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Helman: Dak Prescott, Tony Romo & The Absurdity Of Rushing To Judgments

FRISCO, Texas – Even five days later, I can't help but dwell on the ironic timing of that Thanksgiving game.

There was Dak Prescott, wrapping up a third-straight blowout loss and a third-straight frustrating performance. The second-year starter was sacked eight times in Atlanta, posted the worst passer rating of his career a week later against Philadelphia and threw two fourth quarter interceptions in this latest setback to the Chargers.

And the guy with the honor of narrating it all was none other than Tony Romo – who Prescott pushed out of the lineup with his stellar play just one year ago.

The timing was so eerie it almost felt cosmic. As if everything had gone so well for Dak Prescott up until this point, it was destined that one of the lowest moments of his career would come right in front of his predecessor.

And really, doesn't that feel so fitting? Tony Romo, who was never good enough – who never won enough – to endear himself to a large potion of Dallas Cowboys fans, no matter how well he played, was on hand to witness the game that seems to be turning the narrative against his former teammate.

Yes, that's where we're at right now. We've long wondered, after that magical start to his career, how long might Dak Prescott's honeymoon last? And I think we have our answer.

Three-straight lopsided losses. Three-straight weeks in which he hasn't thrown for 200 yards. Five combined interceptions and no touchdowns passes in that time span, and here we are.

The guy who could do no wrong throughout his rookie season, and was quietly putting together a fantastic follow-up effort, is drawing the role of the scapegoat for the first time in his professional career.

The talking points are obvious. He's trying to do too much. He's not accurate. He needs Ezekiel Elliott to make his job easier.

Honestly, a lot of that criticism is fair. The point of this column isn't to absolve Dak Prescott of any blame in the Cowboys' current three-game skid or their disappointing 5-6 record.

But, like I said. I can't stop thinking about Tony Romo – and not for the reasons you're probably thinking.

I'm not worried about what Tony Romo could or couldn't be doing for the Dallas Cowboys. That ship sailed. Prescott earned the starting job when he won eight-straight games while Romo was injured, and the rest is history. It was never about who was an objectively better quarterback, but what made the most sense for the long-term future of the organization.

Dak Prescott is the long-term future of this franchise, and I'm here to remind you that his career trajectory isn't always going to be the straight arrow from 2016.

His accuracy hasn't been amazing this season. The Cowboys have struggled to open up their downfield passing attack. Prescott and his coaching staff aren't going to say it out loud, but he certainly looks like a guy who is more comfortable when he has an All-Pro running back drawing the focus of opposing defenses.

And you know what? That's OK. It really is. Prescott has started a whopping 28 games in his NFL career. The reason he became an overnight sensation in the first place is that it was unheard of for a fourth-round draft pick to play so well, so early in his career.

You can call this a sophomore slump if you want to, but I think that's such a lazy assessment. As bad as the past few games have looked, this is still the guy who put forth phenomenal efforts in games against the Rams and the Chiefs within the last two months. He did just about anything you could ask of your quarterback in a 35-31 loss to Green Bay – with the only possible criticism being that he scored the go-ahead touchdown too soon.

We've seen great play from Prescott in his second season, and it's not necessarily surprising that he's not yet at a point where he can maintain that level of play without guys like Tyron Smith or Ezekiel Elliott.

That doesn't mean he can't develop into that quarterback in time. Russell Wilson began his career averaging 194 passing yards per game, managing an offense that leaned on Marshawn Lynch. Five years later, he's averaging 275 yards per game as the focal point of Seattle's offense.

That's not to say Dak's career trajectory will follow Wilson's – but the point is that good quarterbacks evolve and progress over the course of their time in the league.

Of course, at the current rate, it feels like half the fanbase would rather not find out where Dak Prescott's career is heading. That's the flipside of being the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback – as great as it is when things are going well, it's equally bad when they're not.

To his credit, Prescott knows that's what he's signed up for, even at the age of 24.

"That's part of playing for this organization. The highs are going to be really high and the lows are going to be lows," he said on Sunday. "For me, it's just about staying right there in the middle and not getting high when everything's great and not getting down right now."

That's the type of mature and measured response you want from the guy entrusted with being the face of your franchise. He never appeared to let his rookie success go too far to his head, and I doubt he's sweating the criticism too much right now.

I worry about the rest of y'all, and the expectations you set out for your heroes.

Obviously, at the end of the day, you can do what you want. You're consumers, and you shell out your hard-earned money for your favorite NFL team. That buys you a certain amount of leeway to say what you want.

But like I said, I can't help but think of Tony Romo, who was inarguably one of the great players in Cowboys history. Despite that fact, he never got his just due from many people until it was too late – and in a lot of cases, he never got that credit at all.

It'd be a shame to make that same mistake again so soon.

For Prescott's part – like I said, I don't think he's sweating it, one way or the other. On Sunday, he was asked what he says to the people who question his ability. As has been the case throughout his brief career, he had the perfect response.

"What do I say to those people? Keep questioning me," he said. "Obviously, if you're questioning me, you don't know me and you don't know what I'm about. So keep questioning me, sure. Have fun at it."


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