Longtime NFL analyst, on “Monday Night Football” broadcasts since 2022, and three-time former Cowboys Super Bowl-winning quarterback Troy Aikman makes the calls to do some playoff Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What have you noticed about Dak Prescott this season, and why should Cowboys fans believe in him to win the big one?
A: I don’t know that they ever shouldn’t have believed in him. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they just haven’t played their best football when the games have mattered most, and that pre-dates Dak Prescott. And I think in some ways, he’s been maybe criticized for some of the failures that came before him because of the fan base that’s frustrated.
But I see a quarterback that’s playing at a really high level, and he’s played at a high level throughout his career. We had the game against the Chargers on a Monday night [Week 6], and they weren’t getting the ball down the field. This has always been kind of a big-play offense, and Dak’s been the quarterback that’s been able to deliver the big balls down the field, and then when they went back to that in that Chargers game Monday night, it’s when it all kind of began, they’ve just been off and rolling.
I like what I’ve seen of Dak within the offense, and the way Mike [McCarthy, coach] … I don’t want to say called things … but more the footwork and the way that the ball is coming out. I think he’s seeing the field as well as he ever has. He’s been accurate with the football. But a big reason for all of that is I think the time invested this season in some of the footwork and the things that they emphasized.
Q: Does CeeDee Lamb in any way remind you of Michael Irvin?
A: No, not really. Outside of the fact that he’s a big-time player. Their styles are so different. Michael was more in the mold of Dez Bryant, who was just a physically dominant football player. He turned matchups into street fights, and that’s where he excelled, that’s what he loved. And when the ball was in the air, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone as competitive at the point of the catch as what Michael is and the guy who was next closest to that was Dez Bryant.
Q: CeeDee is more finesse, maybe?
A: I think finesse might be the wrong word, I think. Maybe because of his build you immediately say that, and I get it. But what’s interesting is they’ve used him some in the backfield to run the football like San Francisco does with Deebo Samuel, and that amazes me because he’s not built like that. And yet he likes it, and he can do it. He’s been more physical than what he gets credit for.
Q: It’s been 28 years since owner Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have won. What are Jerry’s emotions do you think at this point at age 81 regarding the Super Bowl?
A: There’s no telling what he wouldn’t do to win one. He’s been chasing it for a lot of years. I said this going back to when I played: There’s nobody who wants to win more than Jerry, and there’s no one who’s willing to spend money to win more than Jerry. And yet, it hasn’t happened. And I think that’s been the frustrating part for him. I think there’s three teams — Dallas, Detroit and Washington — in the last however many years that haven’t made it to the NFC Championship game, and I think with the history of the Cowboys and all of the success going back to the ’60s and the ’70s and the ’90s, and to have this period where they haven’t gotten even to an NFC Championship game, I don’t want to speak for Jerry, but I would imagine it pains him to no end.
Q: With that being said, how important is this game for Mike McCarthy, especially with Bill Belichick now being available?
A: (Laugh) I don’t know if Bill Belichick’s availability impacts anything on the front with Mike McCarthy. Mike took this job as every head coach that’s taken the Cowboys job: They understand what the expectations are. And quite frankly, that’s one of the attractions of the job, is knowing that you have an owner who expects to win championships and is going to give you the resources to do so. But with that said, I think Mike’s done a fantastic job. I think there’s a tendency maybe amongst owners in general that think getting to a Super Bowl and winning a championship is easy to do, it’s anything but. I’ve been asked many times, “How come there’s not more repeat champions?” And I said, “Well, because first of all it’s hard to win the first one (laugh).” Just doing that is a task. And then to try to do it a second time in a row? So there would be disappointment if they’re not able to get to the Super Bowl and win it this year. But I think Mike McCarthy’s job’s safe.
Q: What if — hypothetical, of course — the Cowboys lose to the Packers? Do you think that might influence Jerry?
A: I still think his job is safe, but I will say that Jerry’s an emotional man. … You catch someone when they’re emotional, anything could happen.
Q: What are the differences between Micah Parsons and Lawrence Taylor?
A: I think it’s the ultimate compliment to Lawrence Taylor, and I’m not putting Micah in that category just yet because his career is still young. But he definitely impacts an offense the way that Lawrence Taylor did. The difference I think is that when Lawrence did it, no one had ever seen anything like him before. He totally changed the way defensive football was played, and what they were able to do, and how offenses had to account for a guy like him. They weren’t comparing Lawrence Taylor to anybody when he came onto the scene. I think the fact that anyone compares Micah to Lawrence really speaks to how dominant Lawrence was. But I do see similarities, because there’s just an athleticism and a competitiveness, and a tenaciousness and the power that he has and the strength, it’s hard to get that in one big package. Lawrence had it, and Micah has it.
Q: What is your impressions of Jordan Love?
A: I like Jordan. I like him a lot. He’s really come on and played well. He had a stretch there where he wasn’t playing his best football, but when he’s played well, they’ve won, and he had to play well after they dug themselves a hole, and the way that he was able to play the second half of the season and get them into the postseason. I think that’s the thing that bodes well for Green Bay is they come into the postseason feeling good because of the momentum that they’ve got.
Q: How do the Packers pull off an upset over the Cowboys?
A: I think there’s a style that you have to play against Dallas. You look at the teams that have been able to have success against them — San Francisco for the last couple of years, Buffalo later in the season this year — you got to be physical with them, and you’ve got to be to run the football. And there’s more that goes to it than that. To play that kind of game against them, you’ve got to be able to then convert on third downs, and your defense at least has to keep the score close. If you get into a game where you’re behind or you’re not running the ball or you abandon it, when you’ve got to ask your offensive line to hold up against this pass rush, it’s just not going to happen, and that’s when things snowball.
Q: What do you think of Jared Goff playing against his old team versus Matthew Stafford playing against his old team?
A: That’s a good one. I’m a big fan of both those guys. I’ve been watching Matthew Stafford since he was in high school. He grew up right here where I live in Dallas. I’m a big fan of his. The irony in it is that I had dinner with Stafford in Arizona, where he was training before the draft. Detroit was struggling then, and they’d been struggling for a number of years. And yet, that’s where he wanted to go, because he wanted to win a championship for the city of Detroit.
And that’s all he ever talked about while he was there. He leaves, he goes to L.A., and he obviously wins one his first year in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Goff — who was in a great situation in L.A. playing for [Sean] McVay, and the talent that they had — goes to Detroit, where they weren’t very good. And it did not look like it would end well for Goff. And yet here he is the guy winning the division for the first time in 30 years and got that organization turned around.
What at one time, looked kind of like a one-sided trade has really ended up being a benefit to both guys. And they’ve both excelled, and that’s the part of it that’s made me really proud. I couldn’t be more proud of Jared Goff and [Lions coach] Dan Campbell, and what they did. Because I can’t imagine what went through Jared Goff’s mind when he got traded. And for him to turn it into what he has turned it into, I think that’s lost in a lot of people.
Q: Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, how concerned should Eagles fans be?
A: I think they’re already concerned (laugh). This is an interesting team because they played so well on that stretch of games that they had — I mean, they had a Murderers’ Row of games that they had to play, and yet they beat Washington; they beat Dallas; they go to Kansas City, they beat Kansas City; they beat Buffalo, and you’re like, “Whoa!” and they won five straight. Then they, of course, lose a couple of games. San Francisco, you knew that was going to be a tough game, they lose that game. They lose Dallas, and it just felt like everything imploded after that — beginning at the executive level, in the front office, because I don’t know that all the changes that we’ve seen or everything that we’ve witnessed on the field is where it ends. It just feels like there was an overreaction by a lot of people, and now it just feels like there’s disarray throughout the entire organization. And what this might look like on Monday night, and what it might look like after this game if they were to lose I’d anybody’s guess.
Q: How about Baker Mayfield’s rebound?
A: Love it. I’m a huge fan of Baker’s. I’ve watched him since college [Oklahoma], and I’ve gotten to know him, and what I like is that from what I see when I watch him. He’s at his best when he’s got a little chip on his shoulder and he’s got some swagger. He had that when he first got to Cleveland. We called the game on a Thursday night when he came in off the bench and brought them back [against the Jets in Week 3 of 2018] and won the game, and then things kind of went south shortly after the playoff year that he had. And he didn’t have it at the end in Cleveland, he didn’t have it in Carolina, he had it a little but in the short period of time with the Rams. But he made a bet on himself, and he’s exactly what [the Tampa Bay] organization needed because they were $80 million in dead money on the cap, and they needed a bargain price that would play like a top-10 quarterback this year. And voila! You’ve got Baker Mayfield, and that’s exactly what he did.
Q: Can Josh Allen carry the Bills, maybe past the Ravens, to a Super Bowl?
A: Yes he can. Will he? I’m not sure. But I think Josh Allen is capable of doing anything that he wants to do. This isn’t anything new. I don’t know that any organization asks more of their quarterback — maybe Baltimore, maybe it’s fitting. That team goes as far as Josh Allen takes them, and he’s been carrying them for a long time.
Q: What do you think of Texans QB C.J. Stroud?
A: Amazing. It shouldn’t happen, first-year head coach [DeMeco Ryans], first-year offensive coordinator [Bobby Slowik], rookie quarterback, and he turns the program around, they go to the playoffs. Poised beyond any rookie that I’ve seen before. He was on the biggest stage in the NFL last week [in Indianapolis] of basically a playoff game, and he performed amazingly well, so real happy for him.
Q: Were you wacko for Joe Flacco and the Browns versus Stroud and Texans on Saturday?
A: I’m really happy for [Flacco]. It’s not easy to do, to come off the couch and have the success that he’s been able to have. I didn’t do it, I didn’t take the path that he did when I retired, I didn’t come back and play and all that. I think that when you hit a certain age, he probably appreciates this moment in time more than at any other time in his career. He’s probably having the most fun he’s ever had.
Q: Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins play in the bitter cold Saturday night in Kansas City against Patrick Mahomes.
A: I think it’s going to be a real challenge, because I do love what they do offensively, and so much of that is their ability to throw the football, and it’s going to be a real test for them.
Q: Ravens-49ers is my Super Bowl pick. What are your thoughts?
A: Yeah, I think that would probably be mine. Two organizations that are as respected as any in football. Coaches that do as good a job as anyone. I’ve said this many times on our broadcast, talked to a lot of coaches, some of them have just left on their own, some of ’em have been fired from Baltimore, and yet all of ’em, to a man, rave about how that organization is run.
Starting at the top with their owner [Steve Bisciotti], [executive] Ozzie Newsome and [GM] Eric DeCosta, and then, of course, [coach] John Harbaugh. They really are I think the standard in many ways as to how their organization is run from top to bottom. I think [San Francisco’s] Kyle Shanahan is the best coach in football, I think he’s the best offensive play-caller in the game. He and [GM] John Lynch have been terrific as well. If that is the Super Bowl, that would be an amazing game to watch. Fortunately for John, he wouldn’t be facing his brother [Jim] like he did last time they were in it [Super Bowl XLVII].
Q: Lamar Jackson is the MVP, right?
A: Yeah, yeah. … The MVP race took a lot of trusts and turns as we wound down the end of the year. Dak was in the hunt, Brock Purdy was in the hunt, and Lamar just kept his foot on the pedal and kept doing what he does, and was phenomenal. I think he does ultimately win it.
Q: What do you like about Purdy?
A: I’ll say first of all, he was coached in high school by my offensive coordinator at UCLA, Steve Axman, so I know he was well-coached at that level. And it’s obvious watching him that he’s got a confidence about him. He’s a pretty quiet guy but he’s got a confidence about him that comes out when you watch him play. I just think that he’s a great fit.
In that offense, I think it’s a key for most quarterbacks in every offense, that if you make good decisions and you’re accurate with the football, you’ve got a chance to be successful, and if you can do those two things and you play in a Kyle Shanahan offense, you have a chance to win league MVP, which he did [have a chance].