Much was made about the NFL’s sluggish ratings through the first half of the regular season. Some blamed the product on the field, some blamed the contentious election, others blamed poor primetime matchups. The reality was it was a combination of all three.
The post-election uniter everyone was looking for came Sunday in the form of America’s team establishing themselves as the best team in the NFL.
The duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are not only neck and neck for Rookie of the Year honors, but also deserve to me included in the MVP discussion after Sunday’s performance.
Sunday’s game at the Steelers was the perfect recipe for the Cowboys hot start to come back to earth. The Steelers were in a must-win situation, Heinz Field is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, and Ben Roethlisberger had regained is health after knee surgery one month ago. Vegas saw as much as they had Pittsburgh as a 2.5-point favorite.
The Cowboys fed into the crowd frenzy as Prescott fumbled on the first drive and Pittsburgh immediately took advantage with a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Every time the Steelers took the lead, the Cowboys were able to answer. As the game wore on, the already injury-depleted Dallas secondary suffered more attrition with the Orlando Scandrick injury. I’m a die-hard Cowboy fan, so it was bad when I didn’t recognize the names of some of the players who were covering Antonio Brown man-to-man in the second half.
After Elliott put Dallas ahead with two minutes left, Roethlisberger took advantage of the Dallas defense and effortlessly moved down the field and threw what looked like the game-winning touchdown to Brown with 42 seconds left.
Then, with the moxy and poise of a grizzled veteran, Prescott moved the ball downfield and avoided the Romo-esque crippling interception and put the Cowboys in position for a game-winning field goal (Dallas kicker Dan Bailey I the unsung hero of this season. He is nearly automatic from 50+ and nailed four field goals yesterday in the toughest stadium to kick in in the NFL).
Dallas was trying to center the ball for a field goal, when the offensive line flexed its muscle and parted the Pittsburgh defense and gave Elliott the easiest 35-yard touchdown you will ever see.
The win not only established Dallas as the class of the NFL, but it showed unbelievable poise from a young team to find a way to win against a good team on the road. The victory also unquestionably gave Prescott the starting quarterback job.
Dallas will ride the hot hand for now, but if they are to advance to Houston for the Super Bowl, they will need Romo at some point. Adversity will hit, and there’s no better ace in the hole than Romo.
The comparison to the triplets of the 90s is too easy, but it’s not wrong. Prescott-Elliott-Bryant have the makings of a modern-day of Aikman-Smith-Irvin.
About those slumping ratings? The Cowboys-Steelers game was the highest rated NFL game this season. America’s team is back and good for business, and with a young corps, they are here to stay.