a third-down throw in the third quarter, but it was called back after a holding call on left tackle Tyron Smith. A fourth-down target hit the turf as Cooper reeled it in. It was ruled incomplete upon review.)

Gilmore's pick led to a field goal and made the score 10-0.

It might've been a wise decision on Prescott's part to stay away from his best option. Gilmore is considered by many to be the best cover corner in football for a reason. But the Cowboys passing game never really recovered. 

A rub route in the fourth quarter led to a long catch-and-run for Randall Cobb that set up a field goal. Prescott found Cobb for another 18-yarder late in the final minutes. 

Otherwise . . . nothing. 

Steering Prescott away from Cooper effectively turned the Cowboys into a pre-Cooper passing offense. Not good. Take a look at the numbers in terms of who's been the team's most efficient receiver -- by a wide margin -- since his arrival last season.

The trade that brought Cooper to Dallas last year coincided with Prescott's rise as one of the top quarterbacks in football. He's now an MVP candidate with a true No. 1. But the Patriots took Cooper away, and won the game because of it. 

If there was any question as to which Patriot has been the team's most valuable in 2019, Gilmore answered on Sunday.

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

It's simple, really. If the Patriots are going to avoid staying home again after the Wild Card Round of the playoffs next season and seasons to come, they've got to get younger.

And to get younger, they've got to be more successful in the draft.

In the latest edition of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast, Curran and Phil Perry focus on the last time New England was sent home this early in the playoffs a decade ago and if there can be lessons learned from that roster reboot in 2010. 

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The biggest issue confronting the Pats this time around is their age, which averages 31.6 years old (a 42-year-old quarterback skews that a little, of course). By comparison, the Super Bowl 54 opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs (26.8) and the San Francisco 49ers (26.6) are considerably younger.

Click here to listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: 

The age factor is why, as Perry pointed out, "the pressure is on for them to hit not only in this 2020 draft, where they do have 12 picks, they have no second-round pick, but 12 shots at the dartboard. Last year, they had 10 [picks] and nine guys are still with the team.

"It's clear they have told themselves, 'We need to get younger. We need to start hitting here if we want to sustain this success.' The draft is the lifeblood of any team."

The 2018 team and its victory in the Super Bowl over the Rams last February worked to hide some of those flaws from recent low-yield draft classes.

"They had a great quarterback when they needed him. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback when they needed him. The defense looked tremendous we know how that story played out," Perry said. 

What kind of draft yield are we talking about to fuel the next generation of Patriots' success?

Curran goes on to rattle off the names from 2008-2012 drafts (Mayo, Slater, Edelman, Vollmer, Butler, Chung, Gronkowski, McCourty) that fueled the second half of the Pats dynasty.

"I have upwards of 30 names from 2008 to 2012 who were contributing players to the Patriots. I'm not even talking a little contributing, but massive contributing...," Curran said.  

There's also a discussion of how the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady will impact the 2020 draft strategy. Listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.


That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

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That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

The Patriots may have been missing from the NFL's Championship Sunday, but that didn't stop them from being mentioned and having their former personnel play prominent roles in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Whether it was former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel coaching the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs or former New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo helping the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers to reach Super Bowl 54, the Patriots continue to be a talked-about team. 

On the latest edition of the "That 617 Life" podcast, Leroy Irvin, Shanda Foster and Cerrone Battle discussed how the Pats still loomed over the games on Sunday.

"You can not say anything bad about the Patriots because we are always constantly producing talent," Foster said. "I think this is the perfect testament to Bill Belichick."

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Battle said it speaks to the dominance of the Patriots the past two decades that connections to their former players and staff are now all over the league.

"That's what happens when you win," Battle said. "When you win, everybody wants a piece. They want your waterboy. Look at the new head coach of the Giants [Joe Judge, the former Patriots special teams and receivers coach]?... When you're good for 20 years eventually you're going to have your roots all over the league. After years and years of success, I'm not shocked by it."

Irvin and Foster said instead of lamenting a rare NFL Final Four without New England, Pats fans should be grateful.

"I wish Patriot Nation would grow up," Irvin said. "By that I mean I'm tired of seeing on social media people just crying and complaining, 'Oh it's boring without the Patriots.' We've had almost two decades of excellence. We're not there. Get over it."

Said Foster, "I was grateful more than anything. Filled with gratitude. We may never see a run like this again."

In his "Hot Takes and Cold Cuts" segment, Battle says those crowning the Super Bowl 54 opponents as the next dynasties might want to pump the brakes a little. 

"First thing I heard [after the games] is, 'Kansas City they're gonna be around for years and San Francisco they're gonna be around for a long time. They're gonna be contenders forever,' " Battle said. "That was the story all day. 'What is anybody gonna do about these teams next year?' What are they gonna do next year? Not even worry about them. Why? Because this is the Not For Long League. The NFL. Every year, the teams that were hot the year before are never guaranteed to be hot the year after that. Unless you're the Patriots."

The crew also gives their reactions to the new Aaron Hernandez Netflix documentary. It's all in this week's "That 617 Life" podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast network. Click here to listen and subscribe.