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  • The San Juan Daily Star

The Cowboys’ season started poorly. Then it got worse.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White, left, sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (center) as Tony Pollard (20) looks on in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas on Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth via everythinglubbock.com)

By Victor Mather


The talk for the Dallas Cowboys this season was about whether they could finally make a deep playoff run after a disappointing loss in a wild-card game last season extended a 26-season streak of not making it past the divisional round.


There was some concern over the decision to trade receiver Amari Cooper. But Dallas had the most potent offense in the league last season, scoring 530 points, and quarterback Dak Prescott had thrown for 37 touchdowns. At the very least, Dallas looked like the favorite to win the NFC East.


Then came Week 1. Making the playoffs at all seems a little far-fetched after Tom Brady, 45, and running back Leonard Fournette schooled the Cowboys defense, and the Dallas offense never came close to a touchdown in a 19-3 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.


Worse, Prescott fractured his thumb while he was throwing a fourth-quarter pass. He will miss several weeks because the injury requires surgery to repair, the team said; multiple news media reports put the estimate at six to eight weeks.


“I’ve hit my hand on helmets or bodies a lot in my career,” Prescott said after the game. “Never really had anything, maybe a jammed finger. I actually thought that’s what it was. The next play I realized I couldn’t grip the ball.”


It was enough for the more fatalistic Cowboy watchers to declare the season over already.


After a dull first half, which ended with Tampa ahead, 4-1, in field goals (and 12-3 in points), Brady threw his first touchdown pass of the year in the third quarter. That provided the final margin of victory. That Fournette got 127 yards on 21 carries, including 40 yards on the drive that led to the touchdown, showed that Tampa was confident it had the game in hand nearly the whole time.


The ageless Brady finished 18 of 27 for 212 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Without Cooper as an option, Prescott struggled even before his injury, finishing 14 of 29 for 134 yards and an interception. His adjusted yards per pass figure of 3.07 was the worst of the 28 quarterbacks who started Sunday. Last season’s top offense never got on track: Ezekiel Elliott ran for 52 yards, and Prescott didn’t have a completion longer than 22 yards.


The Cowboys now will turn to their backup quarterback, Cooper Rush. A fifth-year player who was undrafted out of Central Michigan, Rush made his first career start last season filling in for Prescott. He led Dallas to a win over the Minnesota Vikings that day, but to call him untested would be an understatement.


Cowboys fans who sounded off on message boards were glum even before the news of Prescott’s injury, taking themselves to task for getting their hopes up, and blaming the receiving corps and another perennial scapegoat, Coach Mike McCarthy.


“It’s a long journey; this is Week 1,” McCarthy gamely said after the loss to the Bucs. As for the catastrophic performance, he had a relatively sunny take: “Offensively, our rhythm was up and down.”


Looking forward, he said of Rush, “We’ll definitely rally around Cooper.”


But as news of Prescott’s injury filtered out, some Cowboys fans started calling for the team to pick up or trade for a variety of quarterbacks, while the more cynical among them began talking about drafting one next year with a pick that could — it appears now — be pretty high in the first round.


Meanwhile, the other three teams in the NFC East all won — yes, even the New York Giants! That leaves Dallas in an unexpected spot for what might be awhile: last place.


Next up for Dallas: Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, who will be eager for victory after a frustrating opening-day loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.


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