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Dak Prescott can still get it done for the Dallas Cowboys

Former NFL quarterback Jason Campbell says it’s not all on the Cowboys quarterback

The pained expressions on the faces of the Dallas Cowboys told the story of their latest loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

And quarterback Dak Prescott appeared the most shaken.

After the 49ers’ 42-10 throttling Sunday night of the visiting Cowboys, Prescott described the defeat as “the most humbling game I’ve ever been a part of.” Many Cowboys fans were madder than a wet hen at the team’s leader, who had three passes intercepted.

To be sure, other factors contributed to Dallas’ abject failure from start to finish in an early season NFC showdown. In every phase of the game, the Cowboys were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached. The following axiom, however, still applies: In the NFL, quarterbacks receive an outsize share of the credit for wins and an outsize share of the blame for losses.

As Dallas picks up the pieces and attempts to rebound, Prescott will be under the microscope even more than usual for a Cowboys quarterback, which is saying something. How well he shoulders the pressure for the remainder of the season will determine, largely, whether the Cowboys get up off the mat, former NFL quarterback Jason Campbell believes.

Campbell witnessed the intense scrutiny faced by Cowboys signal-callers while playing for the Washington Redskins, Dallas’ NFC East archrival, for four seasons. Prescott must block out the noise, which is growing louder, Campbell said.

“It seems like Dallas is talked about all the time on every [sports] media outlet. Win or lose, you just know the Cowboys are going be a topic seven days a week,” Campbell told Andscape in a phone interview Wednesday. “That’s the way it is because of how popular the Cowboys are all over the country. If you’re playing quarterback for Dallas, you know the deal.

“Then with Dak, especially this season, so many people are out there talking about they’ve got a team that can get to the Super Bowl, but saying it’s all gonna come down to him. In a way, it’s tough because everyone else, even the coaches, almost get a pass. It’s really clear.”

Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell throws a pass against the Denver Broncos at FedExField on Nov. 15, 2009, in Landover, Maryland.

Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Campbell has seen this show before.

Selected in the first round (25th overall) of the 2005 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, Campbell, the 2004 SEC Offensive Player of the Year while at Auburn, had the misfortune of joining the league’s most dysfunctional franchise at the height of its dysfunction.

Amid multiple coaching changes and perpetual behind-the-scenes chaos, the strong-armed Campbell never gained his footing with Washington. Still, he went on to have a 10-year NFL career, playing also for the Oakland Raiders, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. These days, the former NFL journeyman is a radio analyst for the Auburn Sports Network.

During his time with Washington, Campbell observed how the Cowboys – “America’s Team” – were analyzed more closely than most other NFL clubs, and the widespread reaction to Monday’s eye-opening loss left no doubt about at whose feet blame should be laid.

“You see the criticism this man is getting, just the way he’s being talked about, and it’s definitely not all on him,” said Campbell, who as a senior led Auburn to an undefeated season, an SEC championship and a Sugar Bowl victory. “For example, look at their defense, which got whipped pretty good.

“The 49ers went up and down the field on them, on a defense that’s supposed to be one of the best in the NFL. All of a sudden you look up and your down by two touchdowns. That’s not on Dak.”

Well, that’s true. And Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy, who’s also the team’s offensive playcaller, didn’t have one of his best outings either, Campbell said.

“From a scheme standpoint, you could tell that the 49ers’ scheme is just really phenomenal. You know how you know? Because guys were running free everywhere,” Campbell said. “When you watch what the 49ers do, you see how aggressive they are and how they attack the defense. It just seemed like the Dallas scheme … it wasn’t the same thing.

“The Cowboys’ scheme just wasn’t … it wasn’t aggressive. And that’s not on the quarterback. That’s not on Dak. When I was watching Dak, I could tell it was tough on him from a scheme standpoint. I’ve been in schemes when you’re not allowed to be aggressive. If [an opponent] is being aggressive … it makes a big difference.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (center) is sacked by defensive end Nick Bosa (left) and defensive tackle Arik Armstead (right) of the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 8 in Santa Clara, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Making the debacle even worse for Dallas was that many league observers, as well as many of the team’s fans, viewed the matchup as litmus test to determine whether Dallas had closed the gap with San Francisco, which eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs the past two seasons. Clearly, a Texas-sized canyon still separates the teams.

In the NFC divisional playoffs last season, Prescott was intercepted twice as visiting Dallas lost 19-12. This season, Prescott had only one interception in the Cowboys’ first four games. Obviously, it’s never advisable for a quarterback to have multiple passes intercepted in a game, “but what I saw, from a quarterback perspective, was a quarterback who was trying to force the ball downfield against the 49ers because the game had gotten away from them and he was trying to make something happen,” Campbell said. “When you do that, you know bad things seem to happen. But the defense couldn’t stop them, and the game was getting out of reach.”

Prescott is in the third year of a four-year contract that includes $126 million in guarantees, so Campbell understands that no one will shed a tear for the two-time Pro Bowler, “because when you’re making that kind of money it’s like you’re not allowed to make mistakes. He came into the league in that generation where the market for a [top-notch] starting quarterback is $40 million, $50 million [a year]. And then there’s being the Cowboys’ quarterback, and all that goes with it, on top of that.”

Despite Monday night’s stunner, the Cowboys remain among the NFL’s most talented teams, Campbell said, and they have time to salvage their season. Rallying around their quarterback would be a good place to start.

“Guys have to be accountable to each other, look at what they’re doing, not give themselves a pass and not put in all on Prescott,”Campbell said. “And Dak has got to make sure he keeps his head.

“As a quarterback in the National Football League, you can never lose confidence in yourself. If you do, that’s when everything goes down. He’s just got to put this behind him, go back out there and cut it loose.”

Right now in Dallas, the Cowboys are anything but. And for them, there’s nothing more important than building up Prescott again.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.