ARLINGTON, Texas — Dak Prescott walked up to the podium, but even the thick glass separating fans from reporters couldn’t mute the roar of cheers.
Can the Dallas Cowboys ignore those cheers?
Another surgical performance from rookie quarterback Dak Prescott prompts that uncomfortable question.
The Cowboys will soon be faced with the decision — ride the hot hand, or go back to the proven but fragile franchise quarterback, Tony Romo.
Prescott carved up the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon in a 28-14 victory to improve the Cowboys’ record to an NFC East best 4-1.
These efficient and effective performances can no longer be considered surprises. They’ve become the norm.
“Well, I will tell you this is a wonderful position if you’re in my shoes to be in,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters after the game. “To have Dak playing at the level he is, and know that Tony is repaired. If he had done his MRI on Friday, it would show him healed. He’s going to get one early (this week) and be able to come back and really get into top shape and help us as we go into the season. We’re pretty good at quarterback, as far as normal times go for the Cowboys.”
But Jones also stuck to the company line that the job remains Romo's when he is healthy.
“Tony is our No. 1 quarterback," he said.
It might indeed stay that way, but it is a question that gains steam with each passing week, each Cowboys victory. Each solid performance by Prescott.
The rookie keps his focus on the game.
“We’ve done a great job of putting the past behind us if it is a win or a loss, and just focusing on what’s in front of us,” Prescott said.
He has played near-flawless football. The offense – second best in the NFL in total yardage – has mowed through its opponents.
And for the last two weeks, this has come without star receiver Dez Bryant, who remained sidelined with a hairline fracture to his right knee.
“Dak has done a really good job taking advantage of the opportunity,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in a press conference. “I think our team has embraced Dak. He has come in and he has done what we have asked him to do, executes ball plays. Tony is focused on coming back. We’ll process this game quickly and then get on to the Packers (nexst week) before you know it.”
Against the Bengals, Prescott managed the game with precision.
He completed 75% of his passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. He scored a five-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
Of course, standing behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines helps. Having a budding star at running back in rookie Ezekiel Elliott also helps.
But Prescott has flashed the decision-making of a vet. On Sunday, he checked into running plays and called audibles at the line of scrimmage. He sprayed the ball to eight receivers. He has now attempted 155 passes without an interception, a rookie record.
And there is little argument his ability to use his legs gives the offense a dimension they no longer have with Romo.
If Prescott manages to extend that streak by eight, he’ll surpass Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s NFL record of 162 attempts to start a career without flinging a pick. Brady’s feat came in his second season.
In fact, Prescott’s first career turnover, a strip sack fumble recovered by the Bengals, came in the rookie’s 321st snap of the season.
“It’s a challenge for every quarterback,” Garrett said. “If you think about it, you get the ball for 60 or 70 plays a game. And everybody is coming to get it. You might drop back 25 or 30 times and you have to be a great play maker. You have to understand what the offense is trying to do. You have to understand what the defense is trying to do, and how it all fits together in a short period of time. He has done a really good job of processing things.”
Can the Cowboys really look at that production, that chemistry, that momentum, and opt to dismiss it and potentially upset it by shaking up the most important position in the NFL?
“He has just gotten better every week,” offensive lineman Zack Martin said. “He’s very poised and confident and does a great job for us.”
The team now has the luxury of potentially keeping Prescott in the lineup to ensure that Romo heals fully from the broken back bone he sustained in Week 3 of the preseason. If at any point in the future Prescott starts to struggle, Romo can step in.
And it’s not like Romo has been durable.
Consider this: In three of the last five games Romo has played, including the preseason, he has fractured a bone.
A road game against the Green Bay Packers looms next week, followed by the bye.
The Cowboys are reportedly eyeing the Week 8 game against the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles — what likely could be a contest that puts either team in the division driver’s seat — as the return of Romo.
But given the play of Prescott, could that be too soon?
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes