GREEN BAY - For the second time in the last three years, quarterback Dak Prescott finds himself at the center of the football world. And now, as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, he's done it at both the collegiate and professional levels.
In 2014, Prescott was a junior starter for Mississippi State, a middling program in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs, coached by Dan Mullen, began the season unranked and with tempered expectations relative to their star-strewn conference.
But in Prescott they found a dual-threat revelation, and by mid-October the Bulldogs had three wins over top-10 teams. They beat No. 8 Louisiana State on the road. They hung 48 points on sixth-ranked Texas A&M. Then they downed No. 2 Auburn at home, 38-23, to cap an incredible three-week stretch that ended with a vault to the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll.
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In 2016, Prescott was a backup for Cowboys starter Tony Romo, whose injury-filled career wrote a new chapter when he broke a bone in his back in August. Prescott became the starter, and five weeks later he carries the threat of another revelation.
The Cowboys are 4-1 and sit atop the NFC East standings thanks in large part to Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft. Prescott's poise and composure have been remarkable. His numbers have been even better.
Through five games, Prescott has thrown for 1,239 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. His completion percentage is 69 percent, a mile higher than that of Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who sits at 56 percent with one fewer game than Prescott, whose passer rating is 101.5.
"He’s a very mature guy," head coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. "His preparation is outstanding. He does everything he can to get himself ready for any opportunity that he has, and we saw that right from the start in his first rookie minicamp. He’s carried that approach all the way through.
"I think Scott Linehan as our offensive coordinator has done an outstanding job. I think guys have played well around him. The offensive line has played well, the receivers, the tight ends and certainly our running game has been awfully good up to this point. But he’s done an excellent job play in and play out doing his job and leading our football team. He’s got great poise and composure. He handles virtually every situation we put him in very well."
The Cowboys have thrived with an unusually balanced blend of run and pass. By taking Elliott with their first-round pick, the franchise committed to its back of the future. They've wasted no time in testing his abilities.
Elliott, who played at Ohio State, leads the league in rushing yards (546) and carries (109) with an impressive average of 5 yards per attempt. He's buoyed a rushing attack that, after five weeks, is best in the NFL with 155.2 yards per game.
Such balance has reduced the pressure on Prescott, who leads a passing attack ranked 21st in the league. The Cowboys rank second in total yards per game.
"Obviously we really liked those guys coming out of school," Garrett said. "We drafted Zeke with the fourth pick of the draft. What he had done in college was well-documented, and we felt really good about his ability and how he could help our team.
"With Dak, one of the objectives we had going into last year’s draft was to try to find a quarterback who felt like had a chance to be the next quarterback of the Cowboys after Tony Romo. And we certainly felt good about what Dak had done in his career at Mississippi State. He was a pivotal figure in turning the program around down there, and we got great reports about what kind of guy he is, his work ethic and all of that. But you and I both know you don’t know what you have until you get him here and get him in the building, but right from Day 1 with each of those guys you can tell they love football, they approach it the right way and there’s no question they contributed a great deal to our football team so far this season."