SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Dak Prescott doesn't mind playing from behind, and he doesn't mind playing fast.
That much was clear just before halftime Sunday at Levi's Stadium when, after cutting an early 14-point deficit to seven, the rookie completed 8-of-10 passes for 56 yards and found Brice Butler for the tying touchdown with 12 seconds remaining.
The 11-play, 58-yard drive took all of a minute and 32 seconds. Just that quickly, the San Francisco 49ers' momentum had shifted in the Cowboys' direction.
"Coach (Scott Linehan) did a great job just calling the plays and allowing us to go fast," Prescott said. "That's when I feel comfortable. When we're going fast, run the ball, putting the pressure on the defense."
Prescott is getting the hang of this NFL starting quarterback thing pretty fast.
Sunday's 24-17 victory was Prescott's third straight as the fill-in starter for injured veteran Tony Romo (back). He completed 23-of-32 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in his third straight game with a passer rating over 100 (114.7).
The Cowboys are 3-1 for only the second time since 2008, despite playing Sunday without wide receiver Dez Bryant (knee) and offensive line starters Tyron Smith (back) and La'el Collins (toe).
"I say it every time you ask me," he said, "but I'd like to be 4-0."
The rookie's poise and confidence are no surprise by now.
Neither is his ability to play efficient football, no matter the situation. He still hasn't committed a turnover in his NFL career, and his pass attempts streak without an interception now stands at 131 – tying Warren Moon for the second-most in NFL history to begin a career – even though 49ers safety Eric Reid nearly picked him off early in the game.
[embeddedad0]Playing mistake-free shouldn't be mistaken for playing timid. The drive before halftime was the latest example.
"The kind of team we want to build," head coach Jason Garrett said. "Handle any situation, go on the road, down 14-0, you want to have the kind of guys that are going to respond the right way. We've certainly done that all year long."
The early 14-point deficit was the team's largest of the season (previously nine in a Week 1 loss to the New York Giants) and might have appeared daunting without Bryant, the offense's go-to receiver, in the lineup.
But Prescott looked equally comfortable throwing to Terrance Williams and Bryant's injury replacement, Brice Butler. They combined for nine catches for 84 yards and the two touchdowns that tied the game before halftime.
After the 49ers kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead, Prescott brought the Cowboys from behind again in the third quarter. He directed a 10-play, 78-yard scoring drive with completions to Butler and tight end Jason Witten and 50 rushing yards and a touchdown from rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Then, attempting to run out the clock with 1:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, Prescott threw a screen that Cole Beasley turned into a 47-yard gain to seal the seven-point win.
"He got some good yards to finish the game off," Prescott said.
Since Romo fractured a bone in his back in an Aug. 25 preseason game, the Cowboys have been pleased with his recovery but have not committed to a firm timetable for his expected return this season. Team owner/general manager Jerry Jones refuted reports that the team is targeting Week 8 after the bye for Romo to return.
"We don't know that," Jones said.
In the meantime, Prescott is getting invaluable game experience that seemed impossible two months ago when he entered training camp third on the quarterback depth chart behind Romo and Kellen Moore (fibula; injured reserve).
He's learning. And improving.