You hate to give out repeat game balls. But so far this very young season, the Dallas Cowboys have had one player who has stood out from the first snap. And against Washington, he showed remarkable growth on top of the first game where he was one of the real bright spots. For his job in leading his team in an exciting, seesaw 27-23 victory that could easily have gone the other way, Dak Prescott earns his second game ball.
Had he been any other backup quarterback, it would still have been likely he would have gotten our little award. But this was his second game as a pro. When he was drafted, he was thought to be a developmental quarterback, transitioning from a college system and having to learn to play under center. It was considered a long shot for him to win the backup job away from Kellen Moore at some point this season. But as injuries to Moore and Tony Romo happened, he was suddenly thrust into becoming the starter until Romo is sufficiently recovered to reclaim his job. And his performance has been far beyond what anyone could envision when he was taken with Dallas’ supplemental fourth-round pick.
15 QB's have attempted over 60 passes so far this season. The only 2 without an INT are Drew Brees and Dak Prescott.— Jordan Ross (@CHQ_Jordan) September 19, 2016
Prescott’s work in preseason had hopes up, but it came with the caveat that we still had to see him in regular season games with defenses scheming against him. But he not only has looked the part of a legitimate NFL starter, he has just gotten better. In the pressure of playing games that count, and especially in one that was close to a must-win already, he has thrived. The game was on the line right down to the wire, and he NEVER made a crucial rookie mistake. Instead, it was Kirk Cousins, the quarterback playing on the franchise tag, who blew it late, throwing a fourth-quarter interception to Barry Church that prevented Washington from extending a three point lead. And then Prescott calmly led an 80-yard drive for the winning touchdown.
He was not the only deserving recipient of the game, just the one who had the biggest impact. Some others who must be mentioned:
Dez Bryant. After his near-shutout in the opener against the Giants, there were countless articles detailing possible solutions. These ideas included Bryant just stepping up and making plays, Prescott feeding him the ball, and the coaches scheming him open more. The answer seemed to be all of the above, as Bryant collected seven catches on twelve targets for 102 yards. He never had a huge gainer, with his longest reception being 21 yards, but he made more than one crucial catch to extend drives. And this was despite some occasionally excellent coverage. He came to prove he was still the man for the Cowboys, and he succeeded.
The defense. They were gouged too frequently, especially on long pass plays and some runs up the gut. Had Cousins not made some egregiously bad throws with wide open receivers running free, it could have been a disaster for Dallas. But they also made plays when they had to, such as Byron Jones not giving up on one long completion to prevent a touchdown, Maliek Collins running down a play from behind, a couple of sacks, and of course Church’s interception. This game, they did not let the offense down, and were on the field for the final incompletion that sealed the win. The pass rush is still a major concern, as is the linebacking unit, but things may be getting better. Ryan Davis should be ready to go at defensive end for the coming game against the Chicago Bears, and DeMarcus Lawrence (and maybe Randy Gregory) is halfway through the his suspension.
The coaches. Rod Marinelli gets credit for his bend, don’t break plan, but the real kudos go to the offensive side of the staff. They did a simply marvelous job of putting Prescott in a position to win, and except for a persistent tendency to go away from the run down close to the goal line, the play-calling was generally excellent. The most effective move they made was using play-action passes on the first play of series, which gashed Washington repeatedly. And the fourth and one call to roll Prescott out and throw it to Geoff Swaim was a thing of beauty. They are rapidly figuring out how to use their young quarterback, and it is exciting to see.
But as good as those contributions were, Prescott simply has to get this one. In the first game, he got the game ball for showing promise of what could become. Against Washington, he delivered on that promise, and now the Cowboys know they can win games without Romo taking snaps. It was a pressure situation. A second loss to open the season would have made getting back to the playoffs a terribly steep hill to climb. But now, the Cowboys sit at 1-1 and are very much in the thick of things. They go into the next game against an opponent coming off a Monday night game (for the second week in a row) with even more confidence in Prescott. What is simply astounding about him is the poise and composure he exudes on the field. He is performing far beyond what can reasonably be expected of a mid-round rookie quarterback with no experience in a pro style offense. Physical tools are important, and he clearly has those, but it is the phenomenal football intelligence and maturity he is displaying that is stunning everyone.
It is still too early to declare him the heir apparent for the starting job, but he is already amassing an impressive resume to support that idea. If he continues to develop at all like he has so far in his nascent career, that kind of thinking will no longer be seen as pie-in-the-sky homerism. It will merely be a reflection of what he is doing. There is still a long way to go for him, but let this game ball be at least partially a recognition of just how far he has come already.