Dak and Zeke: Rookies changing the game
The latest chapter in the story of the tale-topping duo leading the Cowboys to a victory over the Steelers
This is just how the Dallas Cowboys roll now. They’ve ripped through the NFL and matched a major franchise mark established way back in the day — and that’s not even the dopest part of the story. The rest of the league is all in its feelings because rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are changing the game, too.
The Pittsburgh Steelers became the latest team done wrong by Prescott and Elliott, who made their biggest plays yet again Sunday as the Cowboys won their record eighth consecutive game by rallying in the final seconds for a 35-30 road victory. Prescott looked every bit like a quarterback who has nine Pro Bowl seasons on his resume — not merely nine NFL games. With 42 seconds left in the game, the Steelers ahead by a point and the Cowboys starting on their own 25-yard line, Prescott put in work.
As cool as could be, Prescott completed three of four passes (a 15-yard face-mask penalty against the Steelers also helped) to get the Cowboys going. From there, Elliott grabbed the mic.
The league’s leading rusher burst up the middle for his second touchdown run in as many possessions, the game-clincher covering 32 yards and triggering a mass exodus among the typically raucous, Terrible Towel-waving crowd of 67,737 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. This edition of the team pulled even with the 1977 Blue Star squad, which also ripped off eight straight wins.
Since dropping their season opener to the New York Giants in what seems like some bygone era, the NFC East-leading Cowboys (8-1) have been an offensive machine en route to the NFL’s best record. As for the youngbloods who make them go, well, the Cowboys haven’t seen the likes of them before.
“No. Not two rookies,” Cowboys owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones told reporters in the visitors’ locker room. “Not two that are so in sync to where they’re feeding off of each other and, of course, the team is feeding off of them.”
Because of Prescott and Elliott, everyone is eating — well.
Prescott completed 22 of 32 passes for 319 yards – his first career 300-yard game – with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 50-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant in the third quarter was like velvet. As we’ve been saying in this space for weeks, as long as Prescott keeps doing his Willie Beamen thing, it would be downright loco for the Cowboys to turn back to Tony Romo this season. After Prescott directed another get-out-of-their-way performance, the Cowboys’ boss got aboard the Dak Express, saying Romo will be Prescott’s backup beginning this week. “It’s not hard,” Jones said of the logical decision. “It’s not hard at all.”
Obviously, Elliott, who had his best all-around game, is staying put, as well. Besides his two rushing touchdowns, the former Ohio State All-American gained 114 yards and has 1,005 on the season. He also had a thrilling 83-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Prescott.
Yeah, the reeling Steelers, losers of four in a row, hated the show. But they knew they were watching something special.
Prescott and Elliott “won the game,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “They were awesome.”
For the seventh time, Prescott had a passer rating greater than 103. Here’s the point: Dude is poised and efficient beyond his years. For those reasons, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett often gushes over Prescott. On Sunday, Garrett tossed the spigot.
“He was remarkable,” Garrett said, beaming. “He was great throughout the game, dealing with different situations, and particularly at the end of the game. He made plays when he needed to make them … and certainly at the end of the game.
“What he was able to do on that drive was outstanding. He showed great poise in the pocket with people all around him, standing in there and delivering throws. It’s contagious throughout our team. Guys believed in him.”
The former fourth-round draft choice has been so profoundly good, Romo can’t get the gig back. “Dak has got a hot hand,” Jones said. “We’re going to go with it.”
Romo’s back is all healed up, Jones said. The plan is for the Pro Bowler to be active this week against the Baltimore Ravens. Prescott, however, has earned the right to remain atop the depth chart. Actually, it’s a no-brainer.
“It’s just going with the obvious,” Jones said. “You are going with how the team is doing right now. It must be obvious, because I get asked about it every time I open my mouth. … Tony would make the same decision.”
Well, I’m not sure I’m buying that last part of the quote. By all accounts, though, Romo has been genuinely supportive of Prescott. He also knows that it would be highly risky for management to mess with the Cowboys’ spectacular team chemistry.
“There’s no fragileness, because Tony is on board to ride this thing out, as well,” Jones said. “Absolutely. Absolutely. Let me be clear on that. There is no equivocation. He is totally committed to doing the very best thing to win.”
Of course, winning, as always, is the key.
As long as Prescott balls in victories, it’s all good. If Prescott struggles in losses, however, count on the door reopening for Romo. Sounds about right, Prescott said.
“We have to get another [victory],” he said. “To me, we have to keep winning and doing what we are doing. We have to keep battling and trusting each other.”
On the Cowboys, Prescott trusts no one more than Elliott. Prescott is locked in a Rookie of the Year battle with his homeboy, who also may mess around and wind up as the league’s MVP. Even as the fourth overall pick, you could make an argument that Elliott was the steal of the draft, if not for how his roommate on the road has so thoroughly smashed expectations.
Elliott has an unfair combination of power and speed, and “one of the things you find out is that good things happen when he has the ball in his hands,” Garrett said. “The screen pass for the touchdown was huge for us to overcome some adversity.
“He has the ability, over time, to wear a defense down. He’s physically tough. He keeps pouring it on in there. When he has opportunities to make tough and dirty runs, he does it. When he has opportunities to make big runs to change the game, he certainly does that, as well.”
For the Cowboys, the 2016 draft is a gift that keeps on giving. Dallas got a take-charge quarterback for its present and future and a set-the-tone runner who, paired with the game’s best offensive line, is crushing weekly. Prescott and Elliott have redefined the Cowboys. The rest of the league will just have to deal with it.