When you play sports’ most-dissected position for America’s most-discussed team and the NFL’s most-diagnosed owner, maintaining the proper perspective is essential to your mental health. The need is greater when you’re a rookie and your backup is an elite, 13-year veteran who’s healthy and ready to play.
Dak Prescott should’ve seen this coming. It doesn’t matter that the Dallas Cowboys were on an 11-game winning streak entering Sunday’s 10-7 loss against the New York Giants. It doesn’t matter that he had thrown only two interceptions against 19 touchdowns in 358 pass attempts. It doesn’t matter that he’s a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year and also will garner votes for Most Valuable Player.
As soon as Prescott struggled through a rough outing and actually resembled a first-year, fourth-round draft pick, there would be a question about giving Tony Romo some playing time.
It’s fair to ask, just like it was fair to ponder if Prescott should keep the job when Romo was cleared to play in Week 11. The answer then, rightfully so, was “yes.” Romo said so himself in a classy statement, conceding that Prescott “earned the right to be our quarterback.”
However, that doesn’t mean Prescott should keep the job, regardless of results.
Even though he wasn’t great in every game, the Cowboys hadn’t lost since the season opener against the Giants. He was awful in the rematch, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards and two interceptions. Whether it was New York’s defense or simply an off-night, Prescott was completely ineffective. A relief appearance by Romo seemed reasonable.
“No,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett told reporters Sunday when asked if he considered the move. “We feel good about Dak Prescott playing quarterback for us right now.”
The NFL couldn’t be happier. The Cowboys’ potential quarterback controversy is simmering in the midst of a stretch when “America’s Team” is earning its nickname. Dallas’ next two games will be in prime time – against Tampa Bay Sunday night and the Detroit Lions on Monday, Dec. 26. – marking five consecutive weeks of playing in the national spotlight.
It’s not that the suits at NFL headquarters or their broadcast partners want Prescott to flounder. One of the league’s best stories this season, along with fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott has helped Dallas rebound from a 4-12 record last season. The Cowboys’ success – like the Yankees in baseball and the Lakers in basketball – is good for business.
But drama sells, too, and the loss against New York highlighted Prescott’s mini-slump. It’s his third consecutive game with less than 200 passing yards passing; he has thrown just one touchdown in each of those three games.
Those are Tebowian numbers and there’s no doubt that Romo easily could exceed them.
The idea that Romo might play if Prescott’s growing pains continue is an intriguing possibility. Garrett likely is loath to open that door, realizing that it leads to more questions: Is Prescott the team’s best QB? How much time should Romo get? Would Prescott’s confidence be shaken? Does Romo start if he plays well in relief?
Once you go Romo, can you ever go Dak?
Like Garrett, Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones doesn’t want to go there.
“No, no, no, no, no, it does not,” Jones told reporters Sunday when asked if Prescott’s performance changed anything. “He’s got 13 NFL ballgames at a high level under his belt and what’s he got, four interceptions now? I feel good about our quarterback and I like where we are at the quarterback position.”
The Cowboys have every reason to feel good about Prescott’s long-term prognosis and Romo’s availability as a backup who could start for three-quarters of the league. I was in full agreement that continuing to play Prescott was the prudent move after Romo recovered from a broken bone in his back.
However, the Cowboys are in a unique situation, placing them well beyond the confines of conventional thinking.
Prescott deserves another start, but Dallas should embrace an in-game change if a spark is needed.
Inserting Romo in that instance could accomplish a couple of worthwhile objectives besides igniting a sputtering offense. He could knock off rust after playing just four games since 2014, increasing his preparedness if he’s forced into action by a Prescott injury. Romo also could re-establish himself as one of the league’s best, increasing his market value if the Cowboys elect to trade him in the offseason.
For all that Prescott has accomplished in an extraordinary rookie season, he’s not on the level of, say, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Those future Hall-of-Famers could struggle for eight games and deserve to start the next eight. Besides, neither of them has a proven All-Pro serving as understudy.
The Cowboys have rolled to 11-2 with Prescott but he arguably has hit the rookie wall. It happens. He’s still the quarterback of the future. That fact won’t change if Dallas turns to its former franchise QB for a jolt, pursuing its first Super Bowl title since 1995.
Results should determine whether Romo remains a bystander or plays an integral role.
But Garrett and Jones fear choosing the latter if it improves the Cowboys’ chances of winning.