Spagnola: Dak Shows He's Made Of Right Stuff

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FRISCO, Texas – Strange how some things someone says can stick in your mind for years and years.

This one I'll never forget.

My guess is must have been sometime during that 2006 season, probably just a little more than 12 years ago after Tony Romo won his first start in the NFL, beating the Panthers in Carolina, 35-14, after taking over for Drew Bledsoe at quarterback.

Of course, Bill Parcells wanted to keep things in perspective, droning on and on about how it just might be premature to anoint Romo as a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. Bill had a way ho-humming his players or team after successes and playing them up after defeats.

Well, he went into his favorite long discourse on how to judge quarterbacks early in their careers. He starts by pointing out you never know about a quarterback until he's been punched in the mouth, like intercepted like three times in one game, gets sacked another three times and everyone is blaming him for the team losing.

Then come Monday, when he shows up at the complex, everyone is sort of staring at him to see if he's rattled. Not only in the meetings but in the huddle. Then, on top of that, the media and the fans are howling from the tallest buildings, as if the guy will never complete another pass in his career.

OK, what you got? How do you handle the heat? Do you shrink? Or do you step to the plate for your next at-bat, as if nothing's happened.

Yep, Bill was big on how his quarterbacks handled failure more so than how they handled success, and I could just hear him today if he were out here at The Star.

Hey, everybody's All-American quarterback, what you got?

Now look, it's not the first time Dak has lost a game in his NFL career. Lost three his rookie year, then the playoff game. Lost seven last year, bringing his career regular-season record to 22-10, better than any Cowboys starting quarterback over the first two years of their NFL careers.

But, oh my gosh, lose the season opener this past Sunday to Carolina, 16-8, and now the sky is falling. Seems everyone is looking at Dak Prescott cross-eyed. Seems this performance, 19 of 29 for 170 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, has wiped out any cred Dak has built up over his first 32 games, and especially that over his first 24 NFL starts when his record stood proudly at 18-6.

Why, the guy can't throw accurately, even though he did complete 65.5 percent of his passes. He can't read defenses. He's not seeing the field. Scared to throw deep. Gripping the ball too tightly.

Yeah, all of that.

Well, Thursday Dak stepped to the plate in the locker room. Answered questions for a good 12 minutes. Did not shy away from any. Accepted blame for the performance as he normally would after the game, falling on his sword as he repeatedly did those final eight games last season when the Cowboys finished out 4-4. Looked everyone in the eye.

The heat was not too hot in the kitchen.

If you were there, if you watched closely, you would have thought, OK, we're good going into Sunday night's game against the New York Football Giants, equally 0-1, at AT&T Stadium.

But of course, the best part was when it was pointed out Giants safety Landon Collins sort of called him out earlier in the week, telling those East Coast reporters, "Honestly, we really just have to focus on stopping Zeke, making sure of every run gap, we're playing our gap assignments and make sure we close the air out of their running game.

"If we do that, put the ball into Dak's hands, I think we have a better shot at winning."

Not really any novel idea of late, but just a tad prickly.

So Dak, what you got to say?

"Challenge accepted," Dak said stone-faced, looking straight ahead.

"Challenge accepted."

Now that's what I'm talkin' about. That's what I want to hear. Nothing defensive. Nothing drawing him off-sides. More like, OK Landon, let's go play football.

The guys around him, and surely they are keeping an eye on him, contend nothing has changed. Same ol' Dak.

"Dak is one of the most determined people I've ever met," said veteran linebacker Sean Lee. "He's a guy we'd all like to be."

As for newcomer Allen Hurns, he said of Dak, "He's a true leader. Yeah, he's the quarterback but he is one of the hardest workers on the team."

Consistent, and that's what you want from your quarterback. Can't be up one practice, one week, then down the next practice or the next week. Got to be that same guy, because the last thing you want is the guys losing confidence in the position of leadership.

And Dak knows it.

"That really doesn't enter my mind, I'm always up," Prescott says. "And I don't think I've got to come in and say I got to be more up or I got to be more aggressive in getting guys going.

"I'm not the only one who's feeling this way about this game. All these guys do, all the guys in the locker room. That's why we have the team we have, because it doesn't take one person to rah-rah everybody up, to get that feeling."

Now seems I remember Dez Bryant, no longer with the team, saying something about he likes to keep "things real." Well, if you subscribe to keeping things real when analyzing Dak's performance against the Panthers, then let's keep it real.

The Panthers sacked him six times.

The Panthers registered 10 QB hits.

The Panthers, when it came to QB hurries, like making Dak move out of the pocket to stay upright or throw on the run, I'm told they registered an "inordinate amount." That's me pointing this out, not Dak.

And again, for those trying to tie this season opener into the final eight games of last season, let me remind you of this:

The first eight games of last season Dak had 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions, completed 63.7 percent of his passes, was sacked 10 times and posted a 102.8 QB rating. During those eight games the Cowboys scored at least 28 points six times.

Now then, the second eight games: Six touchdown passes, nine interceptions, 22 sacks, 62.6 completion percentage and a 74.9 QB rating.

Again, so tell me what changed the second half of the season if we are going to keep it real?

Playing quarterback and being a piñata should never be synonymous, nor ending up sideways on far too many plays. No excuse. Just fact. Sideways is good in wine, not football.

So, let's let this thing breathe a little, and not come to such hasty conclusions after just one game. Maybe not even after two. Or worse, try making far-reaching trends over the past nine games without looking inside the facts.

That would seem pretty reasonable.

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