The Cowboys played this perfectly, and got lucky, but there is now no question that Dak Prescott is their starting quarterback. Tony Romo practiced fully this week, and is healthy enough to play for the first time since breaking his back in preseason, but come Sunday against Baltimore, he’ll be holding a clipboard.
After Dallas’s wild 35-30 win at Pittsburgh, Jerry Jones made it official:
“We are going to let the decision make itself,” Jones said. “Dak has got a hot hand and we are going to go with it. …It’s just going with the obvious. You are going with how the team is doing right now. It must not be obvious because I get asked about it every time I open my mouth.
“It’s not hard. It’s not hard at all. Tony would make the same decision. That’s what you do.”
This isn’t a big surprise—eight straight wins are eight straight wins—but Jones and the Cowboys had been reticent to tip their hand. Let’s acknowledge now that they did the right thing; they had absolutely no reason to make an announcement until Romo was healthy enough to be anything more than a theoretical option. There was nothing to be gained by committing to Prescott until there was a choice. And now that there is, Prescott’s play has been excellent enough to make it no choice at all.
The best way to describe Prescott has been “efficient”—his passer rating is fourth in the NFL and his yards per attempt third—and he’s benefited from legitimate MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott and from one of the league’s sturdiest offensive lines (as has Elliott). None of these are knocks, mind you. Sometimes a quarterback is ideal for an offense, and vice versa, and that doesn’t necessarily need to include a guy who can or will air it out regularly.
Prescott entered the afternoon with just one pass play of at least 50 yards. He doubled that with an 83-yard screen pass to Elliott in the first half, and then did the work himself, finding Dez Bryant for a 50-yard TD pass in the third quarter.
Again, this isn’t necessarily what the Cowboys are asking from Prescott, but it’s a good weapon to have, and the threat of going over the top makes all his other weapons that much more dangerous. (It’s also worth noting that Prescott and Bryant are still gelling. Due to injury, Bryant’s only appeared in six games, and he’s gone for triple-digit yards in three of them.)
The win is what matters, of course, and Prescott led two late comeback drives, both every bit as confident and convincing as Ben Roethlisberger’s going the other way. And while it was Elliott that found the end zone both times, those were Prescott’s drives. The QB was 9-for-10 passing on the final two possessions, vs. four carries for Elliott.
Prescott has just kept winning, and has been a huge part of the team’s success, making this decision easy for the Cowboys. That’s good fortune. (If they [or anyone else] knew how good Prescott could be, they wouldn’t have passed on him until the fourth round of the draft.)
Yet that’s where we are, and with each win it’s feeling less and less like this is a fluke. Prescott is, barring an RGIII-level collapse, the Cowboys’ quarterback of the future, and there’s no sense in waiting to give him the keys, no matter how much money Romo is making this season and next. Romo is reportedly willing to be the backup, and Dallas is in line for the NFC’s top seed, and this is a good place to be.
While everything has worked out perfectly up to this point, there’s no reason a quarterback controversy can’t still go down. The Cowboys are good enough, and the conference spotty enough, that they are no-doubt thinking about a deep postseason run. Let’s say Prescott has a couple of bad games, either late in the season or into the playoffs. The temptation to go back to Romo would be strong, and not illogical. But that’s all hypothetical, and the Cowboys have served themselves well this season by dealing only with reality.