Giving out a game ball in a losing effort by the Dallas Cowboys is always something of a struggle. It is something the team, like all teams, reserve for wins. But we try to single out the player that deserves the most praise in all games, so here is the game ball for the season-opening loss to the New York Giants, and it is pretty predictable: It goes to rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
Yes, he fell short at the end when he twice had a chance to drive the field and at least get the team in place to take the lead, but he also had two almost certain touchdown passes bobbled, which may have cost Dallas the win. But he had the team in the game until the final seconds, and had he gotten just a tiny bit more help from Lance Dunbar and Terrance Williams, he might have gotten them in place to try a long-distance field goal by Dan Bailey. He did seem to lose some effectiveness as the game wore on, making some high and off-target throws. That might have been him pressing a bit as the team struggled to get into the end zone. But he didn’t give up an interception, fumble the ball, or get sacked - all of which happened to Eli Manning, his seasoned opponent. What Manning was able to do better than Prescott was throw the deep ball and complete passes to receivers in the end zone.
But this was Prescott’s first ever start as a pro. And he was far from terrible.
Dak Prescott threw for more passing yards (227) than any #Cowboys QB in week 1 of their rookie season. Staubach had 2nd most with 220.— Jordan Ross (@CHQ_Jordan) September 12, 2016
Prescott was more effective than his fellow rookie, Ezekiel Elliott, who was largely stymied by the high-priced Giants defense. Surprisingly, Dallas was forced to be rather one-dimensional as the running game sputtered a bit - except when Alfred Morris was put in to better effect than Elliott. Despite this, Prescott handled his debut well.
He did rely heavily on short passes, and was clearly looking for Jason Witten and Cole Beasley all game. Each of them had as many catches (9 for Witten, 8 for Beasley) than all the rest of the receivers combined. That is something that needs to be worked on, and the blame may not be as much on Prescott as the coaching staff. The play-calling seemed conservative, with little in the way of challenging the defense vertically. This is not too surprising given the situation, but the coaches are going to have to expand things a bit if they are to get more out of Prescott in the future. The lack of efficiency running the ball also has to be addressed. It looked very much like the Giants were determined not to let Elliott hurt them, and they are heavy with talent up front. A bigger threat from the rushing game will only help Prescott.
He also did not get a great deal of help from the defense on a couple of occasions, although holding a high-powered passing attack such as the Giants boast to only 20 points is not a bad showing. It was actually the running game late that was the real dagger.
The main thing is that Prescott looked and performed like a solid NFL quarterback. He did not have any major rookie mistakes (at least none that led to turnovers), he looked to be in command on the field, and the game did not look like it was beyond him. While the ridiculous speculation about him forcing Tony Romo off the roster is now hopefully gone, there is still some hope for the future. Prescott needs to develop more, but he is off to a very solid start. As I noted in my game recap, he looks more capable of moving the team than any of the quarterbacks from last year, and that includes Romo at times, because he did not seem right for most of the limited time he played in 2015. The problems the Cowboys had in the opening game seem quite fixable. And the ability Prescott showed is the main reason why.
It would also be very difficult to name anyone else. Bailey would get the most consideration, as he was his usual flawless self. But no one else had more than a flash, like Brandon Carr’s interception or Benson Mayowa’s sack. Prescott performed well through most of the game, even if he was not able to sustain it at all times.
We now have to see if he can continue perform well. Other teams are going to try and stop him, but no team put more into improving their defense this year than the New York Giants, particularly in free agency. This was the first foray for Prescott, and there is reason to hope that things will get better as he, his teammates, and the coaches all get used to working together. It was a disappointment to see the Cowboys fall just short - but it did not dash our hopes. Prescott was good enough to make hope in the rest of the season justified - and that is enough to earn him the game ball.