ARLINGTON, Texas – Judging by the amount of running he had to do, Dak Prescott's calf held up just fine.
In the course of this 30-16 whipping at the hands of the Denver Broncos, Prescott's calf was put to the test. He ran for 16 yards, was sacked twice and was flushed out of the pocket what felt like a dozen times by a surprisingly potent pass rush.
"I mean, I did a lot of moving," Prescott said. "Did a lot of scrambling there, getting outside of the pocket, no issues. I didn't feel it. I'm fine."
It is, of course, good news in the grand scheme that Prescott isn't feeling adverse effects from the injury. But if Prescott wasn't hobbled by his calf, then there's not much else to say about his performance Sunday other than that he put up quite a poor effort.
"I thought he had a tough, uphill day," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "I thought particularly the match man game, there wasn't a lot of completions, as far as readily available as some prior contests."
There's more than enough blame to go around in a game like this, but even after a three-week layoff with the calf injury, it was striking to see how mightily Prescott struggled against the Broncos. He entered this game squarely in the NFL's MVP conversation, and he was limited to a completion percentage of just 49% and 232 yards – 120 of which came on the final two possessions of the game, when the outcome was beyond all doubt.
"Definitely shocked," Prescott said. "Like I said, they whupped us in every aspect. They beat us. That's not something you ever think about or every envision happening."
Prescott was on the run for much of his day, as the shuffled tackle duo of Terence Steele and La'el Collins struggled to cope with the Broncos defensive front. But even when he did have time, the throws that have looked so routine simply weren't there.
Midway through the first quarter, with the game still scoreless, he shorted a 4th-and-2 throw to Cedrick Wilson, killing a promising drive that had gotten to the Denver 20-yard line.
"I don't think it was tipped," he said. "I think I got ready to throw it on the crossing route, saw that guy's hands up and I think I just tried to change my arm angle at the last second and threw one at his ankles."
There were other miscues. Prescott and Lamb couldn't connect on two deep passes in crucial situations. One was a misfire on a 3rd-and-7 that could have been a touchdown, and there was also the overthrow on a fourth down go ball in the third.
To be fair to Prescott, there were also drops. Lamb and Amari Cooper both had key opportunities they couldn't hold on to, only serving to underscore how out of sync this offense looked.
"Honestly, I felt like we couldn't get a completion, all the receivers," Lamb said. "I don't know. It was a weird day today."
The natural conclusion is to assume there was rust. Prescott hasn't played since throwing the walk-off touchdown during the Week 6 win in New England, when he initially strained the calf. It's logical if three weeks away from live action threw him off his game.
Though, as he pointed out, his lack of practice time while nursing a shoulder injury during training camp didn't seem to affect him when he completed 72% of his passes for 403 yards in the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.
"I'm not going to sit there and blame two weeks when I had a great week of practice under my belt coming into this one," he said. "I just missed some throws and we weren't our normal selves in the passing game when we needed to be. We didn't execute."
Regardless of whether or not he was rusty, the Cowboys clearly wanted to give him a chance to get back into the flow of the game. McCarthy confirmed afterward that the coaching staff left Prescott in during the fourth quarter in an effort to give him some work in the two-minute offense.
"I was happy to see us have some two-minute production, just because I think that's something we can definitely carry forward out of this game," McCarthy said.
It's cold comfort coming out of such a lopsided result. In the vast majority of his NFL starts, Prescott is more used to being a bright spot, even in a losing effort.
This week, much like the rest of his team, Prescott will be left to learn from a forgettable outing and try to put it behind him.