Tom Brady, Buccaneers get 2021 NFL season off to a fiery start
The Bucs' prospects for success, though, were never really in doubt, although somehow Brown thinks people are sleeping on the defending champions. They returned all 22 starters from their Super Bowl team with precisely this trajectory in mind. It is the Cowboys who began this season with questions, and they left this game with the only answer that really mattered.
If a loss in a 17-game season can be nearly beside the point, this one was. The Cowboys will not face the Bucs again in the regular season and will certainly face few defenses that discourage the run like Tampa. All-Pro guard Zack Martin will return from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Zeke Elliott will run for more than 33 yards. The revamped defense won't be trying to hold off a Brady onslaught every week. And the Cowboys' offense will more closely resemble the one that played the first quarter of last season, before their franchise quarterback was lost for the year. It is worth remembering that, according to NFL Research, Prescott has had at least 400 passing yards in four games since the start of the 2020 season, the most by any player in the NFL, even though he missed the last 11 games of that campaign.
Prescott said the Cowboys want to be more balanced offensively than they were Thursday night. But if Prescott can continue to throw without fear for his ankle or shoulder as he did tonight -- he was 42 of 58 for 403 yards and three touchdowns -- they won't lose many, and it is hard to imagine how Dallas will not be in the race for the NFC East to the very end.
"We played complementary football better than we have during my time ever," Prescott said of the offense and defense working together against the Bucs.
Prescott acknowledged that a team can be great and still lose. The Cowboys may not quite be great yet, but they saw what greatness looks like across the field from them, and they were closer to it than most expected.
"The margin of error is thin in the NFL," Brady said. "One or two plays, it's always that's the way the game goes."