Jerry Jones can't blow this: Prescott has to start over Romo

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jerry Jones has made his share of mistakes, from firing Jimmy Johnson to hiring Greg Hardy to committing countless unforced errors in between. He cannot make another one at Dak Prescott's expense. He cannot do anything during the Dallas Cowboys' upcoming bye week but tell Tony Romo that his time as starting quarterback is done.

At the top, understand that Romo has never been a great quarterback. People throw around that word -- great -- way too easily now. He has been a good-to-very-good quarterback for a long time, this much is true.

But he has never carried his team to a Super Bowl, never mind to a Super Bowl victory, and he has won only two playoff games since taking the job a decade ago. Two. That number is great only in Romo's second-favorite sport, golf, when trying to navigate a perilous par-3.

In other words, Romo hasn't earned untouchable status. He doesn't deserve to be treated as though he's Tom Brady, whose 22 postseason victories and four rings rightfully indemnified him against the possibility that Jimmy Garoppolo might go on the kind of ungodly tear during Brady's suspension that inspired fans and commentators to start asking questions.

But this isn't only about Romo, of course, and a battered 36-year-old body that needs to be handled more delicately these days than a piece of fine china. This is about the 23-year-old rookie, Prescott, who is bigger, stronger, healthier and faster. The fourth-round draft pick just walked into Lambeau Field and played big enough in this 30-16 smackdown of the Packers to make Aaron Rodgers, two-time MVP, look like the incredible shrinking man. Relax? The way Rodgers has performed the past two seasons, I don't think so. In weather conditions the polar opposite of the polar Packers-Cowboys classic known as the Ice Bowl, Prescott threw three touchdown passes to Rodgers' one, ran his winning streak to five, and all but summoned the sights and sounds of Vince Lombardi barking, "What the hell's going on out here?"

When it was over, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett raved about Prescott's composure and poise, and the rookie repeated, on cue, that he still sees himself as a gracious temp. "This is Tony's team," Prescott said, "and I'm just here to help my team win each and every game that I can."

But it really doesn't matter what the coach or quarterback says. The Dallas Cowboys are run by one man, Jones, who is the only owner in major professional sports who holds a news conference after every game. Jones makes the late George Steinbrenner look like a wallflower, and on truth serum, Garrett would likely admit he wishes his boss wouldn't hold these postgame briefings as much as Bill Parcells wished it.

That's OK. It's Jones' team, and Jones' money, and Jones' right to assemble the roster and dictate the times and places he'll speak for public consumption. And as much as news media members rail against today's declining access, it's hard to complain when an ultra-significant figure sees the endangered middleman and middlewoman as a relevant part of doing business.

So there was Jones outside the visitors locker room at Lambeau, holding court with reporters who had little interest in what anyone else wearing a star had to say. Jones wisely did not say that Romo will definitely return to the starting lineup when he's healthy enough to do so. "I think that what we're going to do is wait until the next card is played," the owner said. So who's going to be your quarterback against Philadelphia on Oct. 30?

"I think we'll look and see how we do," Jones responded. "It is two weeks away, and Tony is getting better. I was talking to a guy that was catching his balls and he pulled his shirt up and showed me his bruises on his ribs. [Romo's] throwing with some velocity out here. I'd hate to end up here with two winning quarterbacks and a tough decision as to who's going to win the game."

Jones smiled when he said that. Someone asked if he would really dare to slap the brakes on the Prescott express, and he answered, "I think what we do is enjoy how we're seeing Dak progress, and have comfort in the fact that every time Romo throws a football, it's got more velocity on it."

Jones should tell Romo to save those fastballs for another day. He should tell the veteran quarterback to stay ready in the event Prescott begins struggling (unlikely), or gets hurt (always a possibility). He should tell Romo that Ezekiel Elliott looks great, that the offensive line looks great, that the defense looks much better than advertised, and that Cole Beasley looks like a new man. He should tell Romo that the Cowboys might be good enough to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in two decades, and that he simply cannot make a change, not when Prescott is playing like one of the very best quarterbacks on the planet.

"Dak plays the same way that he prepares during the week and in the meetings," Jones said, "and I keep saying that and I keep looking for it to be different. But it's not different. He practices, he works, he prepares himself, and he comes out and he exceeds how he looks in practice during the ballgames. So you just couldn't ask for more inspiration from a player because everybody on this team knows what a difficult position it is to play."

Even though he broke Brady's NFL record of 162 consecutive passes without an interception to start his career, Prescott wasn't perfect against the Packers. He threw a ghastly pick on pass No. 177. He threw another lousy, almost indifferent ball on a slant near the end zone, and he fumbled twice, losing one of them.

But did you catch those back-to-back plays in the second quarter, back-to-back situations that required an entirely different approach from the newbie? Prescott saw a wide-open Terrance Williams down the field, and oh-so-slightly underthrew him just to ensure he didn't blow the gift-wrapped 42-yard gain by unnecessarily leading the receiver. On the next snap, he saw a tightly covered Brice Butler streaking for the end zone corner and oh-so-slightly overthrew him just to ensure that only one man -- the Dallas receiver -- had a shot at catching it. Butler brought it in for a 20-yard touchdown and a two-score lead.

Rodgers used to do stuff like that, you know, until he completely lost his way. The Lambeau fans actually booed him Sunday, and even sounded hopeful that halftime honoree Brett Favre would start warming up in the pen.

Favre would say on the Fox broadcast that he didn't think the Cowboys should replace Prescott with Romo, and Roger Staubach strongly hinted the other day he would stick with the rookie, too, telling ESPN.com that Prescott "has the team behind him" and that an individual's interests can't rise above the group's. "I'm a Romo fan, too, so I don't want to say anything against Tony," Staubach said. "But the way Dak's going, it's all about the team and what's the best feel for the team at this particular point."

There's no doubting the best feel for Dallas right now. This isn't a rookie and one-hit wonder named Clint Longley coming out of nowhere with Staubach hurt to burn Washington on a memorable Thanksgiving Day in 1974. Prescott is a keeper, and his boss knows it. Jones didn't know what he'd do with the quarterback position when Romo's back gave out again in the preseason, and now, he said, "I have to pinch myself." Jones described his team numerous times as an inspired circle of young men playing for each other, and said the chemistry at least guarantees the Cowboys won't rush back Romo like they've done in the past.

"There's nothing I'd rather do," Jones continued, "than go into the last half of the season with a ready-to-go Tony Romo and a winning Dak Prescott. I dream of being able to make that decision."

That decision should already be made. If Jones believes deep down that an accomplished veteran starter shouldn't lose his job to injury, he should try telling that to Drew Bledsoe (2001) and to Wally Pipp (1925).

Dak Prescott might not have Tom Brady's aim or Lou Gehrig's durability, but he clearly has enough game to start over Tony Romo for the rest of 2016. Even an owner who hasn't won the big one in 20 years can see that.

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