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Top takeaway Monday night: Prescott keys Cowboy victory

OPINION by Bob Wisener | January 18, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Dallas Cowboys place kicker Brett Maher (19) misses a fourth extra point against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of a wild-card game Monday in Tampa, Fla. - Photo by John Raoux of The Associated Press

Falling through the ropes at Madison Square Garden in October 1951, Joe Louis got the same farewell note from boxing that Tom Brady had waiting in football Monday night.

Where was Don Meredith when needed to warble, "Turn out the lights. The party's over."

Who knows whether Dak Prescott ever wins a Super Bowl championship. Bet, if you will, that Brady, who has quarterbacked seven world titles, will not do it an eighth time.

The Dallas Cowboys imparted to a 45-year-old Brady the same message that Rocky Marciano delivered to a 37-year-old Louis, who to an older crowd once represented, like Brady in these times, the greatest of champions. Louis then was an ex-champion with enormous tax problems and strictly fighting for money. Marciano, then on the rise, never to lose a fight, knocked out Louis in the eighth round, after which journalistic poets went to work.

Arthur Daley, a Louis fan to the end, said in the New York Times that "the Louis of 10 years ago would have felled Rocky with one punch. Louis losing is more important than Rocky winning."

Red Smith, then becoming the Michelangelo of his trade, saw things in a clearer light. Writing in the New York Herald Tribune, Smith assessed that it was a young man's game "and the place for an old man to dream is beside the fire."

In the same light, the Brady of years past was not on the field Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The hometown Bucs now go to battle with a "lesser, more brittle god" as someone said of Hollywood after the death of Clark Gable. No matter if they never kicked an extra point, the Cowboys weren't losing an eighth time to Brady. Especially not with Prescott playing a splendid game with four touchdown passes in the Cowboys' 31-14 victory.

Poor placement kicking -- four straight missed conversions before making a fifth attempt -- kept the Cowboys from scoreboard dominance that befitted their performance. As the score reached 18-0 (halftime) and 24-0, Dallas distanced itself from a team that two years ago reigned as Super Bowl champion and as late as September won a Sunday-night season opener against the two.

Apparent Dallas haters in the media -- by now, you should know their names and message -- saw the Cowboys' season coming to an end one game into the playoffs. In light of a winning record, Dallas was sent on the road in the wild-card round because Tampa Bay, even at 8-9, was a division champion (NFC South).

A Dallas loss might have meant a pink slip for coach Mike McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and hopes to become the first to do so in Dallas since Barry Switzer in Bill Clinton's first term as U.S. president.

Until that happened, Prescott could face constant comparison with Dallas quarterbacks who won the big one -- Roger Staubach twice, Troy Aikman three times. The life of a non-Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Dallas can be desolate, to which the late Meredith or Tony Romo could attest.

Good or bad, present-day athletes are judged mainly by championships won. None did it more often than Brady, a sixth-round draft choice out of Michigan in the year (2000) that George W. Bush was elected president. Many fine quarterbacks have been shunted aside in public opinion in favor of Brady, whose personal life was equally front and center, his capacity for generating publicity second to none.

When the question arose whether Brady or coach Bill Belichick (six Lombardi Trophy awards), maybe owner Robert Kraft, was the architect of the New England Patriots' dynasty, TB12, as the quarterback became called, left for Tampa Bay early in the new century. Bruce Arians, since replaced, will not go in the Lombardi-Shula-Walsh wing of coaches but, like Switzer with Aikman, delivered a championship in western Florida.

Now with Todd Bowles, a past non-winner with the New York Jets, the Bucs face a rebuild that may or may not include Brady. These Bucs were doomed from the start with injuries to the offensive line and other units, often making watching Brady at work an ordeal.

Younger quarterbacks with stronger arms always have a featured place in the sport. Patrick Mahomes has played in two Super Bowls (winning one) for Kansas City as Joe Burrow did in last year's game for Cincinnati. Josh Allen in Buffalo has the look of a winner for a city and franchise that knows about Super Bowl heartbreak.

At that, one of the weekend's biggest headlines from six playoff games concerned the victories of Daniel Jones with the New York Giants and Brock Purdy with the San Francisco 49ers. They are the lineal descendants of Eli Manning and Joe Montana for franchises that know how to conduct a victory parade. Dallas fans wish the same for Dak Prescott, whose windshield after Monday night is clear of Brady, no small feat in any year.

But the biggest story out of Tampa, make no mistake, was not Brady losing but Prescott winning. Red Smith saw it right: The place for old men to dream is beside the fire.

Print Headline: Top takeaway Monday night: Prescott keys Cowboy victory

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