ARLINGTON, Texas – In his first 68 starts, Dak Prescott had never missed an entire series due to injury as the Cowboys' starting quarterback.
Not until the third quarter Sunday against the Giants, when Prescott suffered a right ankle compound fracture and dislocation requiring surgery. The image of Prescott in tears, saluting the crowd from a medical cart, is now an unforgettable – and devastating – image in Cowboys history.
It also means 10-year veteran Andy Dalton, signed in May as backup insurance for one of the most durable starters in the NFL, is now likely to lead the offense for the rest of the season.
"We all have great confidence in Andy," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've all been working together since training camp. Andy's got a lot of pelts on the wall. He's been a great addition to the quarterback room."
If the final drive was any indication, the offense has a chance to continue its strong start to the season despite a serious injury to the league's leading passer through four games.
Dalton fumbled away the ball on his second full drive replacing Prescott, a turnover leading to a Giants touchdown. But he led the Cowboys on two scoring drives in the final 8:46, including a five-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Greg Zuerlein's winning 34-yard field goal as time expired.
"He's a guy that played a lot of ball," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "He's a pro. He does things the right way. We are going to have to figure out. And go play for (No.) 4."
Dalton went 3-for-4 on that final series: first a 15-yard pass to Amari Cooper, then two straight highlight-reel completions to Michael Gallup for 19 and 38 yards to set up Zuerlein.
"I can't say enough about the connection between him and Michael at the most important part of the game. That's big-time football," McCarthy said. "You've got to make big plays at key moments to win games in this league. That will never change. Andy did a heck of a job."
Injuries have struck the offense again and again over the last month. First it was starting tight end Blake Jarwin's torn ACL in the season opener against the Rams. Starting offensive tackles
Tyron Smith (neck) and La'el Collins are on injured reserve with injuries also requiring surgery. Starting center Joe Looney will miss a minimum of three weeks on IR with a sprained knee.
The latest to be sidelined is Prescott, who's "clearly the leader of this football team," McCarthy said.
In a statement Sunday night, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the club has "no doubt" that Prescott "will return to the position of leadership and purpose that he brings to our team."
In the meantime, it's Dalton who must step up.
The 32-year-old had been a starter his entire NFL career until 2020 but fully accepted his role as a reserve. Now he's back to a familiar position – in charge of the huddle.
"It's one of those things where you never want anything to happen, but you got to stay ready. That's what I've done. I've stayed ready, and I've been ready to go into these games," said Dalton, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Bengals from 2011-19. "I knew the situation I was in, and I was just trying my best to support Dak in whatever he was doing. But I feel like I was prepared for these moments."