ARLINGTON, Texas – There's a well-worn sports cliché that says "it's not how you start, it's how you finish," and it could not apply more fittingly to Dak Prescott.
What better way to describe Sunday's dicey start by the rookie quarterback, which evolved into an utterly dominant showing by the starting quarterback of the 9-1 Dallas Cowboys?
"We knew we would wear them down," Prescott said. "They are a physical team. We believe in our physicality and just staying at it, not really blinking or flinching."
That's an impressive quote, given the way Prescott and the Cowboys started this game against the NFL's best defense. Dallas' first possession of the game was a three-and-out, punctuated by a quarterback sack.
Things didn't improve in any great hurry. The Cowboys punted on their first four possessions of the afternoon, and they never covered more than 31 yards in that span. In the process, Prescott combined to go just 4-of-10 for 30 yards through the air.
"I didn't know how many incompletions I threw earlier in the game – I knew it was a good bit," Prescott said. "I wasn't throwing it as quick as I wanted to, or had the great start, but I wasn't worried about that."
The rookie quarterback's composure has been the central point of his unfathomable rise to the top of the NFL, and it reared up again Sunday afternoon. Because after a self-described slow start, something clicked.
The Cowboys scored on their final two possessions of the first half, with Prescott throwing a mere two incompletions in that time span. He led a six-play, 52-yard touchdown drive to tie the game, 7-7. As will be remembered for some time, that drive featured the successful conversion of a 1st-and-30, in which Prescott picked up gains of 12, 12 and 41 immediately following back-to-back offensive line penalties.
"We just tried to get some of it back. Tried to get it going," Prescott said. "We kind of did it last week against Pittsburgh, so we never really worry about it. We just focus on this play and have everybody do their job."
[embeddedad0]Minutes later, facing a 10-7 deficit with 1:33 until halftime, Prescott then marched the Cowboys 63 yards on eight plays for a game-tying field goal.
"You just keep banging away," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "It's one play at a time, you just go out there and execute."
If perseverance was the key word for the first half, then the second half looked like dominance – and Prescott was right in the center of it.
In just three second half possessions, he completed an absurd 14-of-15 attempts for 146 yards and two touchdowns. While the ground game started to find success with Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott absolutely killed Baltimore when he needed to.
The Cowboys were 4-of-5 on third down after halftime, with all four conversions coming on Prescott throws – to four different receivers, no less.
Above all else, Prescott said it emphasized the importance of patience.
They are going to sit back and make me throw underneath," he said. "That shows my patience and the whole offense's patience of taking what they give us, and breaking tackles. That's what the guys did when I threw it underneath."
That's not to say the Cowboys didn't stretch the field. Brice Butler's 41-yard gain on a long ball set up the Cowboys' first touchdown, and Bryant scored on a deep slant from 13 yards out.
But when push came to shove, the Cowboys didn't force it. They played well beyond their rookie quarterback's level of experience – for the 10th time this year. Just by the virtue of staying patient, Prescott and Co. were repaid with the longest win streak in franchise history.
"You got a lot of guys that care about one another and love to see each other succeed," Bryant said. "When you've got that, everybody's going to smile, everybody's ready to go, everybody wants to play – we're going to keep it that way."