DALLAS — Spending championship weekend watching the final four teams battle it out for the right to go to the Super Bowl is not what the Dallas Cowboys wanted. After a 6-1 start, and winning five of their last six games, the hope was that the Cowboys would be preparing for their first NFC title game in 26 years.
A disappointing wild-card loss to San Francisco proved that this would not be the year. However, before moving onto the 2022 season, let’s take a final look back at some of the top performers for the Cowboys from what was an overall compelling turnaround campaign for Dallas.
Offensive Player of the Year: Dak Prescott
Despite the Cowboys, and Prescott somewhat, being slowed down the stretch, the sixth-year quarterback had an incredible season. Coming off a serious ankle injury where no one was sure if he’d return to form as one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Prescott showed that he could be as good as ever.
Prescott threw for a franchise record 37 touchdown passes and helped lead the Cowboys to the top scoring offense in the league.
Prescott ranked tied for fourth in TDs, third in quarterback rating, and threw just 10 interceptions. Not only was Prescott the best offensive player for the Cowboys, but he might also win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award after returning from his horrific injury.
Defensive Player of the Year: Micah Parsons
After collecting the most interceptions in a season since 1981, cornerback Trevon Diggs has a case for this award, but there wasn’t a better defensive player on the Cowboys than Parsons. The rookie was drafted as a linebacker, but he wound up playing multiple places on the defense due to injuries and he excelled wherever Dallas slotted him.
Parsons led the defense in sacks with 13, which ranked sixth in the league, and he finished second in the league in tackles for a loss with 20. The premiere defensive chess piece for the Cowboys was a disruptive force who did whatever the team asked, earning himself the Defensive Rookie of the Year, as well the overall Rookie of the Year.
The Cowboys might have been eyeing other options with their first-round pick in the NFL draft, but they wound up getting one of the best rookie defenders that the game has seen in a long time.
Coach of the Year: Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn
The Cowboys were putrid on the defensive side of the ball in 2020, where former coordinator Mike Nolan turned out to be a disaster. The Cowboys went about trying to fix that by bringing in Quinn, who formerly led the Seattle Seahawks and their famed Legion of Boom.
Quinn proved he was the right hire as Dallas bounced back on defense by improving in every area of the unit. The biggest impact Quinn made was via a relentless thirst for turnovers, where the Cowboys led the league with 34 takeaways, including 26 interceptions.
Quinn also helped the Cowboys top 40 sacks (41) for the first time since 2011. The turnaround saw Quinn recognized as the Assistant Coach of the Year throughout the entire league.
Most Improved Player: Cedrick Wilson
Wilson exploded with the extra opportunity after filling in for an injured wide receiver Michael Gallup, setting career-highs in catches (45), yards (602) and touchdowns (6). The third-year receiver also went 3-3 on gadget passing attempts, which added an extra dimension to the offense.
Bigger than his statistics, Wilson also came through when the Cowboys needed him most. The 73-yard touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings was the biggest play in that contest, and his fourth down completions against the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals were just a few of the key plays Wilson made in crunch time.
The Cowboys needed someone to step up when Gallup went down this year and Wilson answered the call, making sure the offense didn’t skip a beat.
Play of the Year: Overtime winner in New England
Prescott’s 35-yard scoring strike to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb to beat the Patriots had Cowboys fans thinking that this could be a different year for the team. The game-winning touchdown concluded a game where Dallas wasn’t playing perfect football but found a way to win in a hostile environment.
The winning touchdown was one of the best highlights from the season as the Cowboys went into their bye week riding high.
Season MVP: Parsons
The Cowboys had a massive turnaround on defense, despite missing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for most of the season, as well as defensive end Randy Gregory, who missed 5 games.
Parsons gave an impact performance in whatever role Dallas needed from him, whether it be snuffing out difficult schemes from his linebacker position, rushing the passer, or even dropping back into coverage.
Parsons was beyond even what the Cowboys could have hoped for when they drafted him and he was consistently the best player on the field all season long.
Who do you think was the best player on the Cowboys in 2021? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.