The Dallas Cowboys kicked off the 2021 season in explosive fashion. The Cowboys faced off against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and stood tall as they traded blows all night. Dallas did not come away with the week one win, but their performance was inspiring enough to put the rest of the league on alert that they are a team worth respecting moving forward. Here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys loss to the Bucs.
1. Dak Prescott picked up right where he left off.
Based on Dak’s performance alone you could not tell he has not played in an NFL game in almost 11 months. Dak had the offense rolling on all cylinders all game long, leading to a go ahead drive with under 1:30 on the clock. Prescott finished 42-58 for 403 yards, three TDs and one interception on a throw that might’ve been his best ball of the night.
If this is what a rusty Dak Prescott looks like, this Cowboys offense is going to be real scary moving forward.
2. Anthony Brown had a tough night (to say the least).
Tom Brady has a way to pick out a weakness and attack it. That weakness Thursday night seemed to be Anthony Brown. All night Brady looked his way and parlayed it to consistent production and points. We knew the secondary could be an issue for this team, but if week one is any indication, Brown might seem himself being tested early and often all year.
3. Ezekiel Elliott did his job - even if the stats don’t show it.
The front seven for the Bucs are tough and they are talented. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles likes to bring pressure and exotic looks that forces an all-hands-on-deck approach for offenses to protect against it. Zeke found himself being vital to the protection and passing attack as he was on the spot and a willing pass protector all night. Zeke’s rushing production was minimal as the Cowboys threw the ball most of the night, but you could see just how important it was to the offensive rhythm to see Zeke back there stone walling blizters all night.
4. Amari Cooper is still WR1.
Cooper was a problem for the defense all night. Dak looked to him early and often and he answered the call each time. Cooper finished the night with 13 receptions, 139 yards, and two TDs. CeeDee Lamb is well on his way to being a mega star in this league, but Cooper spent opening night reminding everybody to not forget about him and his skills either.
5. Demarcus Lawrence is a stud.
Even with a dip in his sack numbers, the overall value Lawrence has to this defense can’t be overstated. Lawrence was a monster in the run game and forced a key turnover with a textbook punch of the football, and applied pressure and was disruptive all night as a pass rusher as well. Brady routinely gets the ball out quickly and is very smart in the pocket, so the fact Lawrence didn’t get home for a sack is understandable if frustrating.
6. Connor McGovern was up to the task.
McGovern got thrown into a tough situation. He was told he was going to start just days prior against a fierce defensive line on opening night, and he did not blink. He was tough in the running game and held up well in pass protection. The Cowboys have depth at the guard position when Zack Martin is back this week, and it’s safe to say sooner rather than later, McGovern will factor into the starting five picture moving forward.
7. It’s definitely a new era for the linebacker corp.
Last year the linebacker play was a problem. The struggles were well documented and clearly noted as the Cowboys invested heavily this year to upgrade the position. The Cowboys state that matchup will dictate the personnel, but if week one is any indicator it looks like a changing of the guard of sorts as Micah Parsons and Keanu Neal tallied more snaps that Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith by a wide margin. We will see how that is delegated moving forward, but it is certainly something worth monitoring as the season progresses.
8. Greg Zuerlein should be on notice.
In a game decided by two points on a game-winning drive orchestrated by Tom Brady, it makes you sick to think that the four points left on the field by your kicker made a huge difference in the outcome of this game. Missing a 31-yard field goal and an extra point is just unacceptable at this level. We understand he didn’t get much work in training camp, and he is working through an injury, however if you aren’t ready, then you shouldn’t be out there. You don’t want to overstate the situation but it’s very honest and real to think with a healthy reliable kicker on roster we could be having a very different conversation after this game.
9. Trevon Diggs is what we thought he could be.
For as much time Brady spent picking on Anthony Brown, that’s how little time he spent looking Trevon Diggs way. Diggs was only credited for coverage stats of one completion for ten yards against a very good Mike Evans. Diggs found his way to capitalize on a tipped pass interception as he continues to prove he is a consistent playmaker for this defense. It will be interesting to see next week when he goes against another quality receiver group the Chargers possess, but as Diggs comes into his own, it might be safe to say he is up for any challenge in year two.
10. They gave up 31 points, but this defense is much improved.
Four turnovers, sure tackling, control in the running game from the front seven, and keeping the team within striking range to have a chance to take home a W, surely we aren’t speaking about the Cowboys, right? Granted they gave up a drive that resulted in a loss, but this is a game versus Tom Brady and they defending Super Bowl champions on opening night. Rome wasn’t built in a day and we can’t expect a historically bad defense from last year do a 180 shift in the next season, however there was much to be pleased about. They attacked the football, brought some different wrinkles and looks, and were opportunistic when a situation presented itself. They aren't a top 10 defense, but with this offense they don’t need to be. Through one game, you can see the groundwork laid out for this unit to be respected going forward.