He was not Dak Prescott, but who expected him to be?
He was not Ben DiNucci, but how many thought it could possibly get worse?
Impressively albeit surprisingly, Garrett Gilbert was splayed somewhere across the middle of those spectrums in his Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback debut Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I thought he definitely brought it from the practice field to the game,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy noted.
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Withstanding continual pressure from the NFL’s lone unbeaten, Gilbert completed 21-of-38 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, adding 28 yards on three scrambles. He was (considering the circumstances) confident, accurate and decisive — a breath of fresh air after DiNucci’s awful Week 8 display.
Gilbert, who absorbed just two sacks, hooked up with rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb on a 32-yard touchdown and came thisclose to pulling off an improbable upset.
“That’s the type of thing you dream about and the type of the situation you live for as a quarterback,” he said after the game, via USA Today.
But he didn’t, and that’s the lasting impression from a hard-fought 24-19 defeat.
“Losing sucks,” Gilbert remarked.
In an affair the Cowboys were often leading, Gilbert received an assist from his supporting cast; Tony Pollard (nine carries, 57 yards) led all rushers while workhorse Ezekiel Elliott (18 carries, 51 yards), gutting through a bum hamstring, consistently kept the chains moving.
“Love the way Zeke grinded it out today. Really nice job,” McCarthy said, via USA Today. “It was definitely a phone booth we were running in today.”
Through the air, Lamb topped 70 yards for the first time since Week 5. Amari Cooper (six catches, 67 yards) rebounded from his Week 8 stinker. The playcalling also more in tune, eight different players recorded at least one catch as the Cowboys bested Pittsburgh in total offense (364-355) and time of possession (33:24-26:36).
“Garrett is definitely a warrior. …Just how he responded, he had a pretty decent game and can’t thank him enough for his contribution to this offense and this team,” Lamb said, via USA Today.
For a guy plucked off the Browns’ practice squad less than a month ago, Gilbert pieced together respectable film that Dallas will take into its Week 10 bye. Although veteran backup Andy Dalton, currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list, is expected to regain the starting job, Gilbert — at a minimum — gives the offensive brain trust pause over that eventual decision.