It’s December, so there has to be something for Dallas Cowboys fans to worry about. This year, it is the concern that the bloom is off the rose with Dak Prescott. With the loss to the New York Giants, the calls to move to veteran Tony Romo have returned. Although Jason Garrett has stated unequivocally that he is sticking with the rookie starter, Jerry Jones was typically equivocal in his latest remarks on the subject. The season is now teetering on the brink... except, of course, it isn’t teetering at all.
The Cowboys are still assured of a playoff spot. They have a two game lead for both the NFC East crown and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, with only three games left to play. They do face some tough opponents to finish out the season, but they just need to get two wins out of the final stretch to lock everything up, no matter what anyone else does.
Perhaps this level of concern over one loss happens in all fan bases, or maybe it is just something that we go through. Whatever the answer to that is, the coming game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is even more important than it was before the decision was made to flex it to Sunday night. A win will quiet the unrest (hopefully), but another loss will raise concern to something akin to panic.
Undoubtedly Jones’ typical stream of consciousness remarks were not precisely helpful. Still, there is a certain kernel of truth in them: You can never rule anything completely out in advance. The team is all in on Prescott, and that has been the message all along. But that does not mean that there is no circumstance where they would not make a switch. If total collapse was looming, or if Prescott was clearly unable to recover some of the excellent play that led to the eleven-game winning streak, the option to put Romo back in there remains.
That is still highly unlikely. The disappointing loss to the Giants was not just on Prescott. There were other failures by the offense, as outlined by Rivers McCown in his post at Football Outsiders. It was an atypically poor performance across the board by the offense combined with a really outstanding effort by the Giants’ defense. Now the coaching staff in Dallas has to get all those issues fixed. Just plugging in Romo, who has not played in an NFL game in over a year, is not going to automatically fix things.
Obviously, it will take at least one more game to know if there is something truly broken at this point, and given the marked contrast between how the team played last game and some of the earlier performances, that seems a fairly remote possibility. This Sunday should go a long way in demonstrating what the best course forward is. A smart bet would be that Prescott will still be the starter the following week.
There is one way in which Romo could be called on, and just because I am your typical superstitious fan at heart, it is hard to even bring it up. But the “blueprint” to beat the Cowboys clearly seems to feature a lot of pressure on Prescott, which brings the risk of the dreaded “I” word. We earnestly hope that is not how it turns out, but it still lurks.
If that can be avoided, then all efforts the next three weeks are going to be focused on correcting and improving the offense. We aren’t going to see Romo as a part of that until, as Jerry Jones put it, we see it.
The frustration and fear from fans is fed, at least, by that winning streak. There was so much promise there, and the loss in New York has completely suppressed that. A strong bounce-back game will alleviate the angst, at least to a degree. Part of the issue appears to be that Prescott is an unheralded late-fourth-round pick with such a limited resume. With concerns about things like the rookie wall and the rest of the league finally getting some video accumulated to break his game down, there is just not the kind of faith that more experienced quarterbacks who have led their teams to a lot of wins inspire. The run the Cowboys had between the two Giants games seemed unreal at times, and that makes it hard to think it is not going to end. Additionally, there will always be some doubt about the leadership and decision-making of Jason Garrett unless he wins it all one year. Having Jerry Jones as the owner and GM just adds to that skepticism. But as much fun as being an armchair GM or coach can be, it is more often an exercise in creating that frustration. All NFL teams make mistakes, even the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick. The Dallas fan base should be glad they are mostly worried about preserving the top seed in the conference, rather than wondering who will be the new head coach, like the Los Angeles Rams’ followers are already having to do, and as several other teams are going to be facing in a few weeks.
Remember, the Cowboys were never supposed to be at this point to begin with. Romo’s injury was thought to be too damaging for the team to lead the NFC in mid-December. And even after he returned, many did not expect him to hold up for long with his injury history. Even if the offense was able to play well, no one expected the defense to hold up its end of the bargain, but frankly, the defense has been the strength of the team in the past two games. Sean Lee in particular has become an absolute seek-and-destroy machine on the field, and there were highly encouraging signs of creating turnovers and getting more pressure on the quarterback as well.
The quarterback controversy is going to rage unless and until the offense starts playing well again. Even if the Cowboys win two of the last three games, if those are somewhat close wins, there will still be a portion of the fan base and the media that will continue to call for Romo to take the reins in the playoffs. It is just the nature of the beast for Dallas fans. You can try and take some comfort that Garrett has a plan in place to finish out the season. The only real problem is if that plan doesn’t yield the desired results. Then we can look to a long and rancorous offseason. And won’t that be fun?