Ezekiel Elliott hugs Dak Prescott after the Cowboys beat the Steelers 35-30. (Ashley Landis/Dallas Morning News)
PITTSBURGH -- This was more of the same, more of what we have witnessed for two months or maybe three if you go all the way back to a hot August night in the LA Coliseum. But it can't be explained that easily, can it?
Dak Prescott, rookie sensation. It goes way beyond that now. Cowboys rookie records have fallen and league marks are disappearing, and Prescott just rolls along as if this was all part of the plan.
Fourth-round pick makes good is one thing.
Fourth-round pick throws for 319 yards to offset Ben Roethlisberger's 408, and guides Cowboys to winning drive in final 42 seconds at Heinz Field? This 35-30 Cowboys victory marked another chapter in Dak's amazing story, for sure, but it also put a decisive period on the Dak vs. Tony debate that began as a hot topic in September, started to fizzle with Dak's sizzle in October and now can be laid to rest.
Or as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones put it late Sunday: "We're going to let the decision in this case make itself. Dak has the hot hand, and we're going to go with it."
Jones and coach Jason Garrett have done their best to talk around that sensitive subject, but there's no point any longer. Romo, who practiced all week, will suit up Sunday when the Cowboys host Baltimore and go for their ninth straight win, a team single-season record. That's what Jones told reporters after this wildly entertaining game went the Cowboys' way.
Jones also said Romo is comfortable with his new role as backup to a rookie phenom.
Maybe he is and maybe he isn't. We don't know since Tony isn't really talking these days. But sometimes you just have to let it ride, and the rookie success of Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott is the feel-good story of an NFL season that seems overly burdened with turbulence, discontent and, yes, even declining ratings.
OK, maybe it's not so "feel-good" in Philly, but you get the picture.
Prescott threw for 319 yards Sunday. Elliott scored three touchdowns and totaled 209 yards by land and air. Dez Bryant, fighting through the emotions of losing his father Saturday, came up big with 116 yards and a highlight-worthy TD catch.
The 8-1 Cowboys are running away with both the NFC East and the NFC. Heck, it's impressive enough that Garrett briefly stepped out of character to acknowledge an eighth consecutive win that tied a club record set by the 1977 Super Bowl champion team.
"There have been a lot of great teams and championship teams that have come through here in the last 57 or so years," Garrett said. "That's certainly something to comment on. It's been a good streak for us."
And Prescott has fueled it with performances that have steadily grown beyond simple efficiency. If the season ended today, his passer rating would be second best to Romo's 2014 club record. He fumbled early Sunday when the Steelers' blitz got to him, but he spent the rest of the day gaining right at 10 yards per attempt (319 yards on 32 passes). In the process, the Cowboys scored touchdowns twice in the final two minutes to hand Pittsburgh a devastating fourth straight defeat.
"It was a great win, probably one of the best wins I've had in my young career -- in all of football, actually," Prescott said. "Nobody was really blinking, nobody was really flinching, just believing in ourselves in all phases of the team and getting the win."
After the Cowboys drove 75 yards to take the lead with 1:55 to play, Big Ben marched Pittsburgh 75 yards in five plays, taking the lead with 42 seconds to go.
That was too much time.
"Forty seconds is a lot of time, especially with three timeouts," Prescott said.
It's a tribute to both rookies that the Cowboys -- needing a field goal in 42 seconds -- instead scored a touchdown in 33 seconds. And never used that third timeout.
"Well, I just think Dak's evolving, performing at a level that is very inordinate," Jones said. "I think everybody feels pretty lucky to be a part of this thing, although that shouldn't take away from any individual accomplishment that we're seeing here. This is truly an appreciation as a team for what everybody is bringing to the table."
That Elliott has surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark and is chasing Eric Dickerson's rookie record of 1,808 is remarkable but not entirely a surprise. It's what the quarterback taken after Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenburg, Jacoby Brissett, Cody Kessler and Conner Cook were selected is doing on a weekly basis that astounds.
For the second time, he defeated a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in a tough environment. As Garrett said, "He was outstanding. It's contagious throughout our team. Guys believed in him. We executed the way we needed to, to win the game."
It's not unlike how the team responded to the last Cowboys quarterback to reel off eight straight wins in a season. Of course, Roger Staubach was 35 at the time.