At the top of the quarterback categories this season, right around Tom Brady and Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton, there is a name that would have been unfamiliar to most pro football fans a year ago: Dak Prescott.
A fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State, Prescott was pressed into service by the Dallas Cowboys in his rookie season after Tony Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back in the exhibition season. It seemed like a blow to the Cowboys’ hopes, and fans began counting the days till Romo’s hoped-for midseason return.
But it turns out, Prescott can play some football.
After losing the opener to the New York Giants by a point, Prescott and the Cowboys have run off six straight wins and taken a two-game lead at the top of the NFC East.
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Prescott ranks third among the current starting quarterbacks in adjusted yards per pass, behind only Brady and Ryan. Only Trevor Siemian of the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos can match his six wins. Prescott’s nine touchdown passes already ties the Cowboys’ rookie record, set by Troy Aikman in 11 games in 1989.
Playing against a strong Philadelphia Eagles defense Sunday night, Prescott struggled with the blitz at first but kept his team in the game, rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and won 29-23 in overtime with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
But now Romo is just about ready to come back, having returned to practice last week, giving the Cowboys a classic quarterback problem.
Romo’s talents have been in dispute among football fans for years. Although his numbers have almost always been solid, he has been criticized for failing to take Dallas to the next level. Since he took over as a starter in 2005, the Cowboys have made the playoffs only four times, with a record there of 2-4. Numerous 8-8 and 9-7 seasons could be viewed as consistency, or mediocrity
Injuries have also been a concern. Romo had perhaps his best season in 2014, making his fourth Pro Bowl, but then missed most of 2015 with a broken collarbone. His latest injury, and his age, 36, have some thinking that he is at the end of the line.
The team has announced Prescott will start next Sunday, giving him a good opportunity to increase his statistics against the woeful Cleveland Browns. But after that, it is unclear.
Teams generally do not like to take away a player’s job just because of injury. But after the Eagles game, more and more are convinced that it would be foolish to sit Prescott now.
The Washington Post: “It would be football malpractice at this point for the Cowboys to even consider going back to Romo.”
Bleacher Report: “So long, Tony Romo.” “This team belongs to Prescott now.”
The Ringer: “Right now, it feels like a Romo-led team would be headed to brave moral victory in the second round of the playoffs, and like a Prescott-led team could do anything.”
In 1996, the Cowboys had won three of the previous four Super Bowls. Barry Switzer was the coach. Since then, they have not been the Browns, but they also have not been the storied franchise that chased championships nearly every year. Forgive Dallas fans for seeing visions of Meredith, Aikman and Staubach in the young Prescott.