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‘Let’s not try to knock the guy’: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott defends Amari Cooper’s COVID-19 vaccination status

Jori Epstein
USA TODAY

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott took issue with the question.

A reporter asked Prescott after the Cowboys’ 19-9 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday how much it hurt to be without Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper “in part because of a decision he made.”

Cooper missed the Chiefs game after he was placed Friday on the reserve/COVID-19 list. NFL policy dictates that a player who is not fully vaccinated must be away from the team a minimum of 10 days after testing positive. Per multiple reports, that is Cooper’s status.

“I mean, yeah it’s unfortunate not having him,” Prescott said. “But to say ‘the decision he made,’ I mean me (being) vaccinated, I could get out and be out two games. So let’s not try to knock the guy or put the guy down for a personal decision.”

The reporter responded to Prescott that as a vaccinated player, Prescott would not automatically be out 10 days were he to test positive for COVID-19.

“I pretty much would (be),” Prescott said. “You give me the number of people who have flashed back vaccinated or unvaccinated in that time and tested out.”

Among five Cowboys players who were fully vaccinated and contracted COVID-19, the timeline for return from the reserve/COVID-19 list has ranged from eight to 10 days. Cowboys linebacker Keanu Neal was activated 11 days after landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Cooper was placed on reserve Friday, two days before Dallas played at Kansas City and six days before Dallas host the Raiders on Thanksgiving.

Vaccinated players across the league have returned in fewer than 10 days. NFL policy dictates that vaccinated players can return after posting two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

“But that’s my teammate, that’s my brother, we’re going to support him," Prescott continued. "That’s his decision, as I said way back in training camp when you guys asked me this question. So yeah, unfortunate we’re not having him but I know he’ll come back and be beneficial for us in the late part of the season.”

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Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates with Amari Cooper #19 after a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Arlington, Texas.

The Cowboys failed to score a touchdown at Kansas City and only managed even a field goal on three of 12 possessions. Prescott lost an early fumble when Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark raced up the right end unblocked for a strip-sack. He threw two interceptions, including an end-zone pick with 1 minute remaining in the first half. Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb hit his head hard on the ground during that intercepted 38-yard heave, suffering a concussion that eliminated him from the second half.

Thus the Cowboys were without their top two receivers – and top two pass rushers and starting left tackle – for the final two periods of the loss. Lamb leads Cowboys receivers with 740 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games. Cooper has 583 yards and five touchdowns.

Prescott completed 65.1% (28 of 43) of pass attempts at Arrowhead for 216 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked five times by a Chiefs team that had previously averaged 1.4 sacks per game this season.

Prescott said it was his and his team’s responsibility to adapt to Cooper’s absence, even if the notice he’d be unavailable came Friday after the game plan had been installed. The Cowboys had missed several key pieces of their offense throughout the season, including Prescott one game to a calf strain and right tackle La’el Collins five games while suspended. They won each of those contests. And they had not been kept out of the end zone in their first nine games. Only against Denver two weeks earlier, in a 30-16 blowout that hung at 30-0 early in the fourth quarter, did the Cowboys put forward a similar caliber of wholly ineffective offensive football.

“It’s just an opportunity for other guys to step up,” Prescott said. “I mean, it’s challenging when you’re missing a guy like Amari who’s such a playmaker and dynamic. But we’ve got to be able to go out there and win without him.”

Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz led the team Sunday with six catches for 53 yards, running back Ezekiel Elliott catching six of six targets for 36 yards. Receiver Michael Gallup, typically in the Cowboys’ starting lineup with Cooper and Lamb, caught only five of 10 passes for 44 total yards.

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy declined to opine on Cooper’s vaccination status.

“Frankly, those decisions are all part of this quest that we’re under,” McCarthy said. “Those things are dealt with on an individual basis.”

McCarthy repeated that mantra when asked whether Cooper was selfish for further risking his availability by not getting vaccinated. When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed a game due to COVID-19 while unvaccinated, Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long said on FOX NFL programming that “putting your team in jeopardy…to me, is selfish.” Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also said on FOX NFL programming that he was “disappointed in some of (Rodgers’) selfish actions.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say studies show vaccination reduces the chance of severe illness from COVID-19 by 90% or more. Data from the United Kingdom showed a reduction in infection chances by 50-75%, while a preprint study in the U.K. found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are 80% effective preventing all infections with the delta coronavirus variant.

Prescott demurred when asked why Cooper shouldn’t be considered selfish for his decision.

“I never said Aaron was selfish, so I don’t get where you’re coming at asking me that question,” Prescott said. “That’s my teammate. That’s my brother. And as I said, I’ll continue to back him and support him.

“This is everyone’s personal decision, so I’m leaving it there.”

Contributing: Daniel Funke, USA TODAY

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.