Dallas Cowboys  


Dak Prescott's resilience lifts Dallas ... and cements starting job?


ARLINGTON, Texas -- If Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott really does keep Tony Romo on the bench, this is the game that will be remembered as the turning point. We've heard the talk about karma, good luck, not messing with a winning streak. This, however, was something far more meaningful -- and tangible, to boot. This was Prescott showing the world what he's really made of, and what that could mean to a team that learns a little more about itself with every passing week.

The Cowboys' 29-23 overtime win over Philadelphia on Sunday night marked the sixth straight time Prescott has led this team to victory. What made this one so special was that it didn't come easy for the rookie quarterback. The Eagles beat him up time and again, forced a red-zone interception that was easily one of Prescott's worst decisions of the season and held a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter. This easily could've been the time for skeptics to say Prescott's surprising run from fourth-round pick to impressive emergency starter finally was ending. Instead, he added one more point to the argument that he should keep playing as long as this team keeps winning.

This wasn't about numbers, because Prescott was fairly mediocre in that department (he completed 19 of his 39 attempts for 287 yards, with two touchdowns and that pick). This was about a quarterback believing in himself, a team rallying behind his confidence and a new era in Dallas continuing to blossom right before our eyes.

"I'm not going to stop," Prescott said when asked what he proved on Sunday night. "I don't care how bad I play or what I do -- I'm not going to give up. I've got unbelievable teammates who give me confidence no matter what I've done. That's what we shared on the sidelines. I've got their back and they've got mine. And we just all continue to fight."

Until now, this particular writer had a hard time believing Romo wouldn't return to the Cowboys lineup once the injured back that has sidelined him all season finally healed. He was the proven starter, the 14th-year veteran, the star signal caller who seemed to be tailor-made to play for a team owned by Jerry Jones. Prescott's emergence was a nice story and he certainly has a bright future ahead of him. It just felt like he was holding down a spot that he eventually would have to give up.

Today, it feels like the players in that Cowboys locker room are falling in love with Prescott every week. They're watching him grow up with each win and his numbers -- he entered Sunday's game with a dazzling passer rating of 103.9 -- indicate that he's doing more than simply avoiding mistakes. Simply put, the dude can flat-out play. If that's not enough, his ability to play has kept this team on top of the NFC East with a 6-1 record.

It's fair to say there are plenty of players in that Dallas locker room who vividly remember how this team cratered last season after Romo was lost to two collarbone fractures over the course of the season. The success Prescott has enjoyed only can make him more magical in their eyes as a result. The only thing players love more than talent is dependability. If they can find both in a quarterback, then it's hard to tell them there's a better option elsewhere. Jones acknowledged as much while talking about the way Prescott overcame his mistakes to rally Dallas to the win.

"He personifies the team," Jones said. "He did have his challenges (and) Philadelphia had a lot to do with that. We know what Philadelphia did last week (the Eagles had six sacks in a 21-10 win over Minnesota). They gave us all we could handle. ... Dak had his challenges, but when it mattered -- not that the whole game didn't matter -- he came through."

Prescott obviously was at his best in the final minutes of regulation and the first possession of overtime. The Cowboys trailed, 23-16, when they started a drive on their own 10-yard line with 6:26 left in the game. That possession became even more difficult when a holding penalty erased a 63-yard gain and put Dallas in a first-and-20 hole. Ten plays later, Prescott lofted a perfectly thrown pass that Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant snatched for a 22-yard, game-tying touchdown.

Prescott was just as steady after Dallas won the coin toss to start overtime. He engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in that situation, one that culminated with him spinning away from pressure, rolling to his left and finding tight end Jason Witten alone in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown that ended the game. It was a play that was eerily reminiscent of something Romo has pulled off countless times. It involved improvisation, an instinctive feel for the moment and an invaluable faith that something good would result from simply trying to make a play.

A less confident player might have been more cautious in that moment, especially one who had been rattled by the Eagles earlier in the game (they sacked Prescott twice and hurried him on several other plays). He proved he was ready to embrace the challenge. As Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, "That's what he's demonstrated since Day 1. Just to be able to handle any situation with poise and composure ... He plays with the same mentality, the same demeanor, the same temperament regardless of what's happened before. The best players I've been around are able to do that. He was outstanding at the end of this ballgame."

Prescott was so good that he likely made a growing quarterback controversy one that will only become more heated in the coming weeks. Prescott, for his part, has publicly said this team belongs to Romo. Jones and Garrett have been patiently waiting for Romo to heal while also praising the way Prescott has handled the opportunity. Jones also made it clear after the game that this is still a hypothetical argument until Romo actually receives permission to play again.

When asked about his quarterback situation, Jones said, "Tony isn't ready to play. That is subject to Jason Garrett making the decision. But as far as the health issue is concerned of Tony, there is no need to push it that fast. It's much more about Tony than it is about any of the other issues."

So Jones and Garrett have a convenient excuse to avoid some likely drama for at least another week. Prescott will start at Cleveland in the Cowboys' next game, and Romo will keep working on his health. Given the lack of talent on the winless Browns' roster, the Cowboys are almost certain to stretch that winning streak to seven games. Once that happens, there will be more questions about Romo's future and the role Prescott will play in it.

There used to be a time when it was sheer folly to imagine Prescott being in a position to take Romo's job. The very idea of it meant Jones and Garrett would have to seriously weigh the big-picture implications in such a move, the most notable being that Romo's time in Dallas might be done.

But things can change quickly in the NFL, as the folks who remember Tom Brady's rise in New England certainly attest. It's far too early to predict a similar career path for Prescott, but this much we do know: It's much harder to see him back on the bench after the way Sunday night ended.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.



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