FRISCO, Texas – It didn't take too long to put this team's resolve to the test.
On the calendar, the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay was a week ago. Relatively speaking, it feels like it's been a lifetime.
In the time since he last spoke to the media, Dak Prescott has lost his right tackle to a five-game suspension, one of his starting receivers to a calf injury and his defense is down both of its best defensive ends.
That said, if there's anyone with a healthy perspective on pushing through adversity, it's probably Dak Prescott.
"The last thing you can dwell on is what's happened," he said Thursday. "I've learned that personally, and I think this team learned that last year."
Prescott made the prescient point to reporters that, despite a season of staggering setbacks in 2020, the Cowboys made it all the way to Week 17 before they were knocked out of the postseason in a 23-19 loss to the New York Giants.
It's a good point, but it's cold comfort to a fanbase that had to watch the Cowboys slog through one of the most unenjoyable seasons in recent memory. From the outsider's perspective, it's easy to see the Cowboys lose La'el Collins, Michael Gallup and DeMarcus Lawrence for extended stretches and brace oneself for another tough year.
On the brighter side of things – and unlike last year – the Cowboys do still have Prescott. And whatever frustrations might have cropped up in the past week, he wasn't interested in drawing connections.
"We're going to let that be last year," he said. "We've got different expectations, goals and perception of how this year is going to play out."
Having the starting quarterback in the lineup does make a difference. All indications point toward Terence Steele starting at right tackle in place of Collins – which, again, is a dicey proposition after watching Steele's growing pains as a rookie in 2020. Asked about it Thursday morning, though, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was confident Steele's presence in the lineup wouldn't be enough to alter the offensive gameplan too severely.
"I'm not concerned about it, and just from my conversations with Dak, he's not concerned about it," McCarthy said. "He's focused on, really, the intricacies of how he's going to approach their defensive front."
That's a steep enough challenge that it almost pushes Gallup out of the mind. The fourth-year wide out left the loss to the Buccaneers in the second half and didn't return, opening the door for Cedrick Wilson to catch three passes for 24 yards.
"He's a guy that's going to step in for Gallup the right way," Prescott said. "Obviously, he came in the back end of that game and did some things for us – what was necessary."
The names are different, but it's still a similar challenge from just last week. The Cowboys faced one of the best defenses in the NFL without Zack Martin last Thursday. This Sunday, Martin returns to the lineup at right guard, albeit just in time to lose the man next to him.
McCarthy did allow, though, that Martin playing next to Steele should be a benefit, on top of his own improvement from Year 1 to Year 2.
"Terence is clearly, probably one of our most improved," McCarthy said. "He's definitely one of the players that – from his rookie year to his second year – we use as an example."
Suffice to say, the Cowboys are confident in their ability to weather this storm. At the same time, it's understandable if the outside perception is that this is starting to feel awfully familiar – and not in a good way.
At the end of the day, Prescott is right that it's a new season, and that last year is in the past. The challenge is on he and the Cowboys now to show it.