By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - The Dallas Cowboys have taken the NFL by storm this season thanks to better-than-expected performances from two rookies who have quickly become the faces of 'America's Team' and given a jolt to sagging TV ratings.
Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott have been a welcome revelation for a franchise that won three Super Bowl titles during a dominant stretch in the 1990s but have only made the playoffs five times in the last 16 seasons.
The pair have also helped bring some relief to the NFL, which has been in the unusual position of suffering a 14 percent drop in television ratings across all games this season.
The dynamic Dallas duo have led the Cowboys (8-1) to first place with an eight-game win streak, the latest coming in Sunday's thriller against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers that was the highest-rated NFL telecast of the 2016 campaign.
Prescott, a fourth-round pick whose incredible start has many experts believing long-time Cowboys' starter Tony Romo has lost his role, has not let the pressure of the toughest job in American sports faze him one bit.
"He's evolving and actually performing at a level that is very inordinate, eight wins is inordinate for our team," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott's poise following Sunday's come-from-behind win in a hostile Pittsburgh environment.
As for Elliott, the Cowboys' fourth overall draft pick was expected to immediately productive given his talent and the team's dominant offensive line but few thought he would be unstoppable.
"I expected it out of myself. I'm a guy with high expectations," said Elliott. "I was put in a perfect situation. I'm surrounded with a lot of great players, and they make me better."
Elliott scored two of his three touchdowns in the final two minutes of Sunday's 35-30 win, the latest standout performance in a season in which he leads the NFL in rushing and has made a strong case for Most Valuable Player honors.
The performances of Prescott and Elliott already have fans of the Cowboys - who earlier this year topped Forbes' list of the world's most valuable sports teams - thinking about the glory days of the 1990s.
While anything can happen over the final seven games of the regular season and in the unpredictable playoffs, the current edition of the Cowboys appears to be the best since the franchise won its last Super Bowl in 1996.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Ken Ferris)