FRISCO, Texas – Time for a refresher course. Take notes if you care.
And will preface this by pointing out that the Cowboys and the Buccaneers aren't the same teams they were in last year's season opener, won by Tampa Bay, 31-29, on essentially that 36-yard walk-off field goal with two seconds left.
But … while Dallas had a 29-28 lead with 1:24 left to play – I know, the Bucs had Tom Brady – can make a case that if the Cowboys hadn't squandered the opportunity to score at least 11 more points, they would have won the game going away. Let's review.
First, Greg Zuerlein misses a 31-yard chippy from the Buccaneers' 13. Should have been three points. Then after the Cowboys cut the lead to 14-13, Zuerlein misses the extra point. Now that's four.
Here comes three more on self-inflicted wounds in the final 1:16 of the first half once reaching the Tampa Bay 21-yard line. First, Dak Prescott gets sacked for minus-12. Worse, on third down, Dak scrambles forward for four yards to the 29. Reasonable field goal range. But Connor Williams is called for holding. Minus-10, all leading to Zuerlein's 60-yard field goal attempt with 20 seconds left fading wide left. Same kick from like 47 yards would have been good. Now that's seven.
To start the second half, the Cowboys drive to a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. Settled for a field goal from the three because on third down, a great call, Dak pitching wide left to Ezekiel Elliott for what appeared would have been a sure touchdown if tight end Dalton Schultz makes his block. He didn't. There goes another four. Now we're at 11.
And another holding penalty on Williams in the final two minutes with the Cowboys trailing 28-26 short-circuited that drive at the Tampa Bay 30, eventually leading to the Cowboys settling for a 48-yard field goal with 1:24 left to play. Who knows, could have been even four more.
Shot themselves in the foot yet one more time. Then Brady shot them in the other.
- Harder To Believe: Remember, this was a Tampa Bay team finishing the season 13-4, that win over the Cowboys the difference between the Bucs getting the second seed and facing the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs and the Cowboys with that loss at 12-5 getting the third seed instead and San Francisco. Yep, the Cowboys were beaten by the Niners and Tampa Bay beat Philadelphia, just as the Cowboys had done so twice last year. Sorry, peeling off old scabs, right? But also consider this: Dak threw for more yards than Brady, 403 to 379. The Cowboys gained more yards than the Bucs, 451 to 431. And the Cowboys had four takeaways (two picks, two fumble recoveries) and the Bucs had just the one interception. Yet, the Cowboys lost, having only themselves to blame.
- Hail Peter(s): The 40-year-old Jason Peters seems mighty happy to be with the Cowboys even if he's on the practice squad for a couple of weeks, and the Cowboys are mighty happy to have him. Especially young offensive tackles Tyler Smith and Terence Steele, the two presumed starters who could be seen hovering close to the 18th-year veteran during practice. So, when might Peters be elevated to the 53? Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says, "We want to be prudent," meaning making sure he gets a few practices in pads during a ramp-up period. For, as Peters points out, while he was working on cardio during the offseason, he certainly wasn't doing so with pads on.
- This Net. Jones gave a long dissertation on the offense needing to operate with a safety net, knowing rookie Tyler Smith will be starting in his first NFL game at left tackle, and realizing maybe the mistakes of the past when having to play without Tyron Smith at left tackle using aging veterans. "We've got to create some kind of net," Jones said, and when asked what kind of "net" do they have during his radio segment on 105.3 The Fan, he began with, "Well, the net is Zeke, the net is the running game, the net is play-action …" He then listed four more "nets," including giving some blocking help to that side, the tight ends lining up to that side, Tony Pollard and finishing with, "The net is we have a quarterback that puts the ball to the best open player, not necessarily the best receiver. That's a pretty good safety net. You've got to do that and get the ball out – that's net." A lot of it.
- Settled: We've all done this, going back listening to something we said a year later and wishing we hadn't said it. Here is an example. While watching the condensed version of last year's Thursday night season opener on NBC between the Cowboys and Buccaneers, remember when Brady threw that 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, who appeared to beat Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown on a nine-route down the sideline? Well, without the benefit of replay or the next 16 games, Al Michaels points out that after the two cornerbacks they were eyeing were drafted before the Cowboys' selection at eventually No. 12, "The Cowboys settled for Parsons." Some "settle" wouldn't you say now? Oh, and by the way, the insinuation was the Cowboys needed help at cornerback. But look, Brown was expecting help over the top from safety Damontae Kazee. But when Kazee saw Jourdan Lewis slip down covering in the slot, Kazee went to pick up his receiver and instead hung Brown out to dry. Yep, 20-20 vision after learning the facts.
- Turpin Time: Can't wait to see how the Bucs adjust their kickoffs and punts when the Cowboys trot out KaVontae Turpin back there for returns. Got a feeling they will be telling kickoff specialist Jake Camada to knock the ball into the stands behind the end zone on kickoffs. And as for punts, Camada will be angling his kicks toward the sideline. Hey, they saw the Chargers preseason game. When asked about Turpin on Labor Day, his 5-8, 158-pound size specifically, Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel, said, "Don't call him little, call him tough." Better call him fast, too, as he calls himself when admitting the Cowboys have a bunch of fast guys on defense, "But none are as fast as me." Sure, Micah Parsons would like to test that, but as Turpin says, "Maybe for five yards, but not for 40."
- Fast facts: This will be a popular one, unearthed by the Cowboys PR department in this week's game release, stating Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin during his eight-year career has more Pro Bowl selections (seven) than times called for holding (five), the only active NFL offensive lineman with less holding calls than Pro Bowl selections. … Man, the tight end market continues to rise, Buffalo signing Dawson Knox to a four-year, $56.3 million deal with $26.8 million of the $31 million guaranteed coming in the first two seasons. … Ninth-year veteran head referee Ron Tolbert and his crew will get the Cowboys-Bucs game Sunday night, Tolbert administering 12.6 penalties a game during his career, ranking eighth among the 17 crews, trailing Shawn Hochuli, the top flag thrower with 13.8 a game. And how well the Cowboys and Raiders know, each getting tagged with 14 penalties last year on Thanksgiving Day. … On Thursday, instead of just the top 51 player salaries counting against the team salary cap all 53 salaries will go into effect, leaving the Cowboys with roughly $12.5 million to navigate through the rest of the season. And they will need that space when eventually activating Cooper Rush and Brett Maher off the practice squad for Sunday's game and eventually likely Peters, currently counting just the practice squad veteran max of $358,200 against the cap.
As for this week's last word, that will be "words" by the way, as owner Jerry jones became quite expansive in his answer Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan when asked, "Will Mike McCarthy have a little more grace period to start off, with the amount of youth that you guys are putting out there?"
OK, hold on tight, knocking this assumption McCarthy's job is on the line right out of the park.
"I don't know that he needed any more grace period, candidly, one way or the other," Jones began. "We've got a team by design. We could have had a different team as you well documented, the media has documented and our fans. We could've had a different team had we wanted to if we signed four or five of the veteran players we didn't sign. We needed to make some changes, and we have. And the best way to make it is with youth; youth costs you a little bit to play with it, especially early. But we know that, too.
"So, we think this is the best way with this team, this quarterback, this talent, and we think this is the best way to go, and it's the best way to go looking around the corner at the next years to come. So, the answer to your question is youth. It fits our design right now, and we're going right to plan as we speak."
Yep, got it.