Dak Prescott, rookie quarterback in December, can look back on Dak Prescott, rookie quarterback in September, and understand the reason for the mistakes.
In what turned out to be his only flawed performance in an otherwise extraordinary season, Prescott looks at video of the Cowboys’ 20-19 loss to the Giants in his first NFL start and sees the answer so clearly and so instantaneously, he almost can’t believe it.
“I watched back the tape, and I shake my head sometimes at the things I did or the throws I didn’t make because I wasn’t trusting it,” Prescott said this past week as he prepared for tonight’s rematch against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Three months to the day later, it’s as if Prescott already has jumped ahead three seasons in terms of his grasp of the game. He has helped the Cowboys win 11 straight games since that season-opening loss at home, and a win over the Giants tonight would clinch the NFC East and add one more mind-boggling accomplishment for a player who was a draft-day afterthought until an injury to Tony Romo thrust him into the starting lineup.
It has been an unlikely yet astonishing ride for the fourth-round rookie out of Mississippi State, and not even Romo’s return from a preseason back injury could prompt the Cowboys to think of taking Prescott out of the lineup. He has been positively brilliant — almost perfect, actually — with 19 touchdown passes and two interceptions. His .679 completion percentage is fifth among NFL starters, and his 108.6 rating is third overall. The only quarterbacks with a higher rating: the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Falcons’ Matt Ryan.
“I’ve definitely grown a ton since [opening day], just being able to see defenses faster, recognize what’s going on,” Prescott said. “Just knowing and making confident decisions and letting the ball go.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning certainly has taken notice, and he understands firsthand just how impressive Prescott has been. Manning had the benefit of sitting and learning during the first part of his rookie season; he was a backup to Kurt Warner in 2004 until Tom Coughlin made the switch to Manning after nine games.
Manning, who hasn’t missed a start since, has two Super Bowl championships on his resume and likely will be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he’s done with the NFL.
“For such a young quarterback coming in right from the get-go, it’s been impressive,” Manning said. “He’s played extremely well and at a high level. He’s done a fabulous job just learning the offense, protecting the football. It doesn’t seem too fast for him. He does a good job finding completions, running around making plays, extending plays and playing smart football. You have to give credit to him and the coaches for preparing him. He’s gone out there and done a great job making plays.”
Manning first got to know Prescott long before he came into the NFL. When Prescott was in high school, he attended the Manning Passing Academy, and he calls his time around Eli, Peyton and Archie Manning one of the most important experiences in his development as a quarterback.
Even Eli couldn’t have known Prescott would be this good this quickly, though. No one could have known, not even Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, a former backup quarterback with the Giants, among other teams.
“So much of what he’s all about is the approach that he takes,” Garrett said. “He’s so prepared for every situation. That’s the report that we got from his coaches at Mississippi State, and that’s what we’ve seen firsthand since we drafted him. He’s very poised, he’s very composed, he’s a very mature guy and I think he approaches it the right way. He’s prepared and ready, and then he learns from his experiences.”
It helps that Prescott plays behind the best offensive line in the NFL, and the presence of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott — who leads the NFL with 1,285 rushing yards and has 12 rushing touchdowns, second to New England’s LeGarrette Blount (13) — affords Prescott a much more effective play-action passing game. But even with those advantages, Prescott has been extraordinary in his own right.
And if the Cowboys continue winning right on through Feb. 5 in Houston, Prescott will become the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl.
Manning, meanwhile, has struggled to maintain the kind of consistency that marked his previous two years under play-caller Ben McAdoo. And the Giants’ sputtering offense is a major cause for concern, perhaps spelling the difference between reaching the playoffs and having a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl or collapsing down the stretch and either missing the playoffs or exiting the postseason early.
With Manning about to turn 36 next month and not having many years left, and with Prescott just at the beginning of his career, we might be seeing a lasting shift in how the NFC East will look in the years ahead.
The kid can’t wait for this one.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot personally, and then I know this team is,” Prescott said. “They’re the only blemish on our record right now. And just to be able to go up there at their place and be able to do what they did to us the first game, we’re excited for the opportunity.”[/DROPCAP]
2,974 yards passing
108.6 QB rating