Mac Engel

Quarterback controversy looming for Cowboys, Garrett

Jason Garrett finished one of the more embarrassing weeks of his tenure as head coach with a finale that was one of his finest moments as a Cowboy.

Garrett made himself look like a hypocrite for botching the Dez Bryant situation, but he righted himself Sunday when his injured team improved to 3-1.

“We should be 4-0,” cornerback Brandon Carr said after the Cowboys rallied to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 24-17.

It’s insane, and he is not wrong. The Cowboys are a one-point loss to the New York Giants away from being perfect. Even with Tony Romo, this was not supposed to happen.

The Dallas Cowboys started the season without their Pro Bowl quarterback, and entered Week 4 without Romo, a starting cornerback (Orlando Scandrick), their best pass rusher (DeMarcus Lawrence), their All-Pro left tackle (Tyron Smith), their All-Pro wide receiver (Dez Bryant) and their starting left guard (La’el Collins).

And this list of absentees does not include the departures of defensive end Randy Gregory and linebacker Rolando McClain to stupidity ... sorry, suspensions.

“They represent about 40 percent of our payroll,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said of the players unable to play Sunday. “Jerry [Jones] set the tone in camp [that] we can’t worry about who is not playing, let’s worry about who is playing. That is the different attitude this year.”

Who is playing will soon enough be at the epicenter of the eagerly awaited “quarterback controversy,” which is rightly coming with each Dak Prescott victory. Regardless of how he chooses to handle that, Coach Process has proven to be the fighter that preaches to his team. Through the first quarter of the 2016 season, no one deserves the game ball more than Garrett.

Whatever you think of the play-calling and the sometimes empty rah-rah rhetoric, his players continually buy in — which has this team with a record that no one could have expected in the preseason when Romo hurt his back yet again.

“Last year when we dealt with injuries ... I’d say we didn’t deal with them well,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “This year, because we have been through injuries and we had great players out, we knew we can’t flinch. We have to find ways to win games and we have to win now.

“Last year there were guys [who said], ‘We’ll wait ’til Tony gets back,’ and we lost too many games. I don’t want to say it was intentional, but if you look back we could have handled it better. How many games did we lose in a row? We didn’t know how to win football games. It helps this year we have a lot of guys stepping up.”

None more so than a rookie quarterback who entered training camp No. 3 on the depth chart. But a lot of the credit must go to our town’s most maddening redhead.

Now, the Cowboys have not exactly defeated a Who’s Who lineup of opponents, but at least they have separated themselves from the NFL’s annual junk pile. That’s half the struggle.

The 49ers are part of that junk, but when they led 14-0 in the first half they looked better than the Cowboys. At that moment, it all looked justifiably too much for Dak. It should have been, and no one should have thought any less of him as a player if Sunday was his “rookie moment.”

To win his third NFL start without his best receiver and two starting linemen was just a bit too much. As much as the Cowboys want to win games with their line and running back Ezekiel Elliott, they were not going to come back from a two-touchdown hole without Dak throwing it.

By the end of the first half, Prescott had completed 15 of 21 passes for 133 yards with two touchdowns, the second on a nice throw to Brice Butler in the corner of the end zone with 12 seconds remaining.

“Other than the first half, we were just stepping on our own toes, making mental errors, and jumping offside or false starts, things like that,” Prescott said. “Once we got going, things worked out.”

Dak is being modest because he’s not dumb, and he means it. The guy has yet to throw an interception in 131 attempts and now he has three touchdown passes, too. His quarterback rating is 98.5.

“He’s what he is,” said cornerback Mo Claiborne, who had an interception Sunday and is finally playing like the first-round pick that he was. “It’s no matter what you say, people are going to have their opinion on everything. I just hope he keeps playing the way he’s playing and don’t listen to everybody.”

I don’t care if Elliott is the NFL’s leading rusher and ran for 138 yards Sunday. As we all witnessed last season with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel, if the quarterback is a dog this would not be happening.

Dak is certainly not a dog, nor is he your typical rookie quarterback. The young man is a player, and if he continues this ascent he will present Garrett with his first quarterback controversy involving a player with whom he is friends. Garrett has never had to bench a guy he attends Duke or SMU basketball games with, and has been his coach/coordinator since 2007.

I asked Jerry Jones if he has made any mental preparations for that potential “controversy,” to which he only could smile and dream.

“We dream of having that kind of dilemma,” Jerry said.

As to when Romo returns, there are reports that say anywhere between five and eight weeks. Nobody knows.

Until then, all of the players and the coaches will say this is Romo’s team. But with every Prescott completion, touchdown and win it will be more apparent that it no longer is.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof

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