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Five plays that shaped the Cowboys’ embarrassing loss to the Buccaneers

Could this game have gone any worse?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The long awaited rematch of last year’s thrilling Week 1 game between the Cowboys and Buccaneers came and went without any of the thrills of last year. Tampa Bay beat Dallas 19-3 in a pretty ugly, defense-heavy contest that immediately cast doubt in Cowboys fans’ minds, before completely extinguishing all hope for a successful year.

Given that the Cowboys spent most of the game trailing the Buccaneers, there weren’t many explosive plays in this one. But these five plays are the ones that told the story of this game.

Connor McGovern exits with an injury, hurting an already thin OL

Early in the game, the Cowboys offense came out and did exactly what they said they were going to do: run the ball. It worked, for the most part, and Dallas drove down the field before settling for a field goal.

After the Buccaneers tied things up, Dallas was doing it over again. Ezekiel Elliott rumbled forward for seven yards to start their next drive, but the first of many false start penalties on Terence Steele backed them up on the next play. After that, a quick incompletion brought up third down, but that wasn’t the biggest problem.

Connor McGovern injured his ankle and left the game, being replaced by Matt Farniok. That left the Cowboys incredibly thin on the offensive line, with no other interior linemen available. McGovern never returned, and the Buccaneers pass rush attacked Farniok all night long. McGovern was seen in a walking boot later, and could miss several weeks.

Dak Prescott gets picked deep in his own territory

It quickly became evident that the Cowboys offense was going to be in for a struggle, and Dak Prescott never looked comfortable with his stable of inexperienced receivers. After the Buccaneers missed their third field goal attempt, keeping it a 6-3 game, Dallas had an opportunity to strike back.

It didn’t happen. An offensive pass interference penalty on CeeDee Lamb put them in a hole, and it wasn’t long before Prescott faced a third-and-ten at the Dallas 26. Facing pressure, Prescott rolled out of the pocket and then forced a terrible throw that was intercepted.

The turnover only led to three points for Tampa Bay, keeping it a one score game, but it seemingly punctuated just how bad this offense - and, in particular, its quarterback - was in this one. And things only got worse from there.

Mike Evans beats Anthony Brown on crucial third down

Credit belongs to the Cowboys defense for keeping them in this game all night despite a putrid showing from the offense. But even the defense had their moments of poor play, and the dam broke at a critical time.

Down 12-3 in the third quarter, the Dallas defense was facing a third and three at their own 35-yard line. They desperately needed a stop, something they’d been doing all night. But big Mike Evans ran a simple slant and Tom Brady hit him right in the numbers, making it nearly impossible for Anthony Brown to make a play.

Tampa Bay converted the first down on that play, and three plays later Evans was making a spectacular catch in the endzone for the only touchdown on the night. But it wouldn’t have been possible without that third-down conversion.

Dak Prescott, offense go three and out

After failing on fourth down following Tampa Bay’s touchdown, the Cowboys seemed like their night was effectively over. But Donovan Wilson picked off Brady, offering the offense one last chance to turn things around.

Instead they went three and out in short order. First, Elliott ran for a measly two yards. Then Prescott failed to connect with either Dennis Houston or Noah Brown on successive plays. Suddenly, after picking the ball off at midfield just a few seconds ago, the Cowboys were punting.

It’s hard to pile on Prescott now after how his night ended, but the quarterback had a really poor game that was only accentuated by the struggles of this inexperienced receiving corps.

Dak Prescott hurts his hand, potentially ends the season

It certainly seemed like Mike McCarthy was waiving the white flag when he opted to punt the ball at midfield, but the Cowboys were technically still playing a game. And after the defense forced yet another punt, Dallas got the ball at their own 14 with seven minutes left in the game.

Then it happened. Prescott completed a pass to Brown for 22 yards, but as Prescott’s arm went forward his hand collided with the defender’s. Prescott seemed to be favoring it in between snaps on the next two plays, and then he went over to the sideline to get it looked at. Prescott went back to the locker room, and never returned.

It wasn’t too long after the game that Jerry Jones announced Prescott would require surgery and will be out several weeks, A more exact timeline will determine just how serious this is, but given how poorly this offense looked with Prescott on Sunday, any stretch of games without him will be devastating for this Cowboys team.

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