Prescott, Purdy playing at high level heading into showdown
Santa Clara, Calif. — Dak Prescott shook off some late-season struggles and once again looked in top form in Dallas' playoff opener.
Brock Purdy looked just as good as he has ever since stepping in as the starter in San Francisco, part of his improbable journey from seventh-round pick to playoff quarterback.
With both QBs coming off impressive games in the wild-card round, the Cowboys (13-5) and 49ers (14-4) look like offensive juggernauts heading into Sunday's matchup in the divisional round.
Prescott threw for 305 yards and four TDs and ran for another score in Dallas' win at Tampa Bay, setting a franchise by accounting for five TDs in a playoff game.
It was a far cry from the way Prescott ended the regular season with 11 interceptions in his final seven games.
“Dak has always been a challenge,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "(He's) a pure pocket passer who can make all the throws in there and read the defense really well and get the ball to the right spots and do it accurately. That’s why he’s had the career he has and when things do break down, he’s got a knack for how to get out of that pocket and make some off-schedule plays and that’s why he has had such a successful career so far.”
While Prescott getting back to that form should be little surprise, Purdy's performance has been less expected.
The player picked last in April's draft has played like a star since replacing an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13. Purdy has thrown at least two TD passes in seven straight games and has won all six starts while running an offense filled with playmakers like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, and a solid offensive line.
He threw for 332 yards and three TDs and ran for a score in a win over Seattle, becoming the first rookie QB to account for four TDs in a playoff game and throwing for the most yards by a rookie in a playoff win since Sammy Baugh in 1937.
“I definitely won’t underestimate him,” Dallas All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons said. “He might have surprised some people early on into thinking no rookie is going to come in and beat us and he’s taken them this far. Super excited to go against him to see what he’s got.”
The teams will meet in the playoffs for the second straight year after one of the league's fiercest rivalries took more than a quarter-century postseason break.
This will be the ninth time these franchises have met in the postseason, tied for the most of any matchup in the Super Bowl era with San Francisco against Green Bay and Dallas against the Rams.
Dallas has won five of the previous eight but lost 23-17 to San Francisco in the wild-card round last year, a loss that still stings.
“We get a chance to go back and at their place, do something that we want to do,” Prescott said.
Dallas kicker Brett Maher was backed by owner/general manager Jerry Jones, coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coach John Fassel after missing his first four extra points against the Bucs, a first in NFL history. That didn’t stop the Cowboys from signing Tristan Vizcaino to the practice squad as insurance.
The club has until Saturday to decide whether to put Vizcaino on the 53-man roster. It was going to depend on how Maher responded in practice after his meltdown. He did make the fifth PAT against Tampa Bay, ending a streak of five consecutive misses going back to his final attempt of the regular season in Washington.
“I loved for him to step back up and get another shot, to see one go through, which hopefully will give him some confidence this Sunday,” Fassel said. “We’ll need it.”
Key Dallas defender
Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse, who figures to be an important piece for the Dallas defense against McCaffrey and Samuel, said there was a “100 percent” chance he was playing after injuring a knee against the Bucs. He was held out the rest of the game as a precaution with the Cowboys comfortably in front when the injury happened.
“I’ve been dealing with a lot of injuries all year,” said Kearse, who missed three games early in the season with a knee injury. “It’s nothing different, especially playoff time. I’m only guaranteed four more quarters.”
The Niners got a two-day head start after beating Seattle on Saturday, while Dallas didn't play its wild-card game until Monday night.
While the discrepancy seems unfair on the surface, both teams downplayed the impact of the 49ers having the extra rest.
“By this time, I don’t think it is about recovery," Shanahan said. “It’s about detail and it’s about executing and it’s about playing at a high level. Once you get to games, especially in the playoffs, that recovery, people forget about pretty quickly.”
Jones had no complaints, saying it's no different than playing on a short week in the regular season, and his players agreed.
“It’s the schedule, what else can we do,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “When the time comes, we’ll be ready.”
AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.