The Dallas Cowboys may have lost their season opener, but they’ve sure got a quarterback.
Dak Prescott looked like the early-2019 MVP candidate version of himself Thursday night when the NFL opened its season with a matchup between the Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Prescott, who is coming off of an ankle injury that prematurely ended his 2020 season, threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns. This is a welcoming sight for Cowboys fans after the team struggled mightily in 2020 after Prescott went down in week 5.
From the beginning of the game, Prescott impressed:On the Cowboys’ opening drive, which started on their own 2-yard line, Prescott delivered a beautiful 28-yard pass to Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper. Prescott continued to shine for the rest of the game.
The Buccaneers were a nine-point favorite, and the Cowboys were a vintage Tom Brady game-winning drive away from stealing the season opener.
The Cowboys’ receiving corps certainly make Prescott’s job easier: Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup are perhaps the best wide receiver trio in the NFL. Cooper was Prescott’s favorite target, ending his night with 139 yards and two touchdowns. Lamb also finished with over 100 yards and a score.
Where the Cowboy’s offense fell short was in the running game. Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott only managed 33 yards on 11 carries. The Cowboys have a recent history of a dominant offensive line, but this was the first game for right tackle La’el Collins since his offseason hip surgery, and that was apparent.
Before Prescott’s nasty ankle injury, he was among some of the best quarterbacks in the league. Five games into the 2020 season, he was an early MVP candidate averaging 370 passing yards per game. His strong performance recently earned him a four-year, $160 million contract extension, despite concerns over his longevity after the injury.
Now the Cowboys know the deal has the potential to pay off. In a wide-open NFC East, which only took seven victories for the Washington football team to win in 2020, the Cowboys are a favorite to come out on top.
After the question “Is Dak ready?” was answered Thursday night, the Cowboys have plenty of reason to remain optimistic. Performing so well against such a dominant pass rush and solid secondary and coming within two points of defeating the defending Super Bowl champions is no small task. Not only is Prescott a mobile quarterback with a great arm, but his quickness allows him to turn busted plays into points.
Prescott could be in a great position to win MVP this season, not to mention Comeback Player of the Year. Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are all primed to have excellent seasons themselves, and could easily add this year’s trophy to their collection. However, with such a loaded receiving corps and a promising offensive line, Prescott, too, will have strong weapons at his disposal. While a flailing defense isn’t beneficial to the Cowboy’s chances of winning close games, it could provide Dak with opportunities to prove himself by coming back late in games.
While Prescott is on a potential path to the MVP title, Dallas as a whole is still flawed. Ezekiel Elliott struggled behind an injury-ridden offensive line last year, and needs to prove that he is still a Pro-Bowl-caliber running back. The Cowboys have a subpar defensive line and a secondary that is among the worst in the league. While it isn’t hard to see the Cowboys making the playoffs, their defense will have to show significant improvement in order for them to compete with the likes of the New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC title.
Prescott’s comeback from injury should be celebrated: his broken ankle was a devastating injury and there was concern that he wouldn’t be able to return to his status as a top-10 quarterback. But Thursday night, he showed that he can compete with the very best. Whether you’re a Cowboys fan or not, the NFL is a better league with Prescott back.
Patrick Warren is a junior writing about anything topical in the world of professional sports. His column, “Pro Prose,” runs every other Tuesday.