Cowboys Lose Season Opener to Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-29

Photo from The Athletic

The two biggest questions for the Dallas Cowboys at the start of the 2021 season are how well Dak Prescott and his surgically-repaired ankle will hold up and whether new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn put together a plan to get the defense out of the dumpster.

The Cowboys went into Tampa Bay and faced off against Tom Brady and the Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers on opening night in the NFL and nearly pulled off an upset victory. Dallas got its first lead of the game with just 1:24 left in the fourth quarter. It proved to be too much time as the Bucs drove 66 yards in 1:22, setting up Kicker Ryan Succop for the game-winning field goal.

The defense did a remarkable job of corralling the Bucs, picking up critical interceptions and fumbles that kept the Cowboys in the game. Demarcus Lawrence and Demontae Kazee both forced fumbles during the game. Kazee forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter that was recovered by Jourdan Lewis, giving the Cowboys their only lead of the game. Lewis also intercepted a hail mary pass at the end of the second half that he nearly broke for a pick six.

Prescott was sharp all night, throwing for 403 yards on 42 completions. After not playing since week 5 of last season and getting limited time in training camp due to a shoulder strain, the Cowboys abandoned the run and put their chance of victory in Prescott’s hands. His performance was nearly flawless, but wasn’t enough to pull out the victory.

The most surprising problem for the Cowboys was the inability of Greg Zuerlien to make kicks. Zuerlein, who had off-season back surgery and hasn’t kicked in the preseason, left seven points on the field. Neither of his missed kicks resulted in points for the Bucs as the Dallas defense was able to recover a fumble and an interception off the ensuing drives.

Despite showing his immense skills on numerous big plays, CeeDee Lamb continues to struggle with dropped passes. He logged nine last season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. Lamb had two big drops against the Bucs on Thursday, one of which may have resulted in a touchdown as Lamb had clearly beaten the safety. He finished the day with seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Amari Cooper was also on the field for the majority of the game after rehabbing an ankle injury throughout the offseason that kept him largely out of action in preseason contests. Cooper was the leading receiver for Dallas, gaining 139 yards on 13 receptions and a pair of touchdowns.

Neither offense found much success on the ground. Ezekiel Elliott found himself as an extra blocker more often than not, and did a spectacular job at preventing free rushers from hitting Prescott. His 13 carries for 33 yards aren’t going to make for big stats for fantasy owners, but preventing what is considered to be one of the NFLs elite pass rush defenses from picking up numerous sacks is a win. The Buccaneers’ Shaquil Barrett got credit for the game’s only sack.

The Cowboys travel to the West Coast to take on the Los Angeles Chargers in SoFi stadium next Sunday. The Cowboys will try to build on the newly-improved defense in an attempt to pick up the first win of the season.

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