FRISCO, Texas -- Mike McCarthy needed Dak Prescott. Prescott needed McCarthy.

Their first year together as Dallas Cowboys playcaller and quarterback has been an unqualified success. Prescott led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes. The Cowboys led the NFL in scoring with 29.9 points per game. Prescott completed a career-high 69.9% of his passes. The Cowboys were fifth in yards per game (371.6).

As the Cowboys enter the playoffs Sunday against the Green Bay Packers (4:25, p.m. ET, Fox), McCarthy and Prescott are tasked with being their best when the stakes are the highest or else the regular-season numbers will seem hollow.

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"Being able to work with him hand-in-hand each and every day -- about the game plan, about the playcall, the playcaller purpose -- I know what he's thinking. He knows my strengths, what I'm trying to get to," Prescott said. "We know the strengths of this offense and the players around me. It's been fun."

When McCarthy decided to make himself the playcaller and move on from Kellen Moore, who over a seven-year span was Prescott's teammate, position coach and coordinator, there were questions about how it would make the offense better.

While the bulk of his time as the playcaller when he was the Packers' head coach was a statistical success, the ending for McCarthy was difficult. Before he was fired in 2018, his offense was deemed stale and predictable.

In 2023, Prescott was coming off a season in which he tied for the league lead in interceptions with 15 despite missing five games with a broken thumb. Prescott wasn't broken, but he needed help.

McCarthy believed in himself.

In a way, he was betting on himself.

"I've never thought about betting on myself. Is there a line on there?" McCarthy quipped. "It's legal now, right?

"No, I think it's like every season you go through an evaluation process and there's things that you're looking at during the year and just felt that that was the best choice for the team. And I'm enjoying it."

Not all of the interceptions last season were Prescott's fault, but they were an issue, even though he hadn't had a turnover problem his first six seasons. While he has faced constant questions about where he ranks in the quarterback hierarchy across the NFL, there was a different intensity this time beyond his ability to take the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.

With Mike McCarthy calling plays, Dak Prescott led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes. Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Prescott believed in himself.

"For me, just about staying true to myself, keep working and not allowing other people's opinions -- critics, really -- affect my game and the way that I approach this," Prescott said.

With McCarthy as his playcaller, Prescott had the best season of his career. He cut his interceptions from 15 to nine. His interception percentage (1.5%) tied for the second best of his career. He completed a career-best 69.9% of his passes.

"If you've asked any offensive playcaller, that relationship's imperative to success," McCarthy said. "I think that's being Captain Obvious. Everybody does it differently. I'm calling it and he's hauling it -- that's what Dak likes to say, and that's the way it has to go. That connection takes extra time, we put the time in early through camp. It's worked out well and I think the proof is in the numbers."

Before McCarthy became Prescott's playcaller this season, they already had a strong relationship. When Prescott suffered a fractured and dislocated right ankle in 2020, McCarthy's first season in Dallas, the coach drove the quarterback home after a rehab session. They spent hours talking about football and life.

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They have grown tighter this year with their new partnership. Brandin Cooks saw it with Drew Brees and Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots and Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams.

"I want to say throughout the offseason, the amount of time they spent together, obviously that's the quarterback, but it was on a whole other level," Cooks said. "Just the respect they have for one other, you can clearly see it from the way he coaches him and the way Dak responds to the coaching. ... Any great quarterback/head coach duo, it has to be like that."

On Thursday nights, a couple of hours after meetings end, Prescott and McCarthy meet in the coach's office. They go over the game plan once again and focus in on what the quarterback wants and does not want called on game day. They cover the drive-starting plays and the situational moments, but it's more than that.

"You got a two-hour meeting, half-an-hour to 40 minutes is partly football, the other is about life," McCarthy said. "That's imperative, it's a big part of it."

To Prescott, it's one of the best parts of his weekly preparation.

"Just somebody that obviously I can learn from, [he's] seen a lot in life, seen a lot in this game," Prescott said. "Sometimes it's the history in the game. Sometimes it's me looking ahead to fatherhood. So he's just been a great friend, obviously a great coach, and I think that's what these Thursdays are about. This won't be no different. ... I usually leave that, and usually I'm late for the O-line dinner, depending on how long we go."