The amount of time, stress, credit, and blame that is normally issued to Quarterbacks always seems overdone until your QB is lying motionless on the turf with a grimace on his face and pain in his body.
From there, you have the normal routine where he is helped off, while the world watches each expression and conversation that follows and reads meaning into all of it. Next, you get word that the player wants back into the game (which we knows is the default instinctive setting for every football player who has ever waled the earth: "I am ok, coach") and the medical staff shake their head behind his back.
The other QB gets put in the game and now the media and the fans go to work. "He is done!" and "He is Fine!" compete at louder and louder voices. Team officials and even the player assure us that everything is fine in that "Baghdad Bob" sort of way.
But, if everything was fine, please explain the grimaces that were caught on camera 30 minutes later and the fact that Tony Romo was not even on the sideline after halftime. Everything is not fine. That is the same thing that has seemed abundantly clear now since Week 16 in 2013, frankly. The Cowboys have a great QB who has done wonderful things - and wishes to do greater things in the future - that has a body that is never going to be able to take what it once did.
And that was on display again last night in Seattle. We can debate whether he should have played at all and we can certainly debate whether he needs to be extending plays in August that risk his health, but what can't be debated is that this is the new normal. Every time he takes a hit, there is now going to be the normal breath-holding and over-examination of his every reaction for the rest of his career.
This is not a question of his toughness. He has proven that to anyone who watches. This is not a question of willingness or even hard work to make his body more sturdy. We get it, he has done the rehab and the work and listened to the doctors. But, I don't know how many more examples we need of seeing a guy demonstrate in front of millions that his body can't handle what the NFL asks of it at the normal level anymore.
And, this isn't about last night. Maybe this one was minor and he can play in the opener. Maybe. But, unfortunately, another part of the new normal is that opponents will show no mercy and if there is a chance to push Romo out of the game, you must believe that they will attempt to bring the pain. And the target area to attack? Well, pretty much anywhere from his waist up to his neck. It is all battered and damaged from wear and tear over the years.
Washington 2013, Home against Washington 2014, At Philadelphia 2015, Home on Thanksgiving against Carolina 2015, and now Seattle 2016. They are happening more frequently, despite the public proclamations that he has never felt better and is in the best shape of his career. I am skeptical, to say the least. We all hope the guy is fine, so arguing against this belief makes people take sides. It isn't about that. Anyone who follows this team would happily sign up for another decade of 25-year old Romo, but that guy doesn't live here anymore.
So, just 3 plays into this "dress rehearsal", the Cowboys got to see the very real possibility of needing "QB2" to play significantly in a big situation come true. There is no way they thought that they were drafting Dak Prescott to be his opening day backup plan - which, yes, could mean that if the next flurry of health tests on #9 don't go well, the rookie is your opening day starter. Holy cow.
Could you imagine how today might feel if Prescott was playing QB as just about every rookie plays in their first preseason? Instead, this young man doesn't quit impressing. He is as poised and calm as one could dream. He literally looks in complete control as he diagnoses another blitz and delivers most balls on time and on location.
It certainly doesn't take a genius to see that everything is being hurried now. Kellen Moore drops and we wonder if Dak Prescott can be a backup in 2016. He jumps that hurdle with 2 fantastic preseason performances and now it seems like the obvious challenge. But, wait, we are going to raise the bar again? Yes, Tony Romo looks vulnerable on his 3rd snap and now people are actually wondering if Prescott is capable of being the starter right now. And why are they wondering? Because there may not be much of a choice in the matter. And if it isn't to start the Giants game, is it to finish it? Is it Week 4 or Week 9? Is it October or November when Tony can't play? And if that is the case, who is Prescott's backup plan?
Wow. Life comes at you fast. A month ago, this all seemed positively nutty. Now, we sit here on August 26th and a player that was drafted #135 just a few months back now may be holding the steering wheel long before 2018.
Again, let's all let this run its course. But, to call this panic is just denial. Denial from Cowboy fans, yes. But, maybe also denial from the General Manager (who has to juggle talking about this crisis while peddling boxing tickets on his broadcasts. Very few GMs are asked to do this.) and from the Quarterback himself. Did you see that quote?
"I honestly think anyone who didn't have a back injury, you wouldn't want to be in that position when you're going into a slide and all of a sudden you're crunched like that,'' Romo said.
"The fact we dodge a bullet is a good thing. I also think probably from the back being stronger allowed me to probably get through that.''
Prescott looks really solid. He will need to decide when to roll the dice with risky throws, like his touchdown to Jason Witten, but that is normal for any QB - rookie or not. Otherwise, he provides an element with his feet that seem to fit wonderfully with the skill-set of Ezekiel Elliott. That zone read scheme that they wouldn't dream of running with Romo seems to be a perfect plan out of 11 personnel for the two rookies. Mismatches all over the field with Dez, Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Witten if the teams load up to stop the run. If they don't, Elliott will have a light box to battle with Dak keeping them honest. Think the 2012 Redskins, but without a skinny QB and with a game-breaking receiving corps.
But, that is the next era, and we were under the impression we should have 2 more years in the present tense before moving to the future.
Now, once again, nobody knows. It feels like we are acclimating to our "new normal".