EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Few players have enjoyed as much success against the Giants in recent years as Dallas' Dak Prescott, but the visitors will be happy to see him take the field when the teams meet Sunday in AT&T Stadium.
In Week 5 one year ago, Prescott suffered a gruesome injury on the same field when his right ankle bent awkwardly as he was being tackled by Giants safety Logan Ryan, resulting in a compound fracture. Prescott is now playing as if he was never hurt while leading the Cowboys to a 3-1 start. His 75.2 completion percentage is second in the NFL, and he has thrown 10 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. Not coincidentally, Dallas is fourth in the NFL in scoring (31.5 points a game) and third in yardage (420.8 a game).
"He looks really good," Ryan said. "He looks healthy, great and he looks like he's operating as one of the best quarterbacks in football (with) just how they're moving the ball and the command he has, great command at the line of scrimmage. You've got to root for a guy that's a good guy and had a tough injury, obviously. You've got to root for stories like that. I just love playing against Dak because he's a competitor and I am and we are, so I think we have to lead our units, go out there and play the game.
"Between me and him, I'm happy that he's back, I'm happy that he's operating at a high level because when you've played the game for years and you've won some Super Bowls and you've had contracts, I think what keeps you in the game is the competition. You want to compete against the best. I think that's why everyone wants to play against Tom Brady, and they want to play against the best. Dak's one of the best right now, so we want to play against him and we want to play well. He's a great challenge."
A nine-year NFL veteran, Ryan was asked if "anything stays in your mind" when a tackle results in an injury to the player he brought down.
"I think it depends on your intent," Ryan said. "I think last year was just a freakish play, a gruesome injury, but it was a freakish play. It was a tackle I've made over 500 times in my career and that one just felt different. To me, I didn't put much beyond the fact of just hoping that he – it was just unfortunate, really. But for me, it was just, if I had any ill intent or malicious or try to hurt somebody, then I probably couldn't sleep well at night. Knowing it was a normal play between two competitors, you've got to call it what it is and move on and try to come back better for it."
Prescott lost his first two starts against the Giants as a rookie in 2016. He then led the Cowboys to seven consecutive victories against their division rivals. The Giants beat Dallas in the 2020 season finale when Andy Dalton started at quarterback. Prescott has thrown 17 touchdown passes, four and six more, respectively, than he's thrown against Washington and Philadelphia in the NFC East.
Soon after their encounter on the field ended with an unfortunate result, Ryan asked his publicist to send Prescott two books, Kobe Bryant's biography, "The Mamba Mentality: How I Play," and "Relentless," by Tim Grover, a sports performance consultant.
"I knocked them out," Prescott told USA TODAY. "Pretty quick. I read both of those in the sense of, I mean, probably two months. Those first couple months not doing anything, just laying up."
Ryan was not just throwing darts, hoping to hit something that would help Prescott. The books had comforted him under similar circumstances. When he played for the Tennessee Titans in 2018, Ryan fractured his left fibula, ironically in a game against the Giants. He returned the next year to start all 19 games and recorded career regular-season highs of 113 tackles and 4.5 sacks as the Titans advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
Ryan said it was "really great to hear" that the encouragement had helped Prescott.
"Sending him books and all that, I've just been in a similar situation breaking my leg and kind of a guy that's always been go, go, go having some time to injury, whatever it may be – they put you in a cast and say you can't do anything for this many weeks, you don't want your mind to go stale," Ryan said. "So, I had some books to help me get through it and I sent him some books, and apparently it helped him get through it. That was obviously my goal and intention, and just wanted him to come back a great quarterback and he is."
Ryan is such a generous guy; he's figured out how Prescott can pay him back for his kindness.
"He can throw the ball right to me on the first play and we'll call it a truce and we're good to go," Ryan said. "Then we can kick the game off and they'll be down 7-0."
*Graham Gano's team record and NFL-long streak of 37 consecutive field goals ended when he pulled a 35-yard attempt wide left in New Orleans. How stunned was special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey to see his kicker miss an attempt for the first time in more than a year?
"Just like the question, it's like, 'Really, Graham?'" McGaughey said. "You know (laughs)? Graham made what, almost 40 kicks in a row or whatever it was, right? It's bound to happen, you know what I mean? I wasn't expecting him to miss that one, but it happened. He came right off the field and said, 'Well, got to start another one.' It is what it is. He's got to start another streak and he's a pro, he'll move on and it's a small thing to a giant."
McGaughey did not have a long discussion with Gano before or after the kick.
"I don't say anything to Graham during the game," McGaughey said. "He figured it out. He's been doing it long enough. He knew exactly what he did as soon as he walked off. That's just one of those situations, he got overanxious, too quick, close to the ball, pulled it. Just one of those deals, it's football."
*Hamstring injuries prevented three Giants players from practicing Thursday: wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton and safety Jabrill Peppers.
Coach Joe Judge said "not really" when asked if he had a better feel for the wideouts' potential availability on Sunday. Neither played last week in New Orleans.
"What we're going to do today is we're going to let them move around a little more," Judge said. "Yesterday was kind of a little toned down for them. Today will be kind of the ramp-up there with the trainers early on. We should have a pretty strong feeling coming out of today as what we think. We'll see if we can get them to practice tomorrow, and then maybe they'll come finish out practice today. We'll have to see how it goes with the trainers early on."
Five players were limited: offensive linemen Andrew Thomas (foot) and Ben Bredeson (hand), tight end Kaden Smith (knee), defensive lineman Leonard Williams (knee) and defensive back Nate Ebner (quad).
Running back Saquon Barkley (knee) and wide receivers Kenny Golladay (groin) and C.J. Board (clavicle) practiced fully.
View photos from Thursday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 5 matchup against the Cowboys.