The Dallas Cowboys entered Raymond James Stadium with the intent of walking away 1-0. Instead, a few missed opportunities and questionable calls led to a 31-29 defeat by the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to kickstart the new season.
Yes, Dallas lost on Thursday night. Dak Prescott, however, won in so many ways.
Eleven months ago, Prescott was seen in tears as a cart carried him off the field at AT&T Stadium. His season was done due to an ankle injury. The injury added to questions about whether team owner Jerry Jones would give the Cowboys quarterback a new contract.
He did, in the form of a four-year, $160 million deal.
Then came more questions, wondering if Prescott could live up to the price.
Did Week 1 answer that to everybody's satisfaction?
Prescott dazzled against the Buccaneers defense. He finished 42 of 58 for 403 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was 101.4, and his lone interception bounced off the hands of CeeDee Lamb right into the clutches of cornerback Carlton Davis.
Compare those numbers to Tom Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion. The 44-year-old finished 32 of 50 passing for 379 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
The difference? One defies the name of the game in his age. The other hasn't taken a meaningful snap in 333 days.
"I thought Dak played well," Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. "I really like the way our team played, the preparation coming into it. ... We had tough looks, particularly some of the things they did defensively. I thought our guys did a good job adjusting, did a good job distributing the ball on the perimeter."
Prescott found consistency following the first drive. That "shoulder soreness'' during training camp might've entered the minds of viewers on the first drive. A deep pass to Lamb fell short. Two plays later, Prescott's pass looked wobbly as it fell in and out of the hands of the second-year receiver.
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“After everything that happened to us this week to be able to come out here and get a win, a road win, against a good team, is special,” Prescott said. “It’s a building block. It’s the first win of many. ...''
Fire up the Twitter takes and call it a season, right?
But from then on, Prescott changed. In an instant, things starting clicking like they did in 2016 and in 2019. There became a consistency from Prescott to Amari Cooper through the air. Plays that could have been stopped at the line of scrimmage were extended thanks to the QB's footwork.
Prescott certainly didn't look like a player coming off ankle surgery. He didn't seem to have an issue with his shoulder. And why not? Because, as he said a long time ago, the injury issue is "buried.''
In fact, he might have even looked stronger than he did in 2019 with the league's No. 1 offense? Of course, the only thing Prescott cared about was the final score.
"We can be great and come up short," Prescott said. "I feel like that's what tonight was. It was a great effort, but we came up short. We want to be the best."
Consider Week 1 a learning lesson for Dallas as they turn the attention toward the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. Prescott continues to trust Cooper as his No. 1 receiver, but he isn't afraid to spread the ball. Cooper finished with a career-tying 13 catches.
Prescott targeted eight different Cowboys — two of whom finished with over 100 yards and at least one touchdown. Perhaps when All-Pro guard Zach Martin returns from the COVID list, McCarthy will prep for a more balanced offensive approach and increase Ezekiel Elliott's carries.
As the game clock expired, Prescott and Brady met in the middle. The two shook hands and shared a quick hug before departing for the locker rooms. Before leaving, Prescott left Brady with one last message.
"We'll see y'all again," Dak told the legend.
With outings like Thursday night, Cowboys fans could very well expect a rematch with even higher stakes come January.