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Tramel NFL predictions: Cowboys often set at backup quarterback

Dak Prescott is lost for the season, and the Dallas Cowboys forge ahead with backup Andy Dalton as their quarterback.

Dalton was a fortuitous signing by the Cowboys in the off-season, but that’s not surprising. Jerry Jones has many faults as the Dallas general manager, but having a solid backup QB rarely is an issue. 

In fact, Dallas has a history of solid backup quarterbacks.

In 2016, Tony Romo was lost for the season during the exhibition season. Prescott, then a rookie drafted in the fourth round, took over and has been the starter ever since. That 2016 season? The Cowboys went 13-3 before losing to Green Bay 34-31 in the playoffs.

In 1972, Roger Staubach was injured in the exhibition season and missed most of the regular season. Craig Morton became the starter and led the Cowboys to a 10-4 record. In the playoffs, Staubach relieved Morton and led Dallas to a 30-28 victory over the 49ers, then Tom Landry returned the starting job to Staubach. In the NFC Championship Game, Washington battered Dallas 26-3.

I researched the Cowboys’ use of backup quarterbacks going back to 1963, the year Don Meredith became the Cowboys’ starting quarterback.

Best as I can figure, Dallas’ record in the regular season is 56-66 with a backup QB. Which is good. Backup quarterbacks often are a one-way ticket to defeat.

It helps that Prescott was a home-run draft pick and that Morton was such a quality QB.

We sometimes write off Morton as the guy who was in Staubach’s way. As in, what took Landry so long to give Staubach the job?

But the truth is, Morton was a good NFL quarterback. Good enough that in 1977, at age 34, he took the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl. Good enough that Morton was 3-2 starting in place of Meredith, including one game in 1965. Good enough that Morton’s regular-season record as the Dallas starter was 32-14-1, a winning percentage of .691. Staubach’s winning percentage was a gaudy .746 (85-29), but still, Morton was a good NFL starting quarterback. Which made him a fabulous backup starting quarterback.

Here are a few other notes about Dallas backup QBs over the years.

  • Jason Garrett was 6-3 as a starter in relief of Troy Aikman from 1993-99. Sometimes we forget what a quality backup Garrett proved to be.

  • Steve Beurlein went 4-0 in place of the injured Troy Aikman in 1991, allowing the Cowboys to post an 11-5 record and make the playoffs for the first time in six years. Beurlein then went 1-1 in that postseason, helping Dallas beat Chicago 17-13.

  • 2001 was as bad of a quarterbacking year as any team ever had. Surely. The Cowboys started overmatched rookie Quincy Carter eight times, Anthony Wright and Ryan Leaf thrice each, and Clint Stoerner twice. Carter was 3-5, Wright 1-2, Leaf 0-3 and Stoerner 1-1.

  • In 1969, Dallas’ backup quarterback was Roger Staubach. He went 1-0 starting in place of Morton, who was 10-2-1 that year.

  • Anyway, Dalton is a long-established quarterback who was solid for many years with the Bengals. He’s one of the 32 best QBs in football, which makes him one of the league’s best backups.

    The Cowboys aren’t dead, first and foremost because they play in the league’s worst division, but also because they have a quarterback who won’t sink them in the wake of Prescott’s broken ankle.

    Let’s get to the predictions:

    Texans at Titans: Houston 27-20. Seems like Tennessee is due for a letdown after its great performance against Buffalo, with 16 days off and not much of it devoted to practice time.

    Bengals at Colts: Indianapolis 24-17. What’s that? Indy already is tired of Philip Rivers? Sometimes, leaving your long-time franchise doesn’t work out so well.

    Falcons at Vikings: Minnesota 31-21. Neither franchise has won a Super Bowl, and there’s a price to pay for that. Atlanta fired coach Dan Quinn this week, and the Vikes might do the same to Mike Zimmer if Minnesota doesn’t pick it up from a 1-4 start.

    Broncos at Patriots: New England 19-13. Nick Saban tested positive for COVID. The Patriots have been waylaid by COVID. This is a virus that clearly is not coachable.

    Washingtons at Giants: New York 23-20. Hey, I was impressed with the Giants’ fight vs. Dallas.

    Ravens at Eagles: Baltimore 30-20. Baltimore is getting better, and the Ravens were plenty good to start with.

    Browns at Steelers: Pittsburgh 26-24. The game of the day. Is Cleveland for real? Seems maybe so. Are the Steelers for real? Seems absolutely so.

    Bears at Panthers: Carolina 27-16. Do you get the feeling that the Cowboys should have hired Matt Rhule? Not that there’s anything wrong with Mike McCarthy. But Rhule is a keeper.

    Lions at Jaguars: Detroit 25-16.  I literally never have seen so much criticism from serial defenders of coaches as I’ve seen of Lions coach Matt Patricia. 

    Jetropolitans at Dolphins: Miami 34-17. I hope I don’t have to watch this game. I’ve already watched Dolphins-Jaguars. I’ve done my time.

    Packers at Buccaneers: Green Bay 28-27. Tom Brady screwed up vs. Chicago. Seems like he should have just said so.

    Rams at 49ers: Los Angeles 27-20. San Francisco is in trouble, while the Rams seem back to their 2018 selves.

    Chiefs at Bills: Kansas City 32-20. The Chiefs signed tailback Le’Veon Bell. It’s difficult to make us not like an Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes team, but KC is doing its best. 

    Cardinals at Cowboys: Dallas 28-26. Baker Mayfield came to JerryWorld, and the Browns tore up the Cowboys. Can Kyler Murray do the same on Monday night football?

    Last week: 10-4. Season: 51-25-1.

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    Berry Tramel

    Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›