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When looking at Dak Prescott’s future, a comparison to Tony Romo’s past is instructive

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Have passed judgment on Dak Prescott too soon?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

One of the most heavily debated topics among Dallas fans over the last several years has been centered around Cowboys great Tony Romo. The love for Romo is so real that there were many that weren’t ready to let him go. And can you blame them? His last healthy season back in 2014 was one of the best years of his career. Romo threw 34 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Despite the team being a dominant rushing squad, Romo still had one of his highest yards per attempt seasons and finished with a career high 113.2 passer rating. He was brilliant.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

Romo had dug himself a hole plenty of times in his career. A lot of people will try to sell you on the idea that the Cowboys “wasted the Romo years” and to a degree, they’re right. Romo was good enough to lead a team to a championship had the Cowboys had better pieces in place, but at the same time - Romo had his part in the team’s collapses.

Early in his career, Romo’s struggles in the month of December were highly publicized and for good reason. It took him until his seventh year in the league before the Cowboys had more wins than losses in December with Romo as their quarterback. There were some really bad performances. After the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007, they missed the playoffs the following year when they finished 9-7. Entering the month of December, the Cowboys were sitting at 8-4, primed for a playoff appearance, but they lost three of their final four games and got bounced from the playoffs. In those three losses, Romo turned the ball over nine times. Some of his picks were just balls he threw up for grabs and some were just poor decisions where he was forcing the ball to Jason Witten.

Romo had his share of late-game misfortunes and more often than not, they were under the lights of primetime televised football. In the season-finale against the Washington Redskins in 2012, the division was on the line. Romo threw three interceptions in that contest including an ill-advised screen pass late in the game that ended any chances of a comeback.

When the dust finally settled, Romo ended his career as one of the more clutch late-game quarterbacks in the league, but it took a lot of great performances down the stretch to get there. While it is true that Romo carried this team for many years due to a lot of deficiencies in other areas, it is also true that he had his share of moments where he cost the team a chance to advance. And that’s not even taking account his time spent as the team’s field goal holder.

Romo was a playmaker right out of the gate, but his “Jeckyl and Hyde” performances were definitely frustrating. In each of his first three years as the Cowboys starting quarterback, Romo had more interceptions than games played. In contrast, Dak Prescott has never had a season like that and has already had two seasons where his interception percentage is lower than any season of Romo’s career. Here are some numbers for Prescott and Romo over their first three seasons as starting quarterback of the Cowboys:

It should be noted that Prescott started nine more games than Romo during that span as Romo didn’t get the starting gig over Drew Bledsoe until later in the season of 2006, as well as missing three games in 2008 due to injury. But what is important from these stats is that despite playing fewer games, Romo turned the ball over a lot more.

The idea here is not to bash on Romo - all young quarterbacks go through growing pains - but to show how he improved throughout his career. Romo had an interception percentage greater than three in four of his first five years in the league, but he never reached that mark in any of his next four seasons. Romo was 29 years old before he ever had an interception percentage under three.

Prescott’s never reached that mark of three. While there are things Prescott needs to improve on, we should all be thankful for how well he takes care of the ball. We should all be thankful he is not so shaky to where his play has resulted in a collapse down the stretch. And most importantly, we should be thankful that the team has gradually assembled pieces around him that give him a great chance to be successful over the next several years.

We all should love Tony Romo for some of the best football we’ve seen from a Cowboys quarterback, but there were some rocky moments early on. Prescott has flaws, but if this is the worst of it, things are looking real promising for the Cowboys young quarterback going forward.