FRISCO, Texas – Their names are No. 1 and 2 in Pro Bowl fan voting. They've been the talk of the NFL for the last 11 games – all Cowboys victories.
A lot has changed in the 87 days since Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott lost their NFL debut, 20-19 to the New York Giants.
"I've watched back the tape," Prescott said, "and I shake my head sometimes at the things I did or maybe the throws I didn't make because I wasn't trusting it."
It was the first game for the Cowboys' rookie standouts, and statistically their most pedestrian performances. Prescott posted a season-low 69.4 passer rating. Elliott ran for a season-low 51 yards.
In Sunday night's rematch at the Meadowlands, with a chance to clinch the NFC East title, they can show a primetime television audience just how much they've improved.
In nine of the 11 games since the Sept. 11 season opener, Prescott has delivered a passer rating over 100.0. He has a 19-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and his 108.6 season passer rating ranks behind only New England's Tom Brady (113.1) and Atlanta's Matt Ryan (112.3).
Prescott's Week 1 game was by no means disastrous. He and the offense were driving for a potential game-tying field goal attempt until time ran out following a Terrance Williams catch in bounds. The Cowboys scored 19 points, but two of their four field goals could have been touchdowns if not for close red zone incompletions to Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant.
"We didn't necessarily play a bad game, but we didn't play our best game," Prescott said. "And to see how close we were, we had a chance to win it, it just made us that much more hungry."
With more experience, Prescott has seen growth "in every aspect of my game – knowledge, footwork, seeing the defense, everything."
Elliott needed time in the offense, too, after appearing in only four full training camp practices and one preseason game due to a hamstring injury. Outside observers might have shown little patience for the fourth overall pick's transition to pro football, but Elliott acknowledged he needed patience, literally, in setting up his blocks behind the Cowboys' outstanding offensive line.
After averaging 2.6 yards per carry with one touchdown in the opener, Elliott called his NFL debut "average."
"I just wasn't comfortable with the system yet and it showed," he said. "It just took game reps, it took time. And I think now I'm right where I need to be."
Four games into the season, Elliott became the league's rushing leader. He's still in first with 1,199 yards, and his 12 rushing touchdowns have easily surpassed the Cowboys' entire total last year (8).
Credit must be given to the Giants' strong defense, which currently ranks eighth in points allowed per game (19.8). Led by safety Landon Collins and offseason free-agent acquisitions Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, New York made a concerted effort to slow down Elliott, and Prescott completed only 11 of 26 pass attempts in the second half of Week 1.
Both rookies used the loss as a learning tool.
"They came in prepared, they were really good football players at a high level of competition and made the transition to pro football fairly smoothly because of their ability," Garrett said, "but maybe more so because of their approach. I think they have improved week in and week out."