Lawrence: Cowboy Conflict

By Amy Lawrence

The firestorm in Dallas is not unexpected. By nature, we sports fans are extremely passionate; and that blinding passion means we can be illogical, irrational, emotional and prone to overreaction. So when the Cowboys lost to the rival New York Giants on Sunday, I knew it was coming: a vigorous, renewed debate over who should be the starting quarterback for “America’s Team,” Dak Prescott or Tony Romo.

Make no mistake, the last two weeks have been ugly for the Dallas offense. On the road against two of the NFL’s more physical, talented defenses, the Cowboys have struggled to move the ball, convert third downs and score. In Minnesota, they managed only 13 first downs while amassing 10 penalties and a pair of fumbles. They escaped Minneapolis with a victory when the Vikings offered an early Christmas present on a muffed punt in the fourth quarter. Dak Prescott required just one snap to connect with Dez Bryant for the go-ahead touchdown. The Cowboys defense did the rest. On a short week in enemy territory, they earned an 11th straight victory.

In MetLife Stadium for Week 14, defense was once again the order of the day. The Giants executed a near-perfect game plan to keep their NFC East rival in check. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott added to his league-leading haul with another 107 yards, but he never really broke loose. Dak tossed a couple interceptions (same as Eli Manning), but more significant was a New York pass rush that bottled him up and kept him from scrambling or extending plays with his feet. The Giants sacked him three times; and when they couldn’t break through the Dallas offensive line, they corralled him in a semi-bubble. Downfield, the cornerbacks maintained their coverage, so Dak labored to find open targets while under duress.

For a second straight weekend, the Cowboys converted just once on third down. They couldn’t capitalize on takeaways, and star wide receiver Dez Bryant was no help at all. The Giants played their tails off on D, ending the win streak for Big D. And in that moment, the world tipped on its axis. The vocal majority began loudly chirping about a change under center… which makes zero sense. ONE loss in three months, and all of a sudden, change is necessary? How does Dak Prescott go from being the present savior, potential Rookie of the Year, MVP and future of the franchise to getting benched in the span of 10 days? The concept is outrageous and laughable. Of course, we as fans reserve the right to leap from calm and steady to absurd and preposterous at light speed. But this is where deep breaths come in, where patience wisdom, and perspective should prevail.

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While I don’t ascribe to the theory that Dallas was better off losing, the adversity and struggle are good for Dak’s development. His experience as a rookie is limited to 13 games and a handful of exhibitions. As a pro, he’s now playing into December for the first time ever. He’s facing a brand new set of physical and mental challenges, all of which he needs to grow as a quarterback. While there’s no true simulation for the playoffs, late-season clashes on the road against bitter enemies offer some of the same intensity and pressure. To this point, Dak’s had it pretty easy. The best offensive line in football and the game’s top running back give him a huge margin for error. Double-digit victories mean very little griping, complaining or finger-pointing. Winning keeps the edge off, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to lead when it’s all sunshine and roses in the locker room. True refining comes by fire. Winning is FUN, but losing and failure provide the greatest on-the-job training.

For now, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett is squashing the idea of the Cowboys changing course. “You can make it as simple or as complex as you want to make it. It’s pretty simple for us: Dak’s going to play quarterback as we go forward.” Owner Jerry Jones is adamant they never considered putting Romo on the field against the Giants, and he shoots down any concept of a quarterback controversy. He also says Romo should stay ready to play on the spur of the moment if they call on him to help win a game.

The Cowboys should stick with Dak, barring injury. He’s navigated every challenge to date with poise, ingenuity and maturity. With the postseason looming, the team should want him to face as many obstacles as possible. He needs to trip up, make mistakes and feel the burn of a white-hot spotlight so he can figure it out. His bosses, coaches and teammates rave about his character. If they’re right, we’ll see Dak rise to the occasion and use the setbacks as motivation to work harder and get better. There are no shortcuts to experience, but December can serve as his crash course.

Cowboys fans, you don’t have a problem. Not even a tiny problem. For a little perspective, check out what the Jets, Niners, Browns and Rams are dealing with this season. Then be thankful your team selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft and that he’s exceeded all your expectations. There’s absolutely no need to freak out when the best is yet to come.

A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @ALawRadio.

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