TAMPA, Fla. – Dak Prescott loved his star receiver's mentality, but he decided to push it to another level.
Having walked in on a wide receiver's meeting this summer, Prescott heard Amari Cooper telling his group that they were good, but they needed to be great.
Never one to settle, Prescott offered a correction.
"He took it a step further," Cooper said. "When I said we're good, we're trying to be great, he said 'Nah, we're not trying to be great, we're trying to be the best.'"
Fast forward to Thursday night, in the tunnel outside the Cowboys' losing locker room, and Prescott's point feels pretty obvious.
While not exactly perfect, it's hard to find much fault with Prescott's performance. In his first game back from a broken ankle and a strained latissimus, Prescott completed 42-of-58 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns. He and the Cowboys went blow-for-blow with the defending Super Bowl champs in a classic game that went right down to the wire.
And yet, with all those nice things out of the way, it's a loss. The Cowboys return to Texas with an 0-1 record and a lesson in just how hard it is to win in this league.
"You can be great and come up short, right? That's what tonight was," Prescott said after the game. "It was a great effort, but we came up short. We want to be the best, and the best is simply being better than the other guys – day in, day out, being the best in the league."
There were flashes. Prescott recovered beautifully from a fumbled snap to find Cooper for his first touchdown of the night. He led two touchdown drives of 75 yards, and he spread the ball around to eight different receivers.
He even got help in the form of four defensive takeaways, providing him with short fields on two occasions.
"We played complementary football better than we have in my time here," he said.
It wasn't clean enough, though. The special teams miscues speak for themselves, but the Cowboys were forced into those situations by missed opportunities. Prescott fired wired to CeeDee Lamb on a 3rd-and-3 from the Tampa 13-yard line. Ezekiel Elliott couldn't spin out of a tackle on 3rd-and-Goal.
"There's plays that we left out there that could have resulted in touchdowns," Prescott said.
While not perfect themselves, the Buccaneers turned in a healthy success rate of 60% in the red zone – a far cry from the Cowboys' 25%. And naturally, when Tom Brady was given the ball down by two with 1:24 to play, the final outcome wasn't hard to imagine.
It's a harsh reality, and maybe it's good to get the reminder early. Good isn't going to get you very far in the NFL, and great can still get you beaten.
Prescott was great on Thursday night. If the Cowboys are going to be the best – or even approach that – there's plenty of work to do.
"It's Game 1, it's a long season," he said. "But we've got to make sure that we get better from this one and allow this to propel us."