Dallas Cowboys take away positives from Week 1 loss but 'left some plays out there'

TAMPA, Fla. -- There was the typical disappointment from a loss as Thursday night turned to Friday morning after the Dallas Cowboys dropped a 31-29 heartbreaker to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

  • Disappointment at missing a chance to win on a night the Buccaneers celebrated their 2020 Super Bowl title.

  • Disappointment at wasting Dak Prescott's 403 yards passing and Amari Cooper's 139 yards receiving.

  • Disappointment from wasting four takeaways by the Dallas defense.

On Friday, the disappointment grew when it was learned right tackle La'el Collins would miss the next five games because of a suspension and wide receiver Michael Gallup could miss up to five weeks with a calf strain suffered in the second half of the loss.

Yet injuries and setbacks are something teams have to overcome to succeed in the NFL, which is why coach Mike McCarthy often references the Green Bay Packers' using 77 players when he coached them to a Super Bowl victory in the 2010 season.

"Guys miss games and I think if you look at the way we went about our roster development, try to keep as many players as possible and this is why," McCarthy said. "It's going to take 75-plus players to be successful. This is part of that process."

As disappointed as the Cowboys were by the defeat, they also showed something few thought they could in pushing the Buccaneers as far as they did.

On the field after the game, Prescott was seen saying something to Tampa Bay's Tom Brady, but in the postgame media availability, Prescott said it was to more than just the Bucs quarterback.

"I told everybody we'd see them again," Prescott said. "That's just the confidence that I have in this group and the expectations that I have is that this is a playoff team that's going to make a big push this year. We've got to continue to get better. We'll make a step from tonight, and we'll find a way to get better tomorrow. That's the process and we're going to stick with it. We've got a good team and good men and, yeah, I'm excited about this season."

The Cowboys are 0-1 for the second straight season and third time in the past four years as they head into Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers (Sept. 19, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). They are now 6-11 under coach Mike McCarthy and 14-19 since making the playoffs in 2018.

"A loss is always discouraging," Cooper said. "We fought hard. Obviously there are some things we could've cleaned up. Some things we could've done better. Anytime you lose, there is something to be worked on. We just have to go back to the drawing board. Like Coach said in the postgame, the only thing we know after this game is that we aren't going undefeated. It wasn't all bad. We did some good things, too."

The Cowboys did not lose just because they gave Brady the ball back with 1:24 to play. They did not lose on Ryan Succop's field goal with seconds to play.

Dallas lost the game because it made too many mistakes.

The Cowboys scored one touchdown in four red zone opportunities. They scored 27 touchdowns on 54 red zone chances last season, too.

"We've got to be better, point-blank period," Prescott said. "We can't settle for field goals and we've got to score touchdowns, especially with the talent we have either running or throwing. We've got to create some scheme, a little bit more scheme. And we'll go out and execute better as well. We left some plays out there."

Prescott mentioned an underthrown corner route to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first half and a late dump-off to running back Ezekiel Elliott in the second half near the goal line. He also said Elliott would want a first-half option run back when he could not get past a defender who beat a Blake Jarwin block.

"There's plays that we left out there that could've resulted in touchdowns," Prescott said.

When the Cowboys can't score touchdowns, they have to connect on makeable field goal attempts. Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein badly hooked a 31-yarder and an extra point attempt hit the upright in the second quarter. It was more understandable that he missed a 60-yard try at the end of the half, but it was questionable as to why McCarthy would go for it despite Zuerlein's struggles.

And Zuerlein wasn't the only special-teams problem. There were two penalties on the Cowboys, and they gave up a 41-yard kickoff return.

"If I did my job, we win that game," Zuerlein said. "I feel bad for the guys in there that played their ass off, and I didn't hold up my end of the deal."

Dallas allowed 431 yards on defense but also took the ball away four times. Jourdan Lewis had an interception and a fumble recovery. Trevon Diggs had an interception. Randy Gregory recovered a fumble on a perfect punch of the ball by DeMarcus Lawrence on a Leonard Fournette run.

"We want that to be a staple of our play style," McCarthy said of the takeaways. "It's something we put a lot of time into. We spend a lot more time than I ever have, particularly with the team fundamental drills."

But there were still too many big plays the Cowboys' defense allowed. Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown had five catches for 121 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown. Tampa Bay wide receiver Chris Godwin had nine catches for 105 yards, and tight end Rob Gronkowski had 90 yards and two touchdowns.

And when it mattered most, Dallas could not make the required stop.

If anyone knew the dangers of giving time to let Brady run an offense in the final minutes, it would be defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who saw Brady rip a would-be championship ring off his finger as Atlanta Falcons coach with a 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl LI.

Brady completed three of his first four passes on the game-winning drive for 30 yards, and made the perfect back-shoulder throw to Godwin (who may or may not have pushed off on Lewis) for 24 yards to the Dallas 18. The Cowboys' pass rush could not touch him, and Succop made the field goal to win the game.

"We fully expected to win this game coming in here," Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory said. "If a few things go differently, we win this game. We said in the locker room, 'That's the defending champs. That's the guy, the team, they believe is going to win another Super Bowl. We're right up there with them.' We believe that.

"We just need to build on that, come back, get better."