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Bucs sink Cowboys in NFL opener, 31-29

Rob Maadi
Associated Press

Tampa, Fla. — Dak is back, and he’s still not enough for the Dallas Cowboys.

Playing his first game since suffering a gruesome ankle injury 11 months ago and then signing a $160 million contract, Dak Prescott was outstanding against a defense that shut down Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and returned every starter.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.

Prescott completed 42 of 58 passes for 403 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. But the Cowboys couldn’t stop Tom Brady on the final drive and Ryan Succop’s 36-yard field goal gave the defending champion Buccaneers a 31-29 victory Thursday night to open the NFL season.

Dallas forced four turnovers but Greg Zuerlein missed a 31-yard field goal and an extra point. He hit a go-ahead 48-yarder with under two minutes left, then the Cowboys’ shaky defense couldn't stop Brady from engineering the winning drive.

Prescott didn’t play in the preseason after dealing with a shoulder problem in training camp, but showed no ill effects of his injuries right from the start.

Backed up on his 2-yard line for his first play in 333 days, Prescott dropped back and lofted a beautiful 28-yard pass to a wide-open Amari Cooper. He picked apart Tampa’s secondary after cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting left early with an elbow injury.

Prescott moved around the pocket, escaped some hits, scrambled four times and only was sacked once.

If the Cowboys can figure out their defense under new coordinator Dan Quinn and Prescott stays healthy, they’ll be the team to beat in a weak NFC East.

Prescott was on pace to set a record for yards passing last year before he got hurt in Week 5. He threw for 1,859 yards and nine TDs in less than five full games. He picked up where he left off against one of the league's best defenses.

The Cowboys were only 2-3 with him last year because their defense was on the way to allowing a franchise-record 473 points. If it weren’t for the four turnovers, Dallas may have allowed 40 points to Tampa Bay.