It was going to happen sooner or later. It happened to Dak Prescott in his 13th NFL game. Finally, he did not play well enough to win.
On a frigid night and frozen field in New Jersey, the Dallas Cowboys finally lost a game and their rookie quarterback, the toast of the NFL for three months running, looked ordinary. The New York Giants, playing superb defense, won 10-7.
What happened during the game was as predictable as a fourth-down-and-20-to-go punt.
On TV, NBC cameras began to show Tony Romo, the backup quarterback, on the sidelines.
On Twitter, armchair quarterbacks suggested the Cowboys should change quarterbacks.
In postgame interviews, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was asked about whether or not he thought about changing quarterbacks.
“No,” he answered.
All this week, Prescott vs. Romo will be debated ad nauseum on talk radio.
It is the one constant in football besides bruises: The most popular player in the sport is the backup quarterback. The starting quarterback, no matter who he is, always gets too much blame — and, yes — too much credit — for what happens. He is the most important player on the field, but he is still one of 11.
Prescott, the former Mississippi State standout, was off Sunday night. Sometimes he threw too late. Sometimes he threw too high. Sometimes he threw into coverage. Sometimes he threw when he might have been better served to run. He threw two interceptions, which was as many as he had thrown in 12 previous games. The Giants defense caused a lot of it. And, again, the playing conditions were terrible. Eli Manning, the Giants quarterback who has won two Super Bowls, had similar problems. Several times, it seemed both quarterbacks had trouble gripping the ball.
Prescott was true to his character afterward. He shouldered the blame, said he played poorly. He said that he is own toughest critic. Importantly, his teammates, his coaches and his owner backed him. The big story would have been had they not.
Let’s not forget Prescott led the Cowboys to 11 straight victories between two losses to the Giants. Let’s not forget he has thrown 20 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
And let’s not forget that every quarterback who has ever played in the NFL, including Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, has had similar games. Tony Romo himself has had more than we can count.
It comes with the territory. Quarterbacks have more chances to make mistakes than anyone else in the game and they make them. Occasionally, they burn the toast. Sunday night, for really the first time in his young NFL career, Prescott burned the toast. He had a bad game.
And let’s also not forget to credit the Giants defense. The G-Men were everywhere. The defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuola, dialed up a perfect game plan. Sometimes, on a given night in sports, the other guy is just better. This night, the Giants were better.
So now the 11-2 Cowboys have a two-game division lead over the 9-4 Giants with three games to play . The Cowboys, playing with a rookie quarterback drafted in the fourth round, still had the best record in pro football heading into Week 14.
And so now we will see how Dak Prescott responds to what really is his first experience at NFL failure. His situation will be magnified because he is the quarterback of the Cowboys, who are paying Romo $18 million this season to stand on the sidelines.
This Sunday night, the Cowboys play in prime time again, at home against Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston, winners of five straight games.
And the first time Prescott misses a pass, the cameras will pan in on Romo on the sidelines. Count on it.
Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.