Go Ahead, Doubt Him: Dak Prescott silences skeptics as Cowboys end Bucs' win streak

We can exclude Tony Romo from any narrative this week after Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to a Sunday night win over the Bucs, who have had the hottest defense in the league over the last month.
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With the kind of money that’s put behind sports apparel endorsements and television commercials, there are no coincidences. Dak Prescott’s first national ad campaign dropped last week after his second career pro loss and amid strange and controversial remarks by his team’s owner.

“Nothing has ever been given to me. I take every moment and try to make something special,” Prescott says in an Adidas commercial for Champs Sports. “Go ahead, doubt me. I’ll just work harder. This is my moment, and I’m ready.”

And then, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26­­­–20 on Sunday night, snapping the Bucs’ five-game winning streak and cooling the NFL’s hottest defense. The win boosted the Cowboys to 12–2 on the season and inched them closer to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. But those storylines will take a backseat to Prescott.

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After last week’s 10–7 loss to the Giants, there were, predictably, calls for Tony Romo to get his job back, just as Peyton Manning did late last season with the Broncos. The rookie was coming off a second straight below-average game and a healthy Romo shouldn’t be wasted in December, as the idea goes.

Jerry Jones (knowingly) added fuel to the fire when he expressed his dream of Romo helping the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in some way. The Jones-Prescott-Romo merry-go-round has been this year’s NFL story that keeps giving.

So on Sunday night, Prescott responded. He didn’t do so verbally—the 23-year-old can pull a football cliché faster than Ezekiel Elliott can hurdle a defender—but by going 32-of-36 passing for 279 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception, and his 99.0 rating would have been better had Dallas’s offense not committed crucial, drive-killing penalties throughout the game.

The Prescott-led Cowboys had 449 yards of total offense against the league’s best defense in the past month, and they withstood two long misses by Dan Bailey to still win by six. Prescott had nine completions before his first miss, and he hit six different receivers in that span for 85 yards. He finished with eight receivers catching passes, and no one was better fed than tight end Jason Witten.

Two weeks after Witten’s streak of 130 games with a catch ended—a streak that began before Prescott had a license—the quarterback targeted Witten 10 times for 51 yards. There were no glaring flaws in Prescott’s game Sunday night, and he’s still in position for year-end awards consideration.

In conclusion, we can exclude Romo from any narrative this week.

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But speaking of gifts that keep giving…Elliott’s 2-yard touchdown rush in the second quarter made for one of the best end zone celebrations of the season. But, since this is 2016, he got a 15-yard penalty for it. Elliott ran into the end zone, took a left and hopped into the oversized Salvation Army red kettle that has long occupied a place on the fringes of the Cowboys’ field.

Elliott, who finished with 159 rushing yards, used a prop in his celebration. He didn’t pull a cell phone out from under the goalpost, but to the letter of the rule, he earned his penalty. Usually the NFL issues a fine of a few thousand bucks, but let’s hope the league has some sense here. The red kettle is a universal symbol of charity and we’re less than a week away from Christmas. The league doesn’t have to fine Elliott (like it did not fine Avery Williamson when he wore 9/11-inspired cleats at the start of the season), and Roger Goodell can save himself from looking like the Grinch.

Prescott’s play and Elliott’s playfulness will be discussed more than anything from Sunday night, but David Irving got himself known in the fourth quarter. The former undrafted free agent out of Iowa State had two sacks, five quarterback hits and wrecked Tampa Bay’s hopes for a comeback in the fourth quarter. Concerns about Dallas’s defense holding up into January are legitimate, but Irving will alleviate a lot of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s worries going forward.

Irving earned his keep, but the night belonged to Prescott. His play was a subtweet on a football field directed at anyone who may question his legitimacy. It’s possible Jones wanted to stir the pot to gin up even more intrigue in his team and see how his quarterback responded to some late-season adversity. Whatever the case, Prescott delivered his reply Sunday night just like he had earlier in the week in the commercial.

Doubt him at your own risk.