For the last 20 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have had either Tony Romo or Dak Prescott on the roster, and for one season, they had both. During that time, these quarterbacks have been praised by some and heavily scrutinized by others. Each of them has brought plenty of excitement, but at the same time, each of them has left fans unsatisfied. It’s interesting when you look over their careers as there are quite a bit of similarities, and it has some fans pondering, are they the same quarterback?
To help gain a better understanding of the faces of the franchise over the last two decades, let’s revisit Romo’s career and see how it compares to Prescott.
Romo’s late start
We all know that the undrafted Romo rode the pine for quite a while before Bill Parcells trusted him with the keys to the offense. And this wasn’t some egregious mis-evaluation from a great coach like Parcells. He knew Romo wasn’t ready. Despite the quarterback stylings of Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, and Drew Bledsoe offering very little to be excited about, Romo wasn’t good enough to get on the field. As great as he became, Romo played a grand total of zero games over his first three years in the league. Romo didn’t make his first NFL start until the seventh game of year number four.
Sure, Romo got off to a late start, but he, just like Dak was also a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback during his first three years playing quarterback for the Cowboys. The insertion of Romo into the Cowboys offense was a breath of fresh air and very exhilarating at times; however, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Early in his career, Romo had developed a bit of a reputation for fading down the stretch. The “choke” word got thrown around a lot because of how he suddenly struggled in the games that mattered the most come December.
Here’s how things went down during Romo’s first three seasons at quarterback:
- 2006, he played 10 games, started 5-1, before finishing 1-3
- 2007, he played 16 games, started 12-1, before finishing 1-2
- 2008, he played 13 games (missed three games to injury), started 7-2 before finishing 1-3
The first two of those years included one-and-done playoff exits where a late-game Romo miscue would fill our television screens for years to come. And the third year in 2008, Romo had miserable games down the stretch of the regular season, resulting in coming up just short of making the playoffs.
The highs and lows of Romo were taxing on Cowboys fans. Yes, he was sensational at times, but the mistakes were costly. In comparison, Prescott was a lot more careful with the ball. Dak had eight or fewer picks over his first three years in the league with his career-high being 13 at the time in 2017. Romo, on the other hand, had at least 13 picks in each of his first three seasons at quarterback and that includes 2006 where he didn’t start until Week 7.
Like most quarterbacks, the game eventually started to slow down. In 2010, Romo’s accuracy improved. Prior to that season, his career-high completion percentage was 65.3% during his “rookie” season in 2006. From 2010 on, Romo exceeded that mark in six of his next seven seasons. At the same time, Romo was still airing it out. From 2011 to 2013, he averaged over 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Despite the improvement in his game, the Cowboys still had problems. During that same three-year span the team finished with an 8-8 record in each of those seasons. And again, they were plagued by strong starts and disappointing finishes.
- 2011, lost four of their last five
- 2012, lost their last two
- 2013, lost three of their last four
During each of those years, the Cowboys had a shot to win the division but fizzled out down the stretch. Only this time, they couldn’t blame Romo as it was their defense that weighed them down. In fact, the Cowboys’ defense ranked dead last in 2013 in yards allowed.
Too little, too late
The team finally got their act together in 2014. The offensive line had been remodeled with three up-and-coming All-Pros which helped them establish a strong rushing attack led by DeMarco Murray. And the defense, while still a work in progress, was much improved. They were middling in points allowed but finished second in the league in takeaways.
Romo himself finished with a career-high in completion percentage (69.9%) and touchdown percentage (7.8%), as well as passer rating (113.2). He even received MVP votes that season. Those career highs came in a season where he averaged only 247 yards per game, the lowest of any of his previous seasons where he began the year as the team’s starting quarterback.
Sadly, this would be the last hurrah for Romo as he got hurt in each of the next two seasons before calling it quits.
A new era begins
The Cowboys were very fortunate to have Prescott fall into their lap right when it became apparent that Romo’s body was no longer able to endure the physical nature of the NFL. Despite not having a talented Romo anymore, the Cowboys went 13-3 with the rookie Prescott. As a result, the Cowboys continue to be competitive as long as their new quarterback didn’t miss an extensive amount of time.
In a way, it just feels like an extension of the Romo era. Both quarterbacks weren’t highly sought after in the draft as Dak wasn’t selected until the fourth round and Romo not at all. Both were exciting out of the gate. Both have shown the ability to air it out despite only producing a .500 season when they did. And even though the Cowboys have had success in the regular seasons with both these guys, they still can’t get their team over the hump in the playoffs.
Overlooked in the draft.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) July 15, 2023
Have a 2-4 record in the playoffs.
Passed for over 4900 yards, and finished 8-8.
Pro Bowler in two of their first three years in the league.
Are these guys the same quarterback? pic.twitter.com/IA7ITbgUyx
The similarities are there and that may have some us believing that the same underwhelming climax to Romo’s career awaits Prescott. As disappointing as that sounds, there are reasons to believe it won’t go down like that.
Romo’s three-year red-shirt seasons mean Prescott has a lot more experience entering the age of 30 than Romo. But even more satisfying is that the Cowboys appear to have fixed things on the defensive side of the ball earlier in Dak’s career than with Romo. This gives Prescott several chances to do something with it than what Romo did toward the latter stages of his career.
If they are the same quarterback, that’s fine. Romo was great and so is Prescott. The more important element is that this is not the same Cowboys team and that they have more good years of Dak left to capitalize.