Before we discuss the game ball for this week, take a moment to savor this. The Dallas Cowboys are 9-1. Coming off a 4-12 year, with the starting quarterback they planned on now relegated to being a backup, and key players sitting on the sideline every week. Now they have reached a record that is significant: No team that has gotten to 9-1 has ever missed the playoffs.
And today’s game ball has to go to the player that is so significant, both in what he has done all season and what he did against the Baltimore Ravens. Dak Prescott continues to build a case as the league MVP, much less Rookie of the Year. And his biggest competition for both those awards is that other rookie in the backfield. Ezekiel Elliott had 97 yards rushing on 25 carries against the best defense in the league (as we were reminded ad nauseum all week long leading up to the game) and added 30 yards catching the ball. But that strong performance pales beside the stat line Prescott put up on the Ravens’ D: 27 for 36 and 301 yards passing, three touchdowns, and this:
Dak 6-6 in 4th quarter today, 20-22 in 4th quarter in last 3 games— Bob Thomas (@dcstats) November 20, 2016
It is becoming clear that Prescott just gets better as the game progresses, and may be doing the same over the course of the entire season. After three consecutive punts while Dallas seemed to need time to figure out the Baltimore defense, he led the team to five consecutive scores and a comfortable ten-point margin of victory that now has the team at a +98 point differential on the year.
Above and beyond that, he was completely unfazed by the furor surrounding the stunning speech given by Tony Romo accepting his new role as the backup. After a week that was unlike anything in memory, he just called on that preternatural poise that he has displayed all season. He out-dueled a Super Bowl winning quarterback (the second in a row, by the way). And he did nothing to put the decision to keep him as the starter in any doubt. The idea of a rookie quarterback being able to lead his team to the Super Bowl is seeming less and less far-fetched with every victory.
It looked a bit shaky as the Cowboys were facing a 7-0 deficit in the second quarter, and then after getting good field position, found themselves in a real hole with a first and 30 at their own 28 after consecutive penalties. But he handled that with his now-familiar aplomb, completing three passes to get them a first and goal at the Baltimore 7-yard line on a beautiful 41-yard pass to Brice Butler. It took a marvelous contested catch by Butler, but no one is claiming Prescott is doing it all by himself. This is a team effort, but on offense, there is no question Prescott is the leader. And everyone is responding to him.
Once the Cowboys tied it up, then tied it again just before halftime, it was clear that the game was on. And when the defense got off the field after the first series of the second half, Dallas began to roll, scoring on all three possessions of the second half while burning off the clock with impressive, methodical efficiency. They seized the initiative and did not surrender it, despite one more touchdown by the Ravens. Smart coaching down the stretch helped, but for the last two and a half quarters of the game, Prescott delivered without fail. He got all the usual suspects involved, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams, as well as setting up the always reliable Dan Bailey twice. The best defense in the league coming into the game could not stop him and the offense from putting up another 400-yard performance.
It is still hard to believe this is a rookie taken with the 135th-overall selection. And while it seems a little unbalanced to give him his third game ball of the season, he gets this one for the most basic of reasons. He earned it.