ARLINGTON, Texas – It goes without saying that Jaylon Smith has a unique perspective on any type of football injury.
So naturally, in the midst of the emotion of Dak Prescott's ankle fracture, it was hard for Smith to avoid thinking of the injury that impacted his own career so much.
"Whether I tried to think about it or not, it came to my mind," he said. "I was just thinking about that moment – everything I endured. I seen the tears in Dak's eyes, and just reminisced about when I went through that same thing."
The same type of uncertainty that now surrounds Prescott once followed Smith, as well. As has been well-documented, he suffered a debilitating knee injury during his final college game – a tear of both his MCL and his LCL that threatened his NFL draft stock, not to mention his very ability to lift his foot properly.
Speaking from extensive experience, Smith is well aware of the journey that's awaiting Prescott – and he knows the quarterback is up to the task.
"Well, it's all about awareness of what happened, why it happened, what's it going to take to get back," Smith said. "And then from there it's just the everyday grind – having a clear eye view and embracing each moment. You've got to embrace each moment. Dak is going to do that."
Meanwhile, the unflinching truth of the matter is that the game stops for no one. Prescott exited the field with five minutes remaining in the third quarter of a 24-23 game. Ezekiel Elliott did what he could to help with a 12-yard touchdown moments later, but the Dallas defense still had to hold off Daniel Jones and the Giants offense for the final 20 minutes of the game.
It might not have been pretty, but they succeeded. To hear it from Smith, a big part of that was finding the confidence they lacked against Cleveland.
"Confidence, playing as one," he said. "Understanding the ebbs and flows of the game but continuing to fight. It's just one step closer to establishing our identity."
It's fun trying to pick the theme of this performance out of the box score. The Giants finished this game with 34 points, which is obviously a lot. They also converted 54% of their third downs, which doesn't speak well of any defense.
At the same time, their offense finished with just 300 yards and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. Their only touchdown drive of the second half came after an Andy Dalton fumble set them up on the Cowboys' 24-yard line.
Most importantly, the Cowboys came through in the clutch. After a Greg Zuerlein field goal tied the game, 34-34, the Giants took the field with 1:56 to play.
The results were encouraging. After a quick 14-yard completion, Jones was harassed out of the pocket three times in four plays and ultimately threw incomplete on 3rd-and-9. New York punted, and the Dallas offense took it from there.
"We knew what was at stake," DeMarcus Lawrence said. "We knew it was a division game, we knew Jason Garrett was coming back in town and he's looking for a win on this stage. It was up to the defense not to let that happen."
It's just one step – certainly not anything to get too excited about. The Cowboys are still just 2-3, and they're allowing an average of 36 points per game. And if they didn't already need to raise their level of play, it becomes a bigger point of emphasis with their starting quarterback out of the lineup.
On this occasion, at least, they were up to the challenge.
"We're all grown ass men, and we know what we have to do," Smith said. "It was just about putting our minds together and collectively, and figuring out how can we accomplish the mission."