It was among the most anonymous of the 3,131 snaps Dak Prescott has had in 48 games as the quarterback of America’s Team.
A eight-yard completion to Dez Bryant just 33 seconds into his career.
To Ezekiel Elliott, it’s a play he’ll never forget because it’s the moment he bonded with Prescott.
“My (second) play of my career. It was a play-action pass and my guy blitzed,” Elliott said. “'Oh, f—-!' Dak picked up my slack, he made him miss and made a hell of a play. Ever since that moment I knew that I could have faith in him and trust him.”
Prescott’s memory of that play that illuminates everything you need to know about why the guys on this team wouldn’t want any other quarterback leading them.
“I think I completed a pass to Dez,” he said Tuesday. “It wasn’t anything special.”
When told why Elliott considered the play significant, Prescott suddenly opened up.
“Well, I didn’t want to throw Zeke under the bus,” he said with a smile. “Zeke missed a hot (read) and I had to get away from the guy he missed to get the pass off.”
Three years after a play no one has any reason to remember, Prescott is still protecting his guy.
That’s the kind of leadership fans usually don’t get to hear about, and it’s the kind of leadership that promotes loyalty.
It’s why Prescott’s teammates believe in him, when some of you don’t.
“He never places blame on anybody else. Even when it’s not his fault. He says it's his fault,” safety Jeff Heath said. “That’s a leader. It’s easy to deflect blame, but in his position as leader of the team he does that all the time.”
Prescott, who just completed his third NFL season, has led the Cowboys to 32 wins and two NFC East titles since the Cowboys took him with the 135th pick of the 2016 draft.
He has directed 14-game winning drives - no quarterback has more - since 2016, including Sunday’s 36-35 win over the New York Giants that gave the Cowboys their 10th win of the season.
He passed for 3,885 yards with 22 touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns this season and a 96.9 passer rating. He’s also thrown eight interceptions and lost six fumbles.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a competitor like 4. He’s as good as they come. His leadership is out this world. I’ve never been around anybody like that,” Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin said of Prescott. “He just makes plays. He’s a winner. He’s wins games. That’s all there is to it. At the end of the day that’s what we’re in this business to do: win games.”
Prescott has passed for 4,263 yards more than New England’s Tom Brady did in his first three seasons and thrown 36 more touchdown passes than New Orleans' Drew Brees did in his first three seasons. He’s thrown 18 fewer interceptions than Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and started 48 more games than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers did in their first three seasons.
This is not to suggest Prescott will ever be an elite quarterback like those players, all of whom own Super Bowl rings and are headed to the Hall of Fame. It’s merely to illustrate Prescott’s career is off to a remarkable start.
You’d think having a 25-year-old quarterback like Prescott would excite the Cowboys’ fan base.
Instead, Prescott has become one of the NFL’s most polarizing players. Tony Romo fans are still salty because Prescott’s 2016 performance kept the veteran on the bench, eventually persuading him to take a TV job as CBS’ lead announcer.
So they critique every errant pass and poor decision like Romo never made a mistake. They romanticize Romo’s career as though he led them to world championships the way Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman did, while insinuating Prescott can never measure up to Romo.
They also compare Prescott, whose at the beginning of his career, to Romo at the end of his career, when he was among the game’s best.
The reality is much of the fan base is so focused on Romo’s glorious past - he won two playoff wins in 10 seasons - they can’t appreciate Prescott’s future.
So they ignore Prescott’s 13-5 record against the NFC East and his 19-8 record after Halloween, winning time in the NFL.
None of their criticism matters to the 53 men on the roster because Prescott is the man they believe will ultimately lead the Cowboys to a title. Understand, Prescott’s critics aren’t going to shut up until he wins playoff games.
His second opportunity to do begins Saturday night against Seattle at 7:15 p.m. at AT&T Stadium.
“How could you not believe in Dak? How could you not? Man, how could you not?” He’s a winner. This dude is a champion," right tackle La’El Collins said. "This dude, this dude it’s giving me chills just thinking about it. Hell of a player. Hell of a leader. He’s vocal. He leads by example. He shows up every day. No matter what happens on any play, he’s coming back. He’s not ever going to fold.”
Prescott is the same dude every day.
Whether he’s thrown an end zone interception and lost a fumble like he did in a 28-14 October loss to Tennessee that dropped the Cowboys to 3-5 or passed for 455 yards in a critical overtime win over Philadelphia in November, his demeanor remains the same.
The players follow him because he uses the same tone whether he’s instructing receiver Lance Lenoir and tight end Blake Jarwin on a route or Amari Cooper.
And they believe in him because no one competes harder. Give him an opportunity to win a game, they believe, and he will.
If a play requires a physical sacrifice, then so be it.
Remember, the helicopter flip at the end of a 10-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals in 2017?
How about his lunging 11-yard scramble on third- and-10 against New Orleans that resulted in a key first down in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ 13-10 win over the Saints, ending their 11-game winning streak?
“We love seeing stuff like that. A quarterback really putting his neck out there for the team and you see that over and over again. He’s trying to fight and scratch and claw for just another yard,” Byron Jones said. “When you see that as a defensive guy you know that’s a team player. That’s a guy I’m putting all my money behind.”
Talk to any executive, coach or player who matters in the Cowboys’ organization after a big win like the triumph over New Orleans or a disappointment such as their shut out to Indianapolis last month and their belief in Prescott remains steadfast.
“He’s a warrior,” Elliott said. “Every time he faces any adversity, maybe it’s a bad game or a bad play, he always bounces back.”
Consider what he did last week against the New York Giants in a game that didn’t affect the Cowboys’ playoff position.
He passed for 387 yards, the second-highest total of his career, and a career-high four touchdown passes in a 36-35 win over the Giants.
Prescott’s teammates respected him as much for playing 77 snaps in a “meaningless” game without Elliott, Martin or left tackle Tyron Smith as they did his spectacular 32-yard touchdown pass to Cole Beasley with 1:12 left.
“I know the stats aren’t like crazy, but it’s because of the offense we run. He’s not going to throw for 500 every game. Anytime we ask him to go win the game on a two-minute drive, he comes through. You know what I mean? That’s what you want,” Beasley said. “People don’t understand how hard it is do to that, when you haven’t really been doing it all game. It’s incredible.”
Prescott may never be a top five quarterback. Or even a top 10 quarterback. But he’s more than good enough to help the Cowboys be consistent contenders.
Sure, there are flaws in Prescott’s game - every player has flaws - but the key for the Cowboys is finding a way to put him in position to do what he does best physically to help team win because he has every intangible you’d want in a quarterback.
And when Prescott plays well, the Cowboys are virtually unbeatable. They’re 25-1, when he doesn’t commit a turnover and 23-1 when he has a passer rating above 100.0.
“He’s the ultimate warrior through good or bad. He’s always working to get better and you respect that,” DeMarcus Lawrence said. “You respect that as a man and you respect that as him being your quarterback. Shoot, He got us to where we at. He held his part down.”