Dak Prescott Proving Repeatedly He's the Cowboys' Long-Term Starting Quarterback

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystOctober 17, 2016

Oct 16, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA;  Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) prepares to throw the ball during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dak Prescott doesn’t look like a rookie.

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback doesn’t play like a rookie, throw like a rookie or make decisions like a rookie. Nothing about him gives off the hint that what he’s doing—excelling immediately at the most complex position in football after being a fourth-round pick—is incredibly hard and downright daunting.

But Sunday he made his sixth career NFL regular-season start while displaying enough comfort to convince anyone it was actually at least his 26th. And he did it in dominant fashion too during a 30-16 trouncing of the Green Bay Packers on the road.

It wasn’t just any ho-hum win by a placeholder quarterback keeping the seat nice and toasty until the normal starter returns from injury.

This was a win at Lambeau Field against a Packers defense that came into Week 6 allowing 317.8 yards per game (eighth) and 20.8 points (12th). The Prescott-led Cowboys piled up 424 yards as their quarterback threw three touchdown passes.

This was a win against a team that employs Aaron Rodgers, who’s among the greatest quarterbacks of his era. But on Sunday, he was made to look like a second-tier passer as Prescott carved up the Packers secondary, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt and 247 yards.

The only brief sad-trombone moment for Prescott came when he threw his first career interception. But that didn’t last long, because a record was finally cemented:

Most of all, this was a win that gave the Cowboys their answer to the best problem any team can have.

They had been wrestling with a list of questions tied to their short-term future at quarterback. The long-term future has been laughably clear for quite some time now. But what should those who make decisions at Jerryworld do once Tony Romo is healthy? Is there an obligation to hand the ball back to Romo out of principle, honoring the notion that star players don’t lose their job due to injury?

No, the only sacred obligation is to win football games and give Dallas its best chance to celebrate a Super Bowl win, something the city hasn’t done since 1995. It’s becoming increasingly obvious Prescott is the right quarterback to lead that charge even once Romo returns.

Let’s pump the brakes just a touch though before quenching our thirst for a DEFCON 1 quarterback controversy.

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There is indeed a delicate decision looming for the Cowboys, especially after Prescott completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts against the Packers. He’s averaged 9.3 yards per attempt over the past two weeks during wins over 2015 playoff teams (the Packers and Cincinnati Bengals).

But right now, that’s given the Cowboys the luxury of time. Romo fractured his L1 vertebra during the preseason, and the original rough target for his return was following a Week 7 bye. Now a Week 9 game on Nov. 6 against the Cleveland Browns seems like the earliest possible date.

Todd Archer of ESPN.com reported that although Romo has picked up his conditioning and throwing recently, he won’t have enough practice time to be ready for Week 8. And since NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport passed along word that no decision will be made on this quarterback quandary until Romo is deemed game-ready, it’s still Prescott under center by default for now.

There are roughly two more weeks until Romo completes his Drew Bledsoe experience and is told to keep sitting and watching.

That will be a gut-wrenching conversation. Sometimes a deep dive into statistical and film analysis creates a tendency to forget football is played and coached by real breathing humans who have emotions. Romo has been the offensive soul of the Cowboys since 2006. And although his body is breaking down at 36 years old, the four-time Pro Bowler's injuries over the years have only served to remind the Cowboys how lost they are without him.

Or at least that was true until 2016.

The Cowboys were well aware of Romo’s brittle state after breaking his collarbone multiple times and continually battling through a wonky back. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones knew he needed to invest in the position and reinforce his quarterback safety net behind Romo.

The plan surely was to let a mid-round pick develop after Prescott looked promising but raw during the pre-draft process. Now he’s completed 69 percent of his passes through six starts, and he had a passer rating of 101.5 heading into Week 6.

Oh, and Prescott’s name is already alongside another rather famous Cowboys quarterback after his three scoring tosses Sunday.

He’s done all of that—which also includes averaging nine-plus yards per attempt in four of his six starts—without the services of stud wide receiver and running pogo stick Dez Bryant for the past three games.

Prescott has the accuracy to complete throws to any area of the field and the athleticism to maneuver around pressure while improvising to give himself more time. And when chaos truly comes crashing down, he also possesses the athletic instincts to get creative with his legs in the open field. He’s recorded 67 rushing yards and scored three times on the ground.

But all of that describes physical attributes when the most impressive aspect of Prescott is his mental maturity at such a young age. His single interception over 182 attempts is the shining evidence.

"I thought Dak was outstanding," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said during his postgame press conference Sunday. "It wasn’t always the cleanest for him, but just his ability to respond to different situations, and his poise and composure was outstanding.”

Being the Dallas Cowboys quarterback means stepping on top of an iconic pedestal, which makes the pressure immense for any rookie starter. Yet Prescott has slid right in to guide the NFC East division-leading Cowboys to a 5-1 record and five straight wins.

The 23-year-old has earned the right to keep making us marvel at the fact that, yes, Prescott is a rookie. And so far he’s a rookie who has repeatedly shown the arsenal of tools needed for a deep playoff run.

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