The offensive line and wide receivers were the Dallas Cowboys’ two top positional concerns heading into the regular season. They already have a lot to worry about, if this opening game is any indicator, but now they must also worry about the quarterback because Dak Prescott is anticipated to miss a few weeks due to a hand injury.
The Cowboys were unable to generate much of an offensive threat as they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 19-3, in front of a sold-out crowd of 93,797 spectators. Under the circumstances, the offensive line did a respectable job, but consistency and penalties were a problem.
Dak Prescott, who was by no means particularly sharp himself, only completed 14 of 29 pass attempts for 134 yards and a passer rating of 47.2 because the receiving corps in general struggled to open up space. CeeDee Lamb, the new No. 1 wide receiver, was targeted 11 times but only caught two catches for a total of 29 yards.
Even worse, Prescott suffered a throwing hand injury and had to exit the game with five minutes remaining; the results of the X-ray are still pending. However, Dak did state during the game that he anticipates needing thumb surgery, and according to the Cowboys, he will miss a few games.
Ezekiel Elliott may have been the only offensive bright spot, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Elliott only received the ball 10 times, finishing the game with 52 rushing yards despite much hype about the team relying on the running game. Despite rumours of increasing Tony Pollard’s involvement, he only managed eight yards on six carries (a 1.3 average) and two catches for 14 additional yards.
The Cowboys knew they would have to rely on their defence going into this season, and under the leadership of Micah Parsons, the defensive rookie player of the year from the previous campaign, the group at least managed to keep this game from getting out of hand. Nevertheless, future Hall of Famer Tom Brady performed as Tom Brady does and completed passes for 212 yards and a score for a rating of 87.3.
However, the impact of running back Leonard Fournette, who gained 127 yards on 21 carries, may have been greater. In this game, he and the Buccaneers defence, which limited Dallas to 244 total offensive yards, proved to be too much. Tampa Bay, in contrast, amassed 347 total offensive yards.
On their opening drives of the game, both teams exchanged field goals, with Brett Maher splitting the uprights from 51 yards out. Ryan Succop of Tampa Bay subsequently responded with a 44-yard field goal of his own.
Connor McGovern, the Cowboys’ left guard, unfortunately left the game with an ankle injury during their opening drive, dealing a setback to the team. Tyron Smith’s loss had already left a gaping hole on the offensive line, so they could hardly afford to lose another starter.
Succop successfully converted a field goal attempt from 38 yards this time, giving the visitors an early lead and making him 2-for-2 on the Buccaneers’ first two series.
On their third possession, the Buccaneers once more advanced into Cowboys territory, but after Parsons sacked Tom Brady on third-and-8, Dallas capitalised when Succop missed his kick wide left. However, the Cowboys were unable to profit from the error.
Contrary to expectations, Prescott was intercepted by Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield on third-and-10 from his own 26-yard line, setting up the Buccaneers at the Dallas 23-yard line. Fortunately, the defence stood strong, as Parsons recorded his second sack of the game to force a second field goal attempt. Succop made a solid shot from 29 yards this time.
Another Tampa Bay drive means another chance to make a field goal. The Buccaneers were fortunately kept out of the end zone by the Dallas defence, but the visitors went into halftime leading 12-3 after Succop kicked a 47-yard field goal with 14 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Cowboys may have felt fortunate to merely be nine points behind. At halftime, the Buccaneers led the Cowboys 294 to 94 yards, just 53 of which were earned through the air.
The Buccaneers finally entered the goal-line door after repeatedly hammering on it. With just over eight minutes left in the quarter, the Buccaneers began the drive with three straight Fournette runs for a total of 37 yards, starting at their own 10-yard line. After that, it was Brady’s turn to take the field. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 39 yards, the final one going for 5 yards to Mike Evans in the left corner of the end zone, setting up the game’s lone touchdown.
With that, the Buccaneers appeared to be in command with a 19-3 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys tried to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Buccaneers’ 41-yard line in an effort to increase their point total, but Prescott’s pass to rookie Dennis Houston was tipped and fell incomplete. However, Donovan Wilson, a safety, intercepted a Brady pass just three plays into Tampa Bay’s following possession, giving Dallas the ball at its own 48-yard line.
The Cowboys’ offensive woes worsened when, late in the fourth quarter, Prescott was forced to exit the game after having his throwing hand hit on consecutive plays. Cooper Rush entered the game, and he was shortly on his way to the locker room.
It was obvious that the clock couldn’t reach zero quickly enough. When it occurred, the Cowboys had even more questions going into Week 2 of this nascent 2022 season.