The Cowboys’ return to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for Saturday night’s preseason game provides an opportunity to revisit one of the first.
Signature moments in an NFL quarterback’s career come in January and February, not August. But what Rayne Dakota Prescott did on that field against the Rams one year ago was significant. Not only did he continue to build trust and buy himself time, he offered a tantalizing glimpse of what his rookie season would become.
A star was born.
“I think it was important,” Prescott said. “I think it showed some significance in the fact it was the first game experience they got to see me play with the offense.
“I mean, I had plenty of scrimmages and live reps out here, but the first game experience with the crowd, a huge crowd out there in the Coliseum, it was a pretty good performance and I think it gave them confidence in believing in me and pushing further.”Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) tosses a short pass in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams of their first preseason game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Saturday, August 13, 2016. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
This isn’t an overstatement. While Prescott is the same person and athlete he was the evening the NFL officially returned to Los Angeles, the perception of him was much different at that point than it is now.
The franchise hoped Prescott was the quarterback of the future but had no idea. He certainly wasn’t the quarterback of the present. That status belonged to Tony Romo. The only reason Prescott started the preseason opener was that backup quarterback Kellen Moore had gone down to a season-ending injury early in camp.
The fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State showed promise but was unproven. If he performed poorly against the Rams, if the rookie gave any hint that the stage was too big for him, the Cowboys would have intensified the search for a veteran backup.
Prescott put that search on hold by going 10 of 12 for 139 yards with two touchdowns. He followed that up with another strong preseason performance.
“After Dak did that, he was going to deserve to have every opportunity to have that backup spot,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We were going to be real comfortable with him being No. 2 for us.”
Ask Prescott what was going through his mind before that first game against the Rams, and he says it’s too long ago to recall. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan quickly came up with a memory.
“I remember his first play was almost on the minus-1 yard line,” Linehan joked. “He looked at it and just smiled and said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ We ended up challenging the touchback and got it back to the 20-yard line.
“But it’s funny to remember. He said, ‘I was ready to go 99.’
“That was a good sign from him.”
Prescott was decisive and accurate. He threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant and a 32-yard scoring pass to Terrance Williams.
Does one play stick out for Prescott from that game? Tom Fox/Staff PhotographerDallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) reaches the ball over the goal line and Los Angeles Rams defensive back Coty Sensabaugh (21) for a first quarter touchdown in their first preseason game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Saturday, August 13, 2016. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
“I’d say probably the touchdown to Terrance Williams, a little double move to the field and he made a great play on the ball,” Prescott said. “I want to say I got hit as I was throwing it. I was trying to figure out if he caught it or not, and then you hear everybody scream.
“Usually, the touchdowns stick out more than the incompletions.”
This stuck out as well: Both of Prescott’s incompletions were drops by tight end Geoff Swaim.
Prescott sculpted a 24-7 halftime lead and was done for the evening.
“Yeah, he was very impressive,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He had shown us who he was up to that point, but then you go into a game.
“In that environment, if you remember, it was the first game that the Rams had since they came back, a lot of electricity in the air. He went in and handled himself well. He handled himself like he had handled himself since the first day of rookie minicamp. He was prepared, he was ready, he was confident.