That Dak Prescott finally looked like a rookie after playing at a near-Pro Bowl level for the first six games of the season shouldn’t be surprising. He was bound to come down to earth, and it finally happened Sunday night.
But just as soon as everyone was ready to put Tony Romo back into the starting lineup, Prescott engineered a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter and then the game-winning drive in overtime to beat the Eagles 29–23 in one of the most entertaining games of this NFL season.
The Cowboys (6–1) have opened up a two-game lead in the competitive NFC East and face the helpless Browns next week. Dallas has the best record and the best rookie quarterback and running back in the league.
With the win Sunday night—and specifically how the Cowboys won—it appears this will remain Prescott’s team even when Romo is legitimately healthy to play.
Romo returned to practice earlier in the week and participated in some light drills. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett made it clear Romo is still in his rehab phase, and Romo would probably need a full week of practice at full participation before he sees game action.
But how can you get him on the field right now? There’s no reason to play him against the Browns, and Prescott should be 7–1 after next week with a date against the Steelers in Week 10. It’s conceivable Romo would be healthy enough to play by mid-November but Prescott can’t come off the field as long as he’s winning.
“There’s no urgency to make a decision,” Jerry Jones told NBC’s Mike Tirico before his Cowboys won in primetime at home to a divisional rival. “Romo is not ready to play yet. When Romo is healthy, the decision will be, ‘What’s best for the team?’”
And then Jones added: “When you have the hot hand, you have to ride it.”
That hand had cooled significantly for the first three and a half quarters of Sunday night. It was by far Prescott’s worst performance of his young career, and it opened the door to doubt about his future as the starter.
At one point late in the fourth quarter, Prescott was 11-of-25 for 180 yards, no touchdowns and a terrible interception in the end zone. Rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott was struggling to establish himself after a big first quarter, leaving more work for Prescott in the passing game.
Jason Witten, Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant could have stood to be more involved in that passing game between quarters 2 through 4. After a beautiful first-quarter dime to Bryant for 53 yards, Prescott had trouble finding the Cowboys’ best receiver. He floated a second-half ball into the end zone that landed woefully short of Bryant.
But Prescott adjusted that throw, and with 3 minutes left in regulation he threw the pass deeper to Bryant for a touchdown.
Perhaps most impressive was that Prescott led that game-tying drive after Elliott’s 63-yard rush was called back due to holding. A normally demoralizing penalty didn’t faze Prescott, who accepted the challenge of a 90-yard gotta-have-it drive.
Prescott capped the overtime drive—complete with a fourth-down sneak—with a scrambling pass to a wide-open Witten that was reminiscent of a Romo play.
The Cowboys' Sunday night comeback win brought two things into focus. The first is that Prescott is clearly the top rookie quarterback. The No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft Carson Wentz continued his horizontal passing game to the tune of 4.69 yards per attempt.
The second is that Prescott can keep his job so long as he doesn’t lose. He saved it this week, he’ll breeze through next week and then it’s a week-to-week process where we all reassess after each game.
The decision to stick with Prescott hasn’t been a decision at all, and all the talk for the past two months has been hypothetical. Now Romo is about to be healthy and the Cowboys have the best record in the NFC.
Ride the hot hand until you know it’s cold.