The curtain rose on Dak Prescott’s NFL career Sunday, and even the critics from New York were impressed.
And why shouldn’t they be?
The rookie from Mississippi State was the picture of composure throughout most of the day. He completed 25 of his 45 passes for 227 yards. He threw no interceptions. He took the Dallas Cowboys on scoring drives on their first three possessions.
“I think he showed poise,” New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo assessed. “I think he played well.
“He didn’t force anything and used their line well — moved the pocket for them a little bit.”
Veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the Giants agreed, adding, “Dak, you have to give it to him. He made some plays. He stepped up. He’s scrambling. He’s running.”
If the Giants, however, were so impressed by the fourth-round draft choice’s professional debut, why did he and the home team choke on their popcorn in the final scene?
“We were down there the first three drives of the game and we had to settle for field goals,” Prescott said after the 20-19 defeat. “That’s 21 points that you’d rather have than nine.”
The Cowboys didn’t reach the end zone until Ezekiel Elliott scored on an 8-yard run in the third quarter. But Prescott’s math was correct — the offense shortchanged itself and the damage was done.
Prescott has had a textbook start to his NFL career. It’s time to turn the page, though, to the next chapter — touchdowns.
The game’s frantic finish, culminating in the clock blunder by receiver Terrance Williams, rightly sent most of the 92,867 at AT&T Stadium muttering into the night.
Coach Jason Garrett critiqued Williams’ decision as bluntly as his customary positive demeanor will allow.
“It’s a well-practiced situation,” Garrett said.
Prescott was kinder to his wide receiver.
“The guy was trying to make a play,” Prescott said. “The right or wrong decision, whatever it was, you never want to knock a guy for trying to make a play and get more yards.”
Finding more yards, alas, proved to be a Cowboys obstacle all day.
Whether it was the absence of Tony Romo or playing to their own strength, the Giants crowded the line on defense and appeared intent upon stopping the run.
“It was going to be a dirty-run game,” Garrett said. “It wasn’t going to be a game where we made a lot of big runs. We understood that, and we did a good job of continuing to force them to defend the run. We were able to move the ball and control the game.”
The Cowboys, indeed, controlled the time of possession. But they lost one touchdown throw to Dez Bryant on a reversal and bogged themselves down with penalties or negative runs on other trips inside the red zone.
Garrett explained that the Giants were doing things on defense to not only thwart the run, but take the dangerous Bryant out of the Cowboys’ offense.
What was left unexplained was why didn’t Prescott take more chances downfield through the first three quarters, especially if the Giants were crowding the box?
“I thought we did a really good job offensively throughout the first half of this ball game … The mix was outstanding. We controlled the line of scrimmage. We ran the ball efficiently, and Dak made a lot of good decisions and was effective throwing the football.”
Largely missing from Prescott’s repertoire Sunday, however, was his ability to run with the football. He did have one 11-yard gain on a keeper. The official stat sheet showed that Bryant was the pass target only five times.
It’s possible that the rookie quarterback was making his necessary reads and didn’t want to chance throwing the football deep.
But as last season’s procession of Romo fill-ins showed, it’s also possible that the coaches didn’t want Prescott taking any unnecessary chances.
So what, they trusted handing the ball to Elliott against a stacked defense all day — 20 carries, 51 yards — as much as turning the rookie quarterback loose?
The reviews, including the one from the team owner, suggest that Prescott was a hit on his first Sunday in the NFL.
But the debut had an unhappy ending.
Chapter Two of Dak Prescott’s textbook rookie beginning awaits. The part with the touchdowns, they hope.