Written by Greg Lehr
Cowboys’ costly win over Giants propels them into first place in NFC East
It’s still difficult for Cowboys fans to digest everything that happened this past Sunday. The gruesome injury to Dak Prescott's right ankle was clearly the low point of a frustrating first five weeks. It felt as if everyone was trying to process the extent of the injury in slow motion, almost relating to the shock on Dak's face when he was sitting on the field pointing to his ankle, giving off almost no visible reaction at first. Even Tony Romo, in the booth, commented that he hoped it was "just a cramp" while Prescott put his hand to the back of his leg and ankle. Others watching, including myself, thought Dak's shoe came off a bit and he simply needed to slip it all the way back on his foot. It then became obvious these presumptions, based on watching the game live, were unfortunately very, very wrong once the slow-motion replay showed Prescott's ankle landed on by Giants' defender Logan Ryan. There was nothing dirty about the play. It looked like a routine play and type of tackle that we see all the time, this one just involved terrible luck. The official diagnosis was a right ankle compound fracture and dislocation. Prescott underwent successful surgery Sunday night at the hands of foot and ankle doctor Gene Curry, with a recovery timetable expected to be around four to six months.
Dak Prescott's year continues to be filled with adversities that few can imagine. It goes far, far beyond the contract situation between Prescott and the Cowboys that dominated the offseason headlines. Dak's brother, Jace, took his own life in April, leading Dak to speak out about mental health just before the NFL regular season kicked off. There's a reason so many people around the NFL, local Dallas communities, and even throughout the country have been so quick in wishing Dak well following the brutal ankle injury. He constantly displays leadership, poise, humility, and positive energy in every circumstance he finds himself in. Within hours after suffering the season-ending injury, Tad Prescott (Dak’s brother), gave perfect evidence of this positive attitude Dak and his family embody so well, tweeting out a selfie of the two brothers in the hospital room before Dak underwent surgery.
Certainly, Prescott's season-ending injury tops the list of injuries in the Cowboys' locker room, but a number of other impact starters are either also done for the year or have missed time on injured reserve so far this season. In addition to Prescott, Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Blake Jarwin, and Trysten Hill are all out for the season. Leighton Vander Esch will hopefully return within the next couple of weeks from a collarbone injury suffered week one, while Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, Joe Looney, and Cam Erving have also been on short-term IR with various injuries.
So where does Dallas go from here? Some may argue that there is little point in going for it this season when the team is 2-3, missing their starting quarterback, and both starting offensive tackles (among others). Well, most teams do not have a backup quarterback who has 133 starts (70-61-2 record) and three Pro Bowls to his name. Andy Dalton is a proven player with loads of experience compared to essentially any other backup quarterback in the league. Outside of AJ Green, he has never had the opportunity to throw to three receivers (on the field together) with the capabilities of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb. That also doesn’t include having an All-Pro running back in Ezekiel Elliott.
Dalton is far from perfect and there is a reason he signed as a backup for $3 million this past offseason. Nobody is arguing he is as good as Dak or that this team’s ceiling is just as high with Dalton as it is with Prescott. However, he at least gives this Dallas team a fighting chance in the dismal NFC East. If it were just about any other division in football, we would likely be talking about the rest of this season in a totally different tone, but the Cowboys are currently leading the division heading into week six, only a couple of weeks shy of the halfway mark of the season.
No matter who starts at quarterback, the real factor for this team and their hopes of winning the division may actually lie in the hands of the defense; a unit that currently ranks last in points allowed per game (36) and is 26th in yards against per game (404). The hope is that Vander Esch, Lee, and Awuzie can return in the next couple of weeks to stop the bleeding a bit on the defensive side of the ball. Even improving the defense to mediocre levels would be a significant improvement, as woefully optimistic as that may sound.
The loss of Dak cannot be understated, particularly with how well he was playing just to keep the Cowboys in games. However, a capable backup in Dalton at least provides hope, most notably among his teammates, that not all is lost this season (yet).