Now into the NFL postseason, there are a handful of candidates who really stand out for Comeback Player of the Year—most notably Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
Looking at the latter candidate, Prescott didn’t have an entirely perfect season and neither did the Cowboys' offense—the playoffs came to a quick close for Dallas when it fell 23-17 to the San Francisco 49ers in wild-card weekend action. But that close loss hardly illustrates what Prescott accomplished this past season. The fact he was able to make it through the year without being once again sidelined for a significant amount of time with an injury issue is impressive in itself considering Prescott suffered a gruesome compound fracture and dislocated ankle in October of the 2020 season.
Prescott dealt with other minor injuries including a strained shoulder ahead of the season and did miss one game (against the Minnesota Vikings) with a calf strain, so the adversity extended beyond the major injury of the previous season, but the quarterback was able to work through it and put together a largely successful year.
He ended the 2021 season with a completion percentage of 68.8%, a single-season career-high for him on 596 passing attempts, which is tied for the most passes he’s attempted in a single season. Prescott passed for 4,449 yards (his second-highest total in a single season), 37 touchdowns (single-season career-high), and 10 interceptions.
Two of his best games were in the opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he completed 42-of-58 passes (72.4%) for 403 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 31-29 loss and in the 51-26 blowout win over the Philadelphia Eagles in January when he completed 21-of-27 passes (77.8%) for 295 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The five touchdown passes in the victory over the Eagles was a single-game career-high for him and brought his season total to 37, which broke the franchise record for most touchdown passes in a season, previously owned by former Cowboys standout Tony Romo.
So, who deserves the title more between Prescott and Burrow? It’s a hard question to answer. Looking strictly at the numbers and the situations both players are overcoming, it’s incredibly close.
Coming off a severe leg injury that required reconstructive knee surgery after tearing his ACL and MCL, accompanied by extensive recovery and rehabilitation time from the 2020 season, Burrow also led his team to a playoff berth as he completed 70.4% of his passes for 4,611 yards with 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on 520 passing attempts. That’s fewer touchdown passes and more interceptions than Prescott, but certainly not enough to be a deciding factor or make a major difference. Both players had some big-time moments and set records this year—Burrow already has several accolades on just the second year of his NFL career, most notably shattering the franchise record for most passing yards in a single game after he threw for 525 yards through the air in the 41-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens, which is also tied for the fourth-most passing yards in a single game in NFL history.
While Prescott and the Cowboys prepare to get back to the drawing board, the Bengals will prepare themselves to face the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs after a 26-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in which Burrow can continue to distinguish himself as one of the NFL’s top passers.
But what’s less distinguishable right now is the clear-cut answer to who deserves to be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in a race that’s almost too close to call.