The Dallas Cowboys are crossing their fingers that lightning doesn’t strike twice. They also appear to be banking on rookie quarterback Dak Prescott to be a savior if it does.
With quarterback Tony Romo on the sideline for 12 games last year, the Cowboys season went off the rails, reversing a 12-4 regular season in 2014 to 4-12 as Brandon Weeden (0-3), Matt Cassel (1-6) and Kellen Moore (0-2) went a combined 1-11 in Romo’s absence.
Weeden is now with Houston and Cassel with Tennessee, as Dallas entered training camp with Moore, Prescott and Jameill Showers behind Romo on the depth chart and showed no interest in adding another veteran in the offseason.
When Moore suffered a broken fibula in an Aug. 2 practice, an injury that will likely keep him out until at least halfway through the season, it appeared the Cowboys would aggressively pursue another veteran option.
Why wouldn’t they, many wondered. As foolhardy as it seems, however, the reality is that Moore isn’t close to being a seasoned veteran, so if the Cowboys were willing to stand pat before the injury, it’s not surprising their thinking hasn’t materially changed.
Now, following Prescott’s performance Saturday night in the summer opener against the Rams, they could be even more emboldened. Never mind that little can truly be learned from a preseason game. But Prescott performed in front of a crowd of more than 89,000 in the L.A. Coliseum, and did it with the first unit against the Rams’ No. 1 group.
Overshadowing Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the draft in April, the Cowboys fourth-round pick looked the part of a polished veteran, which was what the team’s brain trust had seen in camp and in a scrimmage the week before the game.
Prescott led the Cowboys to a 24-7 halftime lead, completing 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns, and added a 14-yard run. A 32-yard touchdown to wide receiver Terrance Williams was especially impressive.
If there is any consternation in Dallas, it might be with Showers, although in fairness he didn’t have the fortune of playing with the starters. In the second half, the Cowboys managed just 131 yards and three first downs as Showers was 8 for 16 for 99 yards. The poor second half allowed the Rams to rally for a 28-24 victory, but the story of the night remained Prescott.
Head coach Jason Garrett, himself a quarterback back in the day, was effusive in his praise afterward.
“I thought he played with poise and composure in every aspect of it, and you saw it in his eyes in warmups and in no way did the game seem too big for him,” Garrett said. “I thought he handled himself really well, and had command in the huddle, command at the line of scrimmage, he handled the successes of the game well where he just kept playing, and handled the adversity of the game well.
“(He) got our team back into favorable situations on a couple of different occasions when we were behind the chains. He read the defenses well, threw the ball well, he moved our team well, and he made a lot of little plays; he made some big plays. I thought he did a really good job his first time out, there’s no question about that. I think he made a real favorable impression on a lot of people.”
One sequence that ended with a field goal was particularly eye-opening. On first-and-10 from the Rams 24-yard line, three penalties and a sack led to a second-and-34 situation from the Los Angeles 48. Prescott proceeded to connect with wide receiver Devin Street for eight yards and his 14-yard run got the Cowboys back to the 26, where kicker Dan Bailey connected on a 44-yard field goal.
“That’s something you try to emphasize for the quarterbacks: between the plays manage the situation and know where you are on the field,” Garrett said. “But you certainly got the sense he knew that already. Really good play; making the play with his feet to get us back into field-goal range and to give us a scoring opportunity.”
Most evident is the confidence the team’s veterans have in him.
Said wide receiver Dez Bryant, who scored on a perfectly thrown Prescott pass for a 10-yard score, “He was running the show. He was leading. It was his huddle. He didn’t play like a rookie. His mindset was not like a rookie. It was like he had been there before. Kudos to Dak. Dak is a damn good football player and he’s going to be special.”
As Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Parcells would often say about young players, “Let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame yet.”
But it’s clear Prescott seems to have that elusive “it” that many lack.
The reality is that the hopes of most NFL teams would be dashed with the loss of an elite quarterback. Just look at the 2-14 Indianapolis Colts in 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the entire season. So, it’s unlikely that Prescott could rescue the Cowboys season if Romo goes down for a lengthy period again.
However, the future sure looks bright when the day comes that the 36-year-old Romo rides off to the golf course.