FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon Week 3 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, on the surface, appears to be just another regular season game in the long march through their 17-game slate. However, it carries extra meaning for their quarterback Dak Prescott, who at 30 years old and eight season in the NFL, will make his 100th career start this weekend.
"It's a blessing," Prescott said Thursday. "It really is. I grew up wanting to play this game, to play this game at the highest level and that's simply what this league is. To think back that this would be to say I've had 99 at-bats at it and this would be 100 is pretty cool. Being the physical game it is knowing how hard it is to play in this league, stay in this league. Yeah, it's something special. Not that I take any moment for granted, but, yeah, I saw that stat I guess earlier this week. It was sent to me and that was a pretty cool one."
Through his first 99 starts, Prescott became the only player in NFL history with at least 150 touchdown passes (168) and at least 25 rushing touchdowns within a quarterback's first 100 starts. He has also hovering near the top of the Cowboys' franchise record books. His 168 career passing touchdowns rank as the second-most in team history behind only Tony Romo's 248 and three ahead of Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman's 165. Prescott's 25,341 passing yards trail both Romo (34,183) and Aikman's (32,942). Currently, Prescott (97.8) is the all-time Cowboys' passer rating leader, ahead of Romo by 0.7 points (97.1). Even though the 2016 season, when he was first inserted into Dallas' starting lineup after injuries to Romo and Kellen Moore, feels like a lifetime ago, Prescott vividly remembers his first career start, a 20-19 home defeat against Eli Manning and the New York Giants. He finished the game with 227 passing yards on 25 of 45 passing. Running back Ezekiel Elliott's 8-yard rushing touchdown accounted for the only Dallas touchdown of the afternoon.
"From my first start, it was a loss unfortunately, but, I think I started out pretty fast out of the gate," Prescott said. "Being able to get the ball to some guys, I remember [receiver Cole] Beas[ley]having a day that day [eight catches for 65 yards], but it was fun. It was fun at AT&T stadium. To be on 100 to be on the road, hopefully 100 more to go, I guess."
His body will play a critical role in how much farther Prescott travels down the path to 200 NFL starts. He missed five games last season with a thumb injury and the final 11 games of the 2020 season with a fractured and dislocated ankle.
"On certain days, hell yeah, certain days it feels like a lot more than 100 [starts]," Prescott said when addressing the state of his body. "Mentally and then some days physically, not at all. I do feel young. I've knocked on wood and said 'I'm feeling healthy.' Being healthy, thankful for that, put a lot of work into that just to be where I am. Let's hope it can be another 100."
One of the defining qualities of his time as the Cowboys face-of-the-franchise quarterback has been how he carries himself on and off the field. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones, head coach Mike McCarthy and many teammates over the years, past and present routinely list Prescott's leadership as his best quality.
"Coming into this league, my impact was just to make a name for myself and be able to play," Prescott said. "I think the impact comes from me just being genuine to that. Being genuine to the friendships, the relationships that I've created and I don't want to say not trying, but just being transparent, being who I am. Yeah, just being completely genuine and showing vulnerability, showing leadership, showing all the things that I think teammates, people that go through everything on and off the field need to see. Just blessed and thankful to have to be in the position on there and be the leader of this team and have 100 starts out."
Not only is Prescott positioned to be the leader of the Cowboys, but he is also in the position of being the NFL's longest-tenured quarterback with the same team. That title was passed to Prescott after Aaron Rodgers was traded to the New York Jets after 18 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, and after Derek Carr was released following nine seasons with the Raiders and signed with the New Orleans Saints this past offseason. For most of Prescott's career, Tom Brady held this title during his 20-season run with the New England Patriots.
"It was just maybe a couple of weeks ago when me and my buddies were talking about all the guys I grew up watching and just thinking about how all of them are pretty much out of the league at this point," Prescott said. "It was a privilege to be able to play a lot of those guys. That's something that you'll never forget, being able to play pretty much all of them. I guess the year I came in Peyton [Manning] left. Other than that, having a shot at all those guys was fun. That's this game. This game is youthful, there's always turnover, it's hard to stay in this league."
Manning will always be at the top of Prescott's mind when it comes to his football role models. Like Manning, Prescott was also born and raised in Louisiana, so he was an avid fan of the five-time NFL MVP's Hall of Fame career.
"Probably Peyton [Manning]," Prescott said when asked who his quarterback was growing up. "For awhile, I didn't like Tom [Brady] being a Peyton guy, but it wasn't until college that I realized what he [Brady] was really doing and how hard that was with the success he had throughout his career. Being a hater is really idolizing a guy I guess you could say. Peyton being a Louisiana guy, always was ahead of the game. You see our no-huddle mechanics and things like that. He was just always someone I watched in the game. Being able to move around and be a little bit more mobile than Peyton was [makes me] like any of those others guys who can run with the ball. It was a mix."
While he has achieved a fair amount of success in his eight-season NFL career, Prescott still thirsts to lead the Cowboys past the NFC divisional round of the playoffs in order to taste the Super Bowl glory that Manning, Brady, Rodgers and others have experienced in their extended NFL journeys.
"I haven't achieved what I want, the ultimate goal as simple as that, and that's a Super Bowl," Prescott said. "Any personal goals or not anything I've really set out, I wrote down for me to go and get those things. I think those things come when you take care of what you're supposed to take care of, be the player that you need to be. [I'm] Not quite where I want to be at all and hopefully it doesn't take 100 more starts. Got some at-bats this year, we're going at it full steam."
After consecutive 12-win seasons in 2021 and 2022 -- the first time Dallas has done that since they won three Super Bowls in four seasons from 1992-1995 -- the 2023 Cowboys, early on, look equipped to make another strong push in the postseason. This time around, because of the continuity from the last few seasons, Prescott feels this team may be his best shot yet.
"I do think it's [the team] better equipped starting with the leadership in the locker room, the coaches and a bunch of us guys being here and have been here the last couple of years," Prescot said. "Honestly, I think when you can put two 12-win seasons together, you're going to get a lot of success, but you realize when you don't win in the playoffs that it really doesn't mean anything. So I think just having that experience is where people are really going to play off and not get too high or low off of one game or winning the games that we're supposed to win or just even in this regular season. More importantly, guys are trying to stack and build on who we are and what we want to accomplish and ultimately, where we plan to go."