They say that at the end your life flashes before your eyes. If that’s true, Tony Romo will be blinded by visions all night.
In a wild, come-from-behind victory over the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, rookie backup Dak Prescott went out, had the worst game of his young NFL career yet still managed to eke out an overtime victory, leaving little doubt about who should be under center for the Dallas Cowboys when the team goes to Cleveland next week.
It’s Dak Prescott’s world and Tony Romo is just wearing a backward hat, holding a clipboard and watching it all unfold. After Sunday night, not even the brash, cocky, don’t-tell-me-what-to-do Jerry Jones could believe otherwise.
Prescott played horribly for the first 55 minutes of the Sunday Night Football affair. Then, the switch flipped. On those final two drives – one that tied the game, the other that won it – Prescott erased a night filled with rookie mistakes to show the leadership qualities that win football games and unite locker rooms. If the Cowboys quarterback depth chart was about to be a referendum, Prescott took it off the ballot. It’s ironic, as he played a stinker for most of Sunday night, one that seemed to expose all the problems that’d been hinted at as he cruised through the first six weeks of the season. His good play got him in position to win the job. His poor play clinched it.
He didn’t see the field. He overthrew wide-open receivers on easy passes as often as he under-threw them. He was late. Then he was early. He was flat-footed on throws and telegraphed things so much it’s like he’s dressing up as Samuel Morse for Halloween. He threw a bad interception in the end zone on a play that could have given Dallas a halftime lead of 17-10 or 13-10. In the second half, he threw one of the worst passes of the NFL season, one that hit Philly’s trailing Jalen Mills in the lower back as he was getting beat by Dez Bryant in the end zone. (If Mark Sanchez had thrown that ball, they’d have called it in the butt incompletion. Okay, maybe just me.) He would have thrown another end zone interception if not for a heady play by Terrance Williams to tackle Leodis McKelvin as he settled in to make the easiest interception he’ll ever see. That pass interference allowed Dallas to get a field goal instead of having another end-zone turnover and ended up saving the game.
These throws – the underthrows, overthrows, interceptions and near-interceptions – were not caused by busted routes, miscommunication, great plays by Eagles defenders, quarterback hurries or tipped balls. They were of the “are we sure Prescott knows which color his team is wearing?” variety. He was awful until the final drive, when Dallas went to the hurry-up and took advantage of the Eagles’ soft defense to tie the game on a 90-yard drive that started with a first-and-20. Prescott threw a beautiful ball on the run to save a third-and-5, scrambled for a first down when the pocket collapsed around him, then put the ball in a place only Dez Bryant could get it and the Cowboys star receiver rewarded him with fingertip touchdown catch to tie the game.
When the Cowboys won the toss in overtime, the result felt preordained. This wouldn’t be like last week’s 6-6 SNF tie or the one another NFC East team had in a game that had started almost 15 hours before. There was no doubt. Prescott went 5-for-5 for 56 yards, rushed for 12 more, pushed through a stacked line on a gutsy fourth-and-1 sneak that ended up winning Dallas the game and bought time to find a wide open Jason Witten in the end zone. It was like a bizarro world from the first three-and-a-half quarters.
Those drives were everything you want out of a starting quarterback: winning when you’re not at your best. It’s easy to play well when the offensive line gives you all day and Ezekiel Elliott is running through holes bigger than the Jerry World scoreboard. To do that after it all went so horribly wrong? To come back from 10 points down with 12 minutes left. It was, dare I say, Romo-esque.
Romo, of course, was on everybody’s mind through the first 55 minutes of the game. Dallas was about to fall to a good, but not great, 5-2 record and drop to second place in the NFC East. Prescott had his worst game, looking like a rookie pitcher who dominated the batting order his first time around and then got shelled after the lineup figured out his stuff. With the Browns up next week, it was looking like the perfect time for Jerry Jones (and Jason Garrett – LOL) to go back to Romo. It set up as the perfect “get healthy and prove Jerry right” situation for Romo, a quarterback who’s played four games in the past 672 days. Even the staunchest Prescott supporters couldn’t have argue too much had Romo gotten his job back. But he won’t. He shouldn’t. That wasn’t clear a few hours ago. But the difference between then and now, between this week and last week, is that Prescott showed he’s not just a college quarterback running his old plays with a great offensive line and a Rookie of the Year running back, but a fearless leader who can take the team on his shoulders and lead it to its biggest win of the year.
Playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys is the highest-profile position in sports. And on Sunday night, through all his struggles, Dak Prescott proved for the first time that the job belongs to him.