This is that time of year when you stress about everything. Rightfully so, by the way. All across the league, teams have seen their dreams already wash into the sewer by early November. They may still see a sliver of hope for a happy ending, but they know, despite all of the July optimism they could hold in one training camp, the realities of the regular season have declared loudly that 2017 is not their year.
So, you stress about every injury. The Cowboys have avoided the big injuries so far, but when you start seeing a Cole Beasley concussion, or a Sean Lee limp, and now some concerns with Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, you can't help but wonder if the football gods are starting to look at your team as the next victim.
You stress about the suspensions. Well, maybe not everyone in this world, but anyone who follows this team has gained real experience over the years at wondering when Player A is going to get his suspension enforced, or when Player B is going to return and what sort of shape he is going to be in. I don't have a real solution for you here. This is life with Jerry Jones, and any hope that he is going to change his stripes three decades into his run after he has been told he does everything perfectly and was put into the Hall of Fame is just a waste of your mental energy. He isn't changing. You love his team. Therefore, you signed up to deal with his instinctual desires to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. If and when Ezekiel Elliott goes away for six weeks is out of your control, but what shouldn't be out of Dallas' control is the ability to function on a competitive level without a running back whom evidently the entire world revolves around.
You may also stress about the competition. Most notably, the fact that the team many had finishing last in the NFC East this year -- partly because that is where they finished in 2016 -- the Philadelphia Eagles, are hitting their bye/recovery week off with an 8-1 record and look like world beaters, having destroyed their past two opponents by a combined score of 84-33. The Eagles are certainly showing they are formidable, talented and full of confidence. They are also showing that the path is pretty clear for them to step up and grab the No. 1 seed in the conference. But, given that the paths of these two teams will cross at least two (and possibly three) times before the dealing is done, I suggest that those concerns about what they do to San Francisco and Denver are about as irrelevant as it gets.
You stress. It is part of the fun. It is part of the agony. It is why we pour so much mental energy into a football team.
But if yesterday confirmed anything that wasn't already abundantly clear -- in a place where there are an awful lot of things to stress about -- the convincing win over the Chiefs should show the Cowboys have a fantastic quarterback.
Dak Prescott was assured that his second swim through the NFL would bring him to his knees. A sophomore slump was around the corner. And, I suppose, these are the types of fun, "yeah, but" conversations that fuel this league every week from. But seriously, through 24 games, he has generated 49 touchdowns for the Cowboys against just eight interceptions. If you are wondering what that TD/INT ratio of 6.1 does on an all-time level, according to my friends at STATS, it is the best of all time. In fact, nobody else is over 3.9 (Tyrod Taylor) in the history of the league. He generates six touchdowns for every mistake that turns into a giveaway -- and he was drafted with a compensatory pick in the fourth round.
Those 49 touchdowns, without worrying about giveaways, is also rarefied air. The list of quarterbacks who have generated that in the first 24 starts of their career includes just a half-dozen others. They were all the talk of the league: Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Daryle Lamonica.
He proved yesterday what he is all about, again. This team needed something late in the first half after Prescott was sacked to force a third-and-15 from the Cowboys' 13-yard line. Actually, they didn't need anything, because Dallas led 7-3, so the smartest option was simply to punt and get to halftime.
I would love to know the conversation between Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Prescott during the game, but it was surreal to hear Romo talk us through it.
"Usually inside the 20-yard line, he [Garrett] likes to hand it off. He trusts this offense, but not inside the 20 normally. We will see if in this case he changes."
I agreed with Tony's thought. This isn't the place on the field to get frisky with the risk/reward ratio like it is in the second half. So, when Prescott dropped back to throw, I was thinking we were about to see a nice little dink to give the punt team a little more room because of the threat it faced.
But then, Prescott reached back and threw a dart from his 6-yard line to the 34, where Dez Bryant had to go up to bring it back down securely. The throw was both precise and dangerous. The safeties are behind Bryant, so if Prescott sails this ball at all, it is an easy Chiefs interception that will go deep into Cowboys territory. It could be a game-swinger in either direction. For Prescott to step into that throw and fire a dart almost 30 yards was one of the best throws of his career. And it gave the Cowboys the offensive spark they were missing for most of the first half.
That is what he does. He doesn't make every throw perfectly. But he generally makes every decision perfectly -- something his predecessor did not always do. That, by the way, led to his coaches asking him to hand off the ball on third and long to take the risky decision out of his hands. Prescott, this early in his career, got the green light and then made the throw on third and 15 from his own 13-yard line against a good team, in a tight situation, without any flow going on with the offense at that time.
The next play he is rolling to his right after getting flushed from the pocket as Justin Houston presses La'el Collins backward and Zack Martin struggles to hold off Allen Bailey. Prescott escapes to his right and, as we have seen a dozen times in his young career, throws on the run and off one foot to an open Terrance Williams down the right sideline for 56 yards. A few snaps later, on third and goal from the 10, Prescott again escapes as Houston beats Collins around the corner and has him dead. Prescott escapes up and over again, and this time, because he has five targets out in routes, simply heads for the pylon himself and scores a huge touchdown.
Now, we all know what happened next. Somehow, the defense allowed the Chiefs to score on one of the craziest plays I have ever seen, with Alex Smith hitting the terrifying Tyreek Hill on a short pass and allowing him to get into the end zone, despite the Cowboys having the Chiefs outnumbered seven to three in the back. It was the type of play that could have been characterized as the catastrophic moment of the season when everything collapsed under one calamity.
Instead, despite not touching the ball again until the Chiefs had scored early in the third quarter to take the lead at 17-14, Prescott and the Cowboys' offense just went back to work. Now, in the second half, it was much more about the offensive line and Elliott. He had 16 carries in the second half and the Cowboys went to the ground-and-pound mode that makes them what they are.
He may have to go away for a while now, or not -- who knows anymore? But with Prescott, this offensive line and the threats on this offense who are too numerous to count, I continue to think the fan base is underestimating this team's ability to survive Elliott's possibly absence. Furthermore, I continue to sit here and say they are right on schedule for a season that may put them on the road in the playoffs, but with this quarterback, this running back and this O-line, I will take my chances against anyone, especially with that defensive line looking the part of one that will be a real handful here late in the season.
In other words, the story here about the Dallas Cowboys evolves by the minute. We know it, and in some ways we embrace it because it is the "SNAFU" way we do things. Situation normal, for sure.
But the Cowboys have some things in place that are not part of the normal setting these days. They have a quarterback who is used to things going right and believes in his heart that he will fix this situation. The Cowboys had a lot go wrong Sunday and responded with drives of 82 yards for a touchdown, 75 yards for a touchdown and 87 yards for another touchdown, consecutively, before they had the game in hand.
They continue to roll with a dominant offense and a defense that, despite that ridiculous sequence before halftime, also responded with three stops to finish the game. It only had to make three because the offense held on to the ball for so much time in the second half.
Yes, there are still stresses. Injuries. Suspensions. And other teams are having nice seasons, too.
But I look at this offense, since Oct. 1, as elite: 32.4 points per game with 409 yards of offense per game and 917 rushing yards, which leads the league. Also, since the Rams game, Prescott has been rolling along with a quarterback rating of 104.2 with 11 touchdown passes, three more touchdown runs and just two interceptions.
So, some are going to tell you this team can't do anything without Elliott. But I will tell you that with the starting quarterback playing like this, I submit they are underestimating a guy who seems to feed off being underestimated.