Signed in the spring to be the backup in Dallas but pressed into service after Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, Dalton was making his second start two weeks later when he was hit in the head while sliding to the turf in a game against Washington. He was replaced in the Cowboys’ next game by rookie Ben DiNucci, and then another inexperienced quarterback, Garrett Gilbert, got the start in Week 9.
By that point, Dallas was on a four-game losing streak and probably happy to get a bye in Week 10. Dalton said Thursday he got medical clearance after his case of covid-19 to return last week to the Cowboys’ facility, at which point he cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“It was a little frustrating,” he said. “You miss the one game because of the concussion, [my] first time dealing with that, and then the covid, it’s like it all kind of hit at once. I wish I could have been out there. I wish I could have played in the two games that I missed. But it kind of is what it is.”
While he said he suffered from headaches and other concussion symptoms, Dalton indicated that experiencing covid-19 was a worse experience, at least initially.
“It hit me hard the first day that I had it, and then gradually started feeling better,” said the 33-year-old, who spent his first nine seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. “By the end of it, I was ready to get out of quarantine and get back up here.”
One aspect of his illness that did not strike right away was a loss of his senses of taste and smell, which Dalton said “eventually” did occur. He also revealed that two of his family members, his wife and one of his three children, contracted the coronavirus as well.
“Everybody is good now,” Dalton said. “We’re all healthy and back to normal.”
Having started four different quarterbacks in a five-week span, the Cowboys are hoping to return to a level of normalcy with Dalton back under center.
“I thought he was decisive and threw the ball very well [on Wednesday],” Dallas Coach Mike McCarthy said before Thursday’s practice. “That’s the biggest thing. As long as the ball is coming out on time and so forth, I thought he was in rhythm. Andy has excellent command, obviously, of the whole operation.”
“It’s been a great week of practice so far,” Dalton said. “I feel good about where I’m at, and where we’re at as a team and moving forward.”
Even though the Cowboys are at the bottom of the NFC with a 2-7 record, they are very much in the playoff hunt, given that the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles are 3-5-1.
“Everything is out in front of us,” Dalton said. “That’s the crazy thing with how this season has gone. Some games that we felt like we had chances in, all of that stuff doesn’t matter at this point. Now we have to move forward. We have to think about these next seven games, and that is all our focus is, is what we have in front of us.”
As far as the play that sent him to the sidelines, Dalton suggested that he was disappointed Washington linebacker Jon Bostic did not receive greater punishment for his blow to the quarterback’s head. Bostic was ejected for the hit and then fined $12,000 by the NFL, with no suspension.
“You know, with that whole thing, just looking at some of the fines and different things that other people got, I was a little surprised by the number,” Dalton said. “But it is what it is.”
It was Dalton’s first career concussion, and he said Thursday the one “little bit of a blessing” about his situation was that his subsequent illness gave him extra time to recover from the brain injury.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, are trying to reduce the potential for an outbreak by relocating coaches and staff whose duties place them in direct contact with players to a hotel. In response to a recent rise in positive tests among players and league personnel, as well as to a sharp increase across the nation, the NFL directed all its teams to move this week to a heightened level of pandemic-related protocols.
Of his sense of taste, Dalton said he was “starting to get it back.”
“You can tell things are sweet, you can tell things are salty, you just don’t get the flavor with it,” he said.
“I can eat really healthy right now, and it doesn’t matter,” Dalton added with a smile, “because I can’t taste it.”