FRISCO, Texas - The emotion of the moment feels a lot like a movie, but the reality feels shockingly routine.
After all, when Andy Dalton steps into the huddle on Monday night against Arizona, he'll be making his 134th NFL start. It's safe to say replacing Dak Prescott in the starting lineup isn't exactly uncharted territory for him.
"Obviously, I've been used to starting for the last nine years," Dalton said. "My role was a little different for these first five games, being behind Dak, but now it's like it's getting back to basically how it was for me."
It's the polar opposite from the scenario in which the Cowboys discovered Prescott. Back in 2016, they put their faith in a rookie to hold the rope while Tony Romo recovered from a back injury - and they got way more than they bargained for.
These days, the $3 million pay day they gave Dalton in May is looking more and more like a bargain. According to Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, this is the best level of backup quarterback play the team has had since Bernie Kosar stepped in for Troy Aikman during the 1993 championship season.
"Dak is a very, very integral part of the success of this football team," Jones told 105.3 FM The Fan on Friday morning. "On the other hand, if we don't reach where we want to go ultimately -- and the ultimate success is to win the championship -- it will not be because of Andy Dalton."
That's high praise, and perhaps some high expectation, but it doesn't seem to faze Dalton too much. In addition to starting nine seasons, he helped five different Cincinnati teams reach the postseason. On top of that, he has stated before that the goal in Dallas is to set himself up for the second half of his career. To do that, making the most of this opportunity is a must.
"I've had some really good years and been on some really good teams and have had some success in this league," Dalton said. "And so my goal moving forward is just to keep proving that. Just doing whatever I can to help this team win."
Fortunately, the Cowboys have set themselves up for success in more ways than just their quarterback depth. While they might be breaking in several new offensive linemen, this offense has plenty of talent at the skill positions. For Dalton to be successful, it might be as simple as just getting them the ball..
"For me, I've just got to run this offense how it's supposed to be run," Dalton said. "I feel like I've just got to be me and let my play speak for itself. I feel like there's a lot of talent on this team and my job is to distribute the ball to our guys, let them go make plays and just be me throughout the whole process of it all."
That concept - of Dalton being himself - seems to be a theme for the week. Given his experience in the league, not to mention the number of reps he's gotten with the starting offense, no one seems too fazed by his presence in the huddle, and everyone seems to agree he doesn't need to do much more than be himself.
As CeeDee Lamb put it: "Andy's been Andy. This is not his first year at the quarterback position, nor is it his first year starting. He appears that way. He's not rattled at all."
That's an encouraging thing to hear for a team that's set to begin an 11-game journey without Prescott. Whatever the new expectations might be for this team or its new starting quarterback, Andy Dalton seems ready to embrace them.
"We have high expectations for ourselves," Dalton said. "The expectation is to be a really good offense and win each week, so I don't feel like there's any other expectations we have to worry about except the ones we have for ourselves."
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