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Cowboys Drop Preseason Opener To Rams 28-24, But Dak Prescott Was Literally Perfect

The defensive backups could not hold onto a 17 point lead, but that is not the big story.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Rookie jitters?Nope. Nope nope nope.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

There is one thing to remember about this game. It is the preseason. When the regular season starts, the won-loss record for these contests will mean exactly nothing. In the most successful season of recent years, the Dallas Cowboys went 0-4 before putting up a 12-4 regular season. So don’t read to much in the final 28-24 score, even if it represents a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

But the Cowboys scored a win of another sort during the first quarter of the game.

That may be the biggest thing to come out of the game.

Oh, yeah, the game.

It is still easy to get excited when it is the first live action for the Cowboys all year, and Lucky Whitehead got things off with a real blast, taking the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. That was good news for a team that has seen some very spotty play from its special teams the past few preseasons.

And then it was time for Dak Prescott to come out. His premiere was one of the most anticipated things about this game for Dallas fans. How did it go?

OK, I guess.

It is key to remember that Prescott was playing with the ones. Although not all the starters were on the field, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley were. They all had key receptions, including a patented Bryant touchdown and another to Williams on an absolutely perfect throw from the rookie QB. What those stats do not reveal is the poise and composure Prescott showed. After the backup offensive line came in, he did not make an egregious mistake. And with third and 26 after some penalties, he tucked the ball and ran for fourteen yards to set up the very accurate Dan Bailey for a 44 yard field goal.

I know, I know, it is the preseason. But it is very hard to not think that Prescott already looks like a far better backup for Tony Romo than anything the Cowboys had last season - or could likely find this year. There are still three preseason games to go, and it is hard to imagine he will not come down from that start (statistically, he just about has to), but you cannot ask for a better start than he had.

The contrast between Prescott and (very costly) first round pick Jeff Goff was noticeable. Goff looked much like a rookie in his first NFL action, with an interception shortly after he came in. Prescott just looked like the better player through the first half. Goff did get a little something going late in the first half, but that was partly on the defense. He was let down a bit by some drops by receivers, however, so the future is not completely dark for the Rams.

And the defense was a problem. They did get that interception by using a blitz from Derek Akunne to pressure Goff into a bad throw that Mark Nzeocha picked off, but also gave up some big plays, especially on the Rams’ lone scoring drive (with Chase Keenum under center). But they also came up with a couple of big plays to close out the half, with J.J. Wilcox separating Pharoh Cooper from the ball close to the goal line, and then new defensive lineman Shaneil Jenkins got one of those much desired sacks on a stunt. It must be noted that Wilcox was not looking good at all before that play.

The formula for the Cowboys to win this season is that the offense will be dominant and the defense will make some opportune plays. That was exactly how things went during the first half as Dallas stormed to a 24-7 lead. You have to feel a bit good about that, and hope it was not just because of the opponent.

It must be said that the most disturbing thing about the Cowboys’ defense was the repeated broken tackles. That was illustrated clearly by a 39 yard run by Malcolm Brown on the Ram’s opening drive of the second half. He should have been stopped after five yard gain or so, but he just bounced off tacklers and set up the eventual touchdown.

After Prescott’s somewhat stunning start, Jameill Showers had a much rougher beginning. There were some penalties and dropped balls, and an incomplete dump off to Darius Jackson that was erroneously ruled a fumble at first. But then he came out and pulled a full Romodini, spinning out of what should have been a sack, keeping his knee from going down, and then finding Vince Mayle for a 47 yard completion. It would come to naught as the Cowboys failed to convert a fourth and one in the red zone, but it was a good play for him.

The game degenerated into the sloppy affair that these games often become as the second half progressed with the Cowboys getting far too many penalties, but the defense came up with another interception early in the fourth, this one thrown by Sean Mannion and picked by Deji Olatoye, and again assisted by pressure from a blitz, courtesy of Jeremiah McKinnon. Showers was not bad. On most nights, his performance as a very inexperience quarterback would have been judged fairly respectable.

But this was the Dak Prescott show. He was very, very good. That is deliberately being very stingy with the adjectives, because you can justify just about any superlative you want. He was playing against most of the Rams’ starters early, and the defense is the strength of their team. He simply looked more like a top-tier veteran quarterback than a rookie who was not taken until the tail end of the fourth round. If the debate about using him as the backup quarterback was hot before, it is going to be a full conflagration now. If he can maintain just a close approximation of the level of play he put on the field in his debut, it is hard to imagine what the arguments would be against him getting the job.

The Rams came back in the second half with Mannion at QB, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to get the lead and the win. The inability to get off the field by the defense was disturbing and raised the specter of the leads surrendered repeatedly in 2015, but scores don’t really matter in these things. They are about evaluating players, mostly the downroster ones. The Dallas staff has a lot to look over, as there were certainly several bad performances among the players vying for a job, and some that advanced cases. But Prescott’s remarkable showing overshadows everything else. It was something to remember, and that made this a very rare preseason game indeed.

Just watch this if you don’t agree.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB