ARLINGTON, Texas – Many, many years ago in my newspaper heydays, the three different leads to my Falcons-Cowboys game story would have been crumpled up and thrown into the wastepaper basket.
The first in my head here Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium would have begun, No Tyron Smith and no La'el Collins and no Cam Erving leading to no protection.
Next would have been about hanging on to the darn football, then, for goodness sakes, no more fake punts, especially not into the middle of what appeared to be like an eight-man front.
And for sure next would have been taking a page from Tom Landry's mouthing on the sideline to Danny White when his quarterback decided to ignore the call to not snap the ball on fourth down, the infamous, "No Danny, no," basically saying the same to Cowboys first-year head coach Mike McCarthy, "No Mike, no," when he decided down nine to the Falcons with 4:47 to play to go for two instead of the extra point to pull within eight, thinking the percentage of converting a two-point conversion would be significantly higher than recovering an onside kick these days if scoring another touchdown.
Well, crumple, toss, crumple, toss.
But thanks to Greg Zuerlein's execution of a nifty, standing flat-footed, ball flat on the ground parallel to the line of scrimmage onside whirling dervish of a kick to his left.
Thanks to C.J. Goodwin having a sense of where he was, waiting, waiting until the ball squibbed along the necessary 10 yards before pouncing on to recover.
And thanks again to Zuerlein for hitting the walk-off 46-yard field goal, the Cowboys an improbable 40, the Falcons a devastating 39 before 21,708 well-spaced-out actual folks for a game these pandemic days, most remaining in their seats for this glorious ending.
Now here is the lead …
Attaboy Dak Prescott.
Period. New graph.
And don't ever want to hear again, read another disparaging or sarcastic Tweet that Dak Prescott isn't this or he isn't that. That he can't put this team on his back. That he can't win close games. That he is incapable of leading comebacks.
Why, against all odds, and they were long, Dak put this entire franchise and maybe the 2020 season unlike any we've ever witnessed on his back to lead this team from as far away as Dumas, Texas, behind to a common-sense squashing win.
You know, saw this past week Dak wearing a T-shirt stating We All Bleed The Same Color. Guessing he meant red.
Not sure his is of the pedestrian scarlet hue.
Nope, Dak's must be the color of ice water, whatever color that might be. Maybe kind of a blue-ish tint, engineering the melting of his Atlanta opposite Matt Ryan, who just might have to forfeit his well-known moniker Matty-Ice since there is a new Ice Age quarterback in town.
"I know we answered tonight, the whole team answered tonight. A lot of guys answered tonight," Dak, exuberating, said right after the game about what these Cowboys, now 1-1 after the season-opening three-point loss in L.A., are made of.
And look, it's not all about Dak's stat line, impressive in its own right: 34 of 47, 450 yards, one touchdown, a passer rating of 109.4 and three rushing touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 400 yards and rush for three touchdowns … in the same game.
He led an offense racking up 570 total yards, fifth most in franchise history, and those 450 yards passing are third most in his career and sixth most in the history of a club featuring Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Danny White, Troy Aikman and Tony Romo at quarterback.
And after cutting a 19-point halftime deficit down to just five by the end of the third quarter, only to fall back by 15 with just that 7:57 left to play, yet Dak still mounts a comeback win? Well, call me Speech-less in Arlington.
Move over Roger. Meet Commander Comeback.
Afterward, they used words such as "composed" and "resilient" and "steady" and "fearless" and "a dog" to underserve Dak's performance. But more like "fabulous" and "gutty" and "indescribable" would best describe Dak leading the Cowboys' second-largest comeback victory, only one point short of matching the largest.
But here is what boggles the mind. Dak persevering without what we had considered his top three offensive tackles, having to play behind an undrafted rookie starting the second game of his two-game NFL career on the right and an undrafted second-year tackle starting his second NFL game but first at left tackle since college.
He was without his top tight end, Blake Jarwin, on injured reserve. His center Joe Looney was starting his second game at center since the 2018 season and his left guard starting his second game period since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery like nine months ago. Dak was under siege the majority of the game, including taking a hit right under his chin strap that sent him into the concussion protocol tent for two plays before returning for a 1-yard touchdown run.
Enough of a hurdle, right?
Shoot, his ends up being pole-vault high. After the Cowboys' first possession, a three-and-out thanks to video review reversing a Tony Pollard lost fumble, here is how the next four possessions ended.
- Dak is clobbered, fumbles, Falcons recover, one-play later it's 7-0.
- Ezekiel Elliott, who ends up trudging for 89 yards and catches six passes for 33 more, fumbles, Falcons recover, four-plays later it's 14-0.
- Cowboys fake punt from their own 29 fails when punter Chris Jones' perfect pass falls incomplete when special-teamer Goodwin slips to the turf. Falcons field goal.
- Now starting tight end Dalton Schultz, who ends up leading the team with nine catches (88 yards and a touchdown), fumbles, Falcons turn recovery into a field goal, 20-0, and the first quarter hadn't even expired. The Cowboys had never previously won a game when they had committed three turnovers in the first quarter, and that includes those three consecutive, first-quarter turnovers to start the 1994 NFC title game in San Francisco. And they had never won a game when giving up 20 first-quarter points.
And if that wasn't enough, the Cowboys had another miserably failed fake punt, setting up another Atlanta field goal.
And … and … on top of all that adversity, the defense, which wasn't all that defensive, allowed the Falcons, after forcing two punts the first two possessions of the game, to score on eight of their next nine possessions. Ah, but on that next one, with the game on the line, on what was going to be Ryan's 36th pass attempt, Everson Griffen finally recorded the Cowboys' first sack of the game, going a long way toward forcing the Falcons to eventually punt two plays later, giving the Cowboys another chance to recover from the nine-point deficit.
"Just fearless, just fearless," Zeke said of his buddy Dak. "No matter what the score is, Dak always has the same mentality. That we are going to be able to come back and win that game."
Despite on this day against all odds, including this stat floating around all week: The Falcons, losers in their season-opener, too, had never started 0-2 since Ryan took over at quarterback in 2008.
Muy no bueno.
But evidently, someone forgot to tell Dak all dat.
Dak had seven completions of at least 20 yards, three of those at least 37 yards, with a long of 58 thanks to Amari Cooper's one-handed catch down to the Atlanta 17. And none more clutch than the 24-yarder to CeeDee Lamb down to the Atlanta 30 with 1:34 left to basically set up Zuerlein's game-winning kick.
Oh, and smoke this one in your pipe. Since the start of the 2016 season, one Rayne Dakota Prescott is tied with some guy named Drew Brees and Derek Carr for most game-winning drives with 15, and fourth most in franchise history just two games into his fifth season.
"Huge performance," McCarthy said, then going on to say, "I thought he was strong in the pocket. I thought he was smart with the football. He's just so composed. I thought he had a very strong performance today."
Darn tootin'. Prescott strong.
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