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The NFL wasn’t prepared for the 'Dak Attack,’ but the Cowboys were

The Cowboys believe Tony Romo gives them their best shot at a Super Bowl this year, but that Dak Prescott gives them a shot at many more in the future.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON --  There was a "Dak Attack" swirling here in AT&T Stadium last Sunday. The fans' signs said it as did the way the Dallas Cowboys have embraced rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. "Be more than pink" was another message throughout the bouncy building as Prescott wore pink cleats to celebrate breast cancer awareness.

The Cowboys won, 28-14, over the Cincinnati Bengals.

"A ton of fun," is the way Prescott described it.

The shoes he has filled --€” those of injured quarterback Tony Romo --€” and the style he has displayed in doing it has jaws flapping all over Texas and beyond. It has Cowboys fanatics rubbing their eyes. Is the eighth quarterback selected in last April's NFL draft, the 135th overall pick, really this good? This dependable? This kind of winner?

Five Prescott NFL starts, the first a one-point loss to the Giants, then four consecutive victories over Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Cincinnati. No interceptions in 155 passes, an NFL rookie record. Eight passes shy of breaking Tom Brady's record for most pass attempts to begin a career without an interception. A nearly 70 percent completion percentage. Four touchdown passes, three touchdown runs. A 101.5 quarterback passer rating.

It's the winning that matters. It's his ability to play error-free football, yet, make a variety of throws in the pocket and on the move. It's his running threat. It's his command of the offense. And though he has not frequently passed it deep, he has been so good at being meticulous, at complementing a dominant offensive line and prize rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott that the deep game has not been missed.

That factor, though, is an ingredient why Prescott will sit when Romo is healthy and ready. It could happen as early as Oct. 30 at home against Philadelphia, leaving Prescott one more start, at Green Bay this Sunday, with a Dallas bye following.

Here is the bottom line explained to me by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Sunday afternoon: "We love Dak. We appreciate what he is doing. I have never had a quarterback prepare like he does. There is no one that matches his preparation in my history of owning the Cowboys. Can he continue to win games in the regular season? We sure think so. But is Tony Romo going to give us the best chance to win a Super Bowl? We think so."

And that's that.

* * *

Prescott would then become a backup to that plan. If Romo returns and is injured again, Dallas has an answer and, it believes, a future at quarterback.

That is a bounty with the 135th pick of the 2016 draft.

Prescott presents impressive size --€” standing next to him, he looks even bigger than his 6'2, 226-pound frame. He has a winning presence, a direct approach. His focus is laser. When asked about the records he is approaching, he deflects to luck on tipped balls that could have been picked and deflects to the talent around him. When asked about the offense clicking, he talks about the points they should have scored. The plays he could have made.

Everyone should have seen from his Mississippi State career that this quarterback was ascending.

My stiffest test for any college player drafted is if his numbers swing upward from start to finish. When you find that, you often find a bold player. A winner. Prescott fits. He not only left Mississippi State with every meaningful passing record but did it with continual rise. His touchdown passes in his final three seasons there went from 10 to 27 to 29. His passing yards went from 1,940 to 3,449 to 3,793. His completion percentage went from 58.4 percent to 61.6 percent to 66.2 percent.

In 477 career passes, he threw only five interceptions.

It was Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan who saw this clearest.

"He (Prescott) had the types of things everyone loves to see, especially around here," Jones said. "Everybody here had him among our top three to five or so quarterbacks that we liked in the draft. But Linehan said, 'Jerry, he has that 'IT.' I can coach this player.' And Linehan was right. Dak has really inspired us."

Prescott hit it in camp and hit it from the season's start once Romo was shelved due to back injury. Ezekiel Elliott said that Prescott was not going to allow anything around him to be average.

"He heard, just like I did, that Tony Romo was likely going to miss eight games," Elliott said. "He heard that talk that if Dallas could just go 4-4 until Tony Romo gets back ... Dak thought that was nuts and so did I. That was not his expectation. That was not his level. Dak from that start was going to make sure he exceeded that."

His blueprint, his road map would be his preparation.

* * *

When Prescott talked after the Bengals game about how he prepares most by studying the opposing team and studying his game plan and then meshing the two intricately, he was discussing a craft, an art that is not easy for quarterbacks to acquire. Especially rookies.

But matched with his talent is a complex ability to prepare and then execute what he has studied. Prescott calls it being locked in.

His head coach, Jason Garrett, told me in a quiet moment on Sunday afternoon: "This young man is a really good student. It's all natural. You tell him something one day and he has it down the next day. And some of that is because the night in between, he has studied the heck out of it and figures it out. There is not a whole lot of repeating with him. It really goes back to how he handles his business.

"It's to the credit of the player. You get quarterbacks who think too much and struggle and you get quarterbacks who aren't detailed enough and struggle. He's got the right blend. And what we are asking him to do is play the way we want to play, with this offensive line controlling things. It's the perfect blend."

Defenses want quarterbacks to throw the ball into coverage. Prescott is not doing that.

Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne said he sometimes overhears Prescott in practice sharing chalk talk with Linehan and other coaches. Claiborne gets an earful.

"Sometimes the special teams is working and those guys are behind us and I'm hearing some of the conversations and it's unbelievable," Claiborne said.

"The checks they are talking about, the mechanics, the handoffs, the fakes, everything. And Dak is listening but he's also right in the middle of the discussion. It's poise. Nothing gets to this dude. And it spreads through the team. There are so many different roads in the NFL. Sometimes things don't happen with a snap of the finger. We all come from some holes and some dark places. I know I've been in those. But when you have a mind that says there is nothing you can't get out of, when the mind is strong, you can accomplish something special. That's what Dak is doing."

Claiborne said the way Prescott is driving the offense on longer possessions is keeping the defense fresh and off the field. He said the way that Prescott is handling his success is a model for others.

* * *

You can tell plenty about a player when you hear from the people he comes from, those he used to live among. Mississippi State sponsored a few billboards around Dallas that read: "Wherever you go, we go with you. Family. Good luck Dak. From State to Sundays."

This Dallas "Dak Attack" has roots.

"I've been comfortable," said Prescott, "all year."