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Cowboys set for dress rehearsal, a year after ‘sack’ in last year’s game ushered in new era

It’s been one year since the “hit heard ‘round the world” changed the Cowboys course forever.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

August 25th marked an exact calendar year since Dak Prescott was given the keys to the Cowboys’ organization. As the Cowboys gear up for their “dress rehearsal” game against the Raiders, it’s interesting to take a look back at all that has transpired leading up to and since last year’s contest in Seattle. It’s pretty fresh in the mind for most of us.

On August 2nd, 2016, Kellen Moore broke his right leg in practice, just eleven days before the first preseason game. That left the Cowboys with only three quarterbacks to get through the preseason in Tony Romo, Dak Prescott, and now-safety convert Jameill Showers. You could make the case at that time that it was really only two quarterbacks because Romo wasn’t going to contribute more than a few series. Just like that, Prescott was bumped up to the primary backup quarterback without a single snap played in the preseason.

After Dak was nearly perfect in his debut, his second outing against Miami was perfect and also was special for me personally. A BTB colleague was kind enough to give me tickets to the Cowboys-Dolphins exhibition. The reason it was so special was that it was the first game I was able to bring my mother to see her Cowboys following an 11-month battle to clear her cancer. It didn’t matter that we waited in the rain to get into the stadium, she was determined to see her team play no matter the stakes of the game. She was also determined to drink two of those rather large margaritas but that’s an unrelated story.

If you remember that game, Romo went four of five, had 49 passing yards that was capped off by a 15-yard Alfred Morris touchdown in a quick two series. Then Prescott came into the game with time left in the first quarter and dominated the Dolphins’ twos and threes. Looking back on that game, Dak’s first drive against the Dolphins was almost identical to his first drive against the Colts’ last week.

Both drives started at the Dallas 5-yard line and went 95 yards in seven plays, taking only three minutes and change off the clock. Even better, both drives ended with big touchdown passes to Dez Bryant. Dak also ended that game with a perfect 158.3 passer rating just like last week. Those are coincidences so beautiful that RJ Ochoa’s growing book of Cowboys’ relative theory might explode. Little did Prescott know that would only be the beginning of his incredible rookie season. Let’s fast forward to the week that changed it all.

It was scheduled to be the Cowboys’ “dress rehearsal” for the starters but three plays into that game, it turned into a cruel nightmare. Romo, the ultimate competitor, scrambled to his left on a broken play, trying to create his textbook magic he was known for but was crunched from behind on a sliding attempt gone wrong. Revisionists will immediately question his decision-making in a meaningless preseason game but it’s hard for these guys to turn it off in the heat of the moment.

For Cowboys enthusiasts, it was a devastating deja vu seeing their season’s hopes face down on the Seattle field, clutching his back. It was an all too familiar sight and even in an away game, that vision sucked the air out of Century Link as well as the millions of homes watching it unfold.

Though he got back up, tried to re-enter the game, and assured reporters that he “dodged a bullet”, Romo’s preseason was over after 16 snaps and his time as the starter ended there, too. Once the X-rays revealed another broken bone in his back, Romo only gave one public statement for the rest of the year. It was a heartfelt concession speech following eight straight wins by Prescott and company.

In a matter of three weeks last preseason, Dak Prescott went from a developing third-string quarterback who struggled in practice to rookie starter (first since 2001) for the most visible franchise in sports. Folks outside of the Cowboys’ market will never truly understand just how historic Dak’s rise to stardom was.

The stars did more than just align for this to become a reality. Think about all the questions that attached themselves to this team following a collapse in 2015. The Cowboys resembled an aging team that was in danger of suffering the same fate in the years that followed Troy Aikman’s retirement. They were supposed to be one potential hit away from another lost season but when that hit came, Prescott flipped the script.

Just like he had done in high school and college, Dak inherited the starting job with low expectations. He turned low expectations into miraculous achievements such as leading the Mississippi State Bulldogs to a first-place ranking for the first time in their 110-year existence. Prescott took over the Cowboys, tied the franchise record for wins in a season while winning Rookie of the Year, getting named to a Pro Bowl, and finishing third in Total QBR. The two better passers faced off in this past Super Bowl.

The Cowboys will play the Oakland Raiders Saturday night in their dress rehearsal game, Dak’s first as the incumbent starter. For Romo, he was supposed to make his CBS debut this week but it was postponed due to the birth of his third son. In a year’s time, the whole landscape of the Cowboys’ organization has changed.

They went from a team trying to capitalize in the twilight of their franchise quarterback’s career while his body was breaking down to having their entire championship aspirations rejuvenated by youth.

In reference to Tony Romo, a close friend, and loyal Romo supporter, once told me the worst thing for an NFL quarterback is to be unlucky. Now, Romo had to have at least a little luck to go from undrafted to fifth all-time in NFL passer rating while breaking every franchise passing record. Regardless if folks believe in luck or not, there is a bit of beauty and truth in that statement.

If the element of luck does exist in football, the Dallas Cowboys most definitely possessed plenty of it in their unexpected success of last season. The story of these two quarterback’s paths is a remarkable one that is far from finished. One’s enjoying his growing family while pursuing a new venture, the other is embracing the opportunity and responsibility as the new face for “America’s Team”. What a difference a year makes and to think it all traces back to the last sack Tony Romo would ever take.

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