The recipient of Prescott’s big night was largely wideout Amari Cooper, who hauled in 13 catches – the most in a season opener in Cowboys history – for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t alone, of course, as eight different players posted a reception, which included CeeDee Lamb’s 104 yards and a score.
With Dallas focusing on the aerial attack, the team rushed for only 60 yards, Ezekiel Elliott totaling 33, but overall the Cowboys racked up 451 yards of total offense and won the time of possession, 34:27 to 25:33.
Of course, Brady got his in leading the Buccaneers to the win, totaling 379 yards off of 32 of 50 passing. He had two interceptions to go with his four touchdown throws for a passer rating of 97.0.
The Dallas defense struggled at times in the passing game, but still produced four turnovers and allowed only 52 yards on the ground.
Nothing like starting at your own 2-yard line in your return to game action after being sidelined in October of last season. That’s where Prescott found himself on the Cowboys’ first possession after a Buccaneers punt. But the quarterback hit Cooper for 28 yards on the first snap and moved his team past midfield before the drive stalled.
Prescott found the end zone on the team’s second drive, though. Sparked by some creative play-calling from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Prescott and Michael Gallup connected three times for 28 yards. Lamb would then make the catch that counted, a 22-yard touchdown down the left sideline.
That tied the score, as in between those Cowboys’ series, Brady and company put points on the board themselves. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 86 yards during the drive, the last a 5-yard strike to wideout Chris Godwin for the touchdown.
With the Cowboys losing the field position battle, they were soon losing the game as well. Dallas was forced to punt after starting at its own 7-yard line. That set the Buccaneers up at the 50-yard line and they needed only six plays to reach the end zone, Brady threading a pass into tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Cowboys looked in trouble when Greg Zuerlein badly missed a 31-yard field goal attempt wide left, but back-to-back takeaways from the Dallas defense gave the visitors an unexpected lead.
First, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence punched the ball free from running back Ronald Jones with fellow defensive end Randy Gregory scooping up the prize to give Dallas possession at the Buccaneers’ 27-yard line. Five plays later, Dallas had scored.
After Dak scrambled around the left end for 7 yards, he picked up a low snap and then found Cooper inside the front left pylon for the touchdown. Unfortunately, Zuerlein’s adventures continued with a miss on the extra point.
But the kicker was finally good on his next try. This time cornerback Trevon Diggs grabbed a tipped pass at the Buccaneers’ 21-yard line, which led to Zuerlein kicking it through the uprights from 35 yards away.
The lead, however, was short-lived, as Brady needed only two plays to get his side back on top. This time he found Antonio Brown streaking down the right sideline, the wide receiver sprinting 47 yards untouched to the end zone to give Tampa Bay the five point advantage at the break, 21-16.
Head coach Mike McCarthy did make the curious decision to have Zuerlein try a 60-yard field goal, which when he then missed gave Tampa Bay the ball at the 50-yard line with 15 seconds left. Brady wound up trying a Hail Mary as time ran out in the half, only to have cornerback Jourdan Lewis come up with the interception and return it 66 yards before being tackled.
Prescott picked up right where he left off and again guided the Cowboys into the red zone, connecting with Cooper four times for 40 yards. In fact, the Cowboys reached the Tampa Bay 3-yard line, but when a pitch to Elliott on third down lost a yard, they had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Zuerlein.
At this point, Dallas was plus-3 in the turnover battle and had reached the red zone four times – only to have 19 points and be trailing by two. Still, they were in it.
And then the turnover tables turned. When Prescott tried to thread a deep pass to Lamb deep down the middle, the receiver couldn’t bring in the tough catch and instead had the ball tip off his hands and into the arms of Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis.
Given the ball at the Cowboys’ 35-yard line, Brady needed only four plays to cross the goal line, again connecting with Gronkowski for the score, this time on an 11-yard pass.
Prescott was going to go toe-to-toe with the future Hall of Famer, though. He responded with another lengthy drive into the red zone, but this time he and Cooper found paydirt. On a third-and-4 at the Buccaneers’ 21-yard line, Prescott lofted a pass to Cooper in the back, right corner of the end zone for his third touchdown pass of the night.
And then when they needed it most, the defense came up big. Godwin had taken in a Brady pass and was trying to get into the end zone when safety Damontae Kazee knocked the ball loose at the 2-yard line. That led to Lewis picking up the fumble in the end zone and returning it to the 10-yard line to give Dallas the ball with 4:52 remaining.
Despite Prescott being down a weapon with Gallup sidelined due to a left ankle injury, the quarterback went to work, marching his team 60 yards in 11 plays to set up Zuerlein with a 48-yard field goal. And although the kicker had struggled earlier in the night, he booted it right down the middle this time to give the Cowboys a lead with 1:24 left in the game.
Which, unfortunately, was plenty of time for the old pro. Just as he’s done so many times before, Brady got his team into field goal range (maybe helped in part by a missed offensive pass interference call), setting Ryan Succop up for a 36-yard field goal. His kick sailed through the uprights with 2 seconds on the clock, game over.