Nobody ever accused Jerry Jones of being easily readable.
In the same breath amid a Friday radio interview, the Dallas Cowboys owner cautioned to “adjust our expectations” — aka their championship aspirations — following the loss of franchise quarterback Dak Prescott but lauded Prescott’s backup, Andy Dalton, as a Super Bowl-caliber replacement for the 2-3 club.
“We should adjust expectations. (It’s) different than optimism. But we should adjust our expectations,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “Dak is a very incremental part of the potential success to this football team,” Jones said Friday on the K&C Masterpiece on 105.3 The Fan. “On the other hand, if we don’t reach where we want to go … and the ultimate success is to win the championship … it will not be because of Andy Dalton. It will not be because of our play at quarterback. He’s capable of stepping in and playing at that level.”
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The Cowboys are inarguably downgrading with the transition from Prescott, the league’s leading passer entering Week 5, to former longtime Bengal Dalton, who offers neither the dual-threat ability nor arm talent of his counterpart. The former was on pace for an NFL-record 5,939 yards in 2020; the latter averaged 3,498 yards across nine starting campaigns in Cincinnati.
To Dalton’s credit, however, he stepped in during the third quarter against the Giants last Sunday and did what Dak couldn’t three times this season — he won the game. The Red Rifle, thrice a Pro Bowler and the owner of 70 career victories, completed 9-of-11 balls for 111 yards, including a 38-yard sideline jumper to Michael Gallup in the final seconds, setting up kicker Greg Zuerlein for the 37-34 dub.
And just like that, those aforementioned title hopes were resurrected.
“We’re so fortunate to have Andy Dalton,” team VP Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan. “He’s just been a pleasure to have since the day he walked in the door. We certainly can be a very aggressive passing football team. He’s obviously not going to have the mobility that Dak (Prescott) has but, as you saw yesterday, when we had to have tremendous throws down the field (he was able to do that). He’s a pro. He’s led his team to the playoffs. He’s a winner.”
Things could be a lot worse for Dallas. Not only is Dalton arguably the league’s best No. 2, he’s motivated by his incentive-laden one-year, $7 million deal. Motivated to prove he still belongs under center after the Bengals pushed him out of the door for No. 1 pick Joe Burrow. Motivated to prove he doesn’t belong in Prescott’s shadow.
And how fortuitous, surrounded by three WR1s (Gallup, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb) and a $90 million workhorse (Ezekiel Elliott).
“I feel like I just got to be me. There’s a lot of talent on this team. My job is to distribute the ball to our guys and let them make plays,” Dalton told reporters Friday, via The Athletic. “I feel like I have a lot of good football left. I’m anxious to go show it the rest of the season.”
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Jones — whose remarks are more than anything else an indictment on the defense — is correct in assuming the Cowboys naturally will slide a bit down the offensive rankings; Prescott was playing on an entirely different level, impossible to replicate for 99% of signal-callers. It, too, is natural to believe, at least in the short term, until Dalton proves his boss’s summation correct, that Dallas’ Super Bowl odds are significantly worse than this time last week.
But in a powder-keg system and what’s showing itself to be a lousy NFC East, of which the Cowboys remain atop, Dalton won’t simply tread water, keeping the team afloat and Prescott’s seat warm for 2021.
He’s the engine that makes the proverbial boat go, expectations be damned.
“Dak definitely is special. He definitely is special. But we have a lot of pieces in this offense, and Andy has played at a high level in this league,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said Thursday, via The Athletic. “So I think we should still be one of the best offenses in the league.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL