It’s not all that surprising for the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback to trend on Twitter during a playoff game.
It is a bit surprising when it’s the backup quarterback whose name is at the tip of everyone’s fingers.
And it’s even more surprising when the starting quarterback is playing relatively well and could not, in any serious way, be blamed for a 21-3 deficit.
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But that’s what happened during the Cowboys-Packers NFC Divisional Round game Sunday.
Tony Romo hasn’t started a game for the Cowboys all season, but still, when the Cowboys fell behind to the Packers early thanks to some brain-dead coaching and poor defense, the backup quarterback’s name began to trend on Twitter.
While some tweets were sent in clear jest, not everyone was in on the joke, and the message from the lookers-on was clear: Bench the kid, bring in No. 9.
Anytime something has gone wrong for the Cowboys this season — and that wasn’t often — this was the default refrain.
Luckily for some misguided fans, you can’t always get what you want.
Prescott wisely remained in Sunday’s contest and was sterling, leading a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback that ultimately came one jaw-dropping Aaron Rodgers throw and a 51-yard field goal short of sending the contest to overtime.
He didn’t have a poor start — he had an 80.7 quarterback rating after one quarter and a 113.8 rating at the half — and his final product wouldn’t look out of place if Rodgers, Brady, Ryan, or Roethlisberger was the name attached to it: 24-38, 302 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.
Prescott’s play in the biggest game of his career, with the odds unfairly stacked against him because of the early failures of the Cowboys’ defense, should end the cries for Romo once and for all.
The rookie quarterback out of Mississippi State might have lost, but he proved that he was the real deal — again.
And that should bring about the formal end of the Romo era in Dallas.
Prescott might not be a transcendent, truly great quarterback yet — there was still an obvious gap between him and his quarterbacking counterpart on the field Sunday — but he’s certainly the best quarterback for the Cowboys now and into the future.
Prescott had the third best QBR (81.7), the third best traditional quarterback rating (104.9), and had the fourth-best DVOA in the NFL this season.
He was up there with the big names, and while the talent around Prescott was excellent, don’t take what he did this year for granted.
So while, yes, Romo was a highly effective and successful quarterback the last time he played a full season, it was preposterous for the main storyline of this season to be Romo vs. Prescott — especially in the latter weeks of the season.
There’s frankly not much more Prescott could have done this year — he had arguably the greatest rookie campaign of any quarterback in NFL history.
And yet at the first sign of turbulence Sunday — the cries started again.
It only highlights how impressive Prescott’s play was in 2016 that he was able to do what he did while the threat of Romo was always breathing down his neck — if not in reality (we don’t know what Jason Garrett told his team), then certainly amid the cacophony that surrounds “America’s Team.”
That must end after Sunday’s game.
Prescott doesn’t deserve that level of scrutiny after a regular season and playoff performance like that.
Outside of winning the Super Bowl, there might not be a thing that Prescott could do to avoid a quarterback controversy — but make no mistake, Sunday’s performance from the rookie was championship-worthy.
The Packers won because the Cowboys’ coaches didn’t have their team ready to play with their substitution patterns on both sides of the ball in the early goings and the Dallas defense was a sieve for the first 35 minutes of the contest.
While it’s hard to imagine how anyone could think it’s the case, it needs to be stated, again, because logic apparently doesn’t apply to the Cowboys’ quarterback position: Sunday’s loss was in no way on Prescott.
Romo wants to play again — he’s been clear about that — and he certainly isn’t going to get the snaps he desires as Prescott’s backup, now that the quarterback controversy doesn’t have an ounce of fuel left in the tank.
Romo’s contract will count for $24.7 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap next year if he remains on the team, unless he and the team work out a deal for him to restructure his contract to compete for the starting job — a proposal the Cowboys shouldn’t even hear at this point, as Prescott doesn’t deserve that.
If the Cowboys cut or trade Romo this offseason, the Cowboys could save $5.1 million on that cap hit.
Those savings aren’t minuscule, especially for a team that is in dire straits with the salary cap next year.
But the symbolism of moving on from Romo could reap even larger rewards than a few million in salary cap savings.
If Prescott can do what he did this past year with no experience and under scrutiny and pressure from all sides, what will he be able to do as the man in 2017?