DALLAS — Unless a mysterious development befitting of Halloween occurs over the weekend, the Dallas Cowboys will start their third quarterback this season when rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci goes under center against the Philadelphia Eagles for Sunday Night Football.
It’s not going to be easy for the Cowboys, or the inexperienced DiNucci, but the situation is eerily similar to another young quarterback's first start in the NFL.
It was on this same weekend in 2006, also during Week 8, when then Cowboys coach Bill Parcells made the full-time switch to then untested quarterback Tony Romo to replace aging veteran Drew Bledsoe for a 3-3 team looking to get their season in gear.
That game was on the road against the Carolina Panthers and was that week’s featured contest on Sunday Night Football.
The similarities don’t stop there. Romo and DiNucci got the chance to play the week before against a division rival, giving them a taste of some real game action before becoming a starter.
Dallas -- as they are in this upcoming game -- were underdogs against the Panthers and were starting a QB coming from a non-FBS school.
Romo played at Eastern Illinois and came to Dallas as an undrafted free agent, while DiNucci played his college ball at James Madison and was the Cowboys’ final draft selection in April’s NFL Draft.
The Cowboys are likely hoping for a similar result to the one they enjoyed 14 years ago. Dallas won that game over Carolina 35-14 and Romo began an illustrious career with the organization that night.
Of course, Romo had been in the league and learning for a few years before getting the chance to start, while DiNucci isn’t nearly as seasoned. Romo also got the call due to poor play from Bledsoe, whereas DiNucci is only making his starting debut so quickly because of injury.
It’s also important to remember that DiNucci isn’t going to take anyone’s job long term.
Whereas DiNucci has been thrust into the spotlight, Romo was awaiting his turn and made the most of his shot at becoming the quarterback of the future.
In 2020, despite not having a contract past this year, the Cowboys remain committed to Dak Prescott. Even if DiNucci plays well and impresses, Prescott will likely be the starting quarterback for the franchise for years to come.
Even so, there are those who believe that DiNucci has some of the same traits as Romo, including their height. Both stand at 6-foot-2 inches tall.
Cowboys Executive VP Stephen Jones mentioned that Mike McCarthy made the connection in training camp this summer.
"(McCarthy) said he's a baller. He's very athletic. Certainly no one is saying he is (the next Tony Romo), but if you remember, (Romo) was a college free agent. (DiNucci) has some of those types of tools, instinctive and seems to make plays."
DiNucci might not be the same exact player or turn out to be as good as Romo, but he’s confident and knows this is a great opportunity.
The Cowboys aren’t in the same type of spot as they were when Romo debuted and turned the franchise around, but they are in need of a spark after floundering following Prescott’s season-ending injury.
It’s tough to ask the rookie to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia, especially behind a banged up offensive line and a historically-bad Dallas defense, but DiNucci doesn’t appear to be shying away from the moment.
Whatever happens, it would be nice to see some life from the Cowboys. In addition, the team needs to find a backup to Prescott for the future so getting a look at DiNucci, as Andy Dalton deals with the concussion that he suffered in Washington, could be a chance to evaluate. The hope is to see some positives, even if the team loses.
Strange things happen in sports, the Cowboys weren’t expected to win in Romo’s first start either. On Halloween weekend, Dallas is hoping the eerily uncanny parallels continue with Ben DiNucci finishing off the resemblance to Tony Romo’s debut with a victory.
Do you think the Cowboys can avoid a Halloween hangover and beat the Eagles in Week 8? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.