All eyes were on the Dallas Cowboys this past Thursday night when Dak Prescott made his much-anticipated return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to kick off the 2021 NFL season. After an offseason of intense rehab on his surgically repaired right ankle, and overcoming a shoulder strain in training camp, Prescott took the field in his first real game in 11 months.
During his brief time on the field, Prescott was on a record-setting pace last season. In the four full games he played in, he averaged 422 yards and became the first quarterback with three consecutive performances of 450 yards or more. On Thursday, Prescott tied career highs in completions (42) and attempts (58) on his way to 403 yards and three touchdowns in a narrow 31-29 loss.
Dak Prescott looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, but feels he’s elevated his game from a year ago.
“I don’t feel like I say things just to say them, so that’s just a credit to all the work I put in,” Prescott said. “I think when you invest that much work in rehab and prehab and just everything that has gone into the last 11 months for me to get on the field, I mean, I’m not surprised about the way that I went out there and fought. Ran the ball a couple of times and did all the things that I’d normally do 11 months ago. No, I feel like I’m a better player than I was when I left the field last year and I told y’all that was the expectations I had for myself, and I’ll continue to try to get better game in and game out.”
Prescott was aided by excellent protection against the Buccaneers. Despite facing one of the NFL’s top defenses’s the Cowboy’s offensive line only allowed one sack thanks to additional help from Ezekiel Elliott. According to Pro Football Focus, he was 33 of 41 for 294 yards and two touchdowns from a clean pocket. He did a great job of spreading the ball around as well as he completed passes to eight different players (five of them had at least four receptions).
Going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady is a tall task to ask of any quarterback. However, although Brady led his team to a close win, the argument can be made that Prescott outplayed him considering his completion percentage, QBR, and rating were all higher than the seven-time Super Bowl champion.
After the game, Dak Prescott had a little message for Brady.
“We’ll see y’all again,” Prescott said.
That’s quite the statement to make especially since the Cowboys haven’t made the playoffs since 2018. When Prescott was asked about what he told Brady he mentioned it came from believing in the team that’s around him.
“That’s just the confidence I have in this group,” Prescott said. “The expectations are high. This is a playoff team. We’re gonna make a big push this year.”
Thursday night was only the fourth time in Prescott’s career that he attempted at least 50 passes in a game. Although he didn’t think he’d get that many opportunities to throw, Prescott was prepared to push the limits for a Cowboys win.
“I didn’t plan on throwing it that many times, but I never questioned my health or being able to throw it 50 times or how I’d feel out there,” Prescott said. “I know all the work that I’ve put in over the offseason, through training camp, just everything, that I expected to go out there and be able to leave it all out on the field and do whatever I needed to do to help this team and give us a fighting chance.”
There’s no doubt that he did just that, especially late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys got the ball with just under five minutes left and Prescott began to methodically march them down the field. He completed six of his eight passes for 70 yards and set up a 48-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein to give the Cowboys a late two-point lead with about 90 seconds to play. However, Brady was Brady, and he snatched a victory right from the Cowboy’s hands with a field goal drive of his own.
Prescott proved on Thursday night that his performance last season, albeit in five games, wasn’t a fluke. He’s one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and when he’s healthy the Cowboys can compete with anyone.