Anyone who listened to a Dak Prescott soundbite this summer knew the Cowboys quarterback was planning on picking up where he left off prior to last year’s gruesome injury. Even so, not many people could have expected the performance they witnessed from Prescott on Thursday night, when he went 42 of 58 passing for 403 yards and three touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl champions. And if it wasn’t for some guy named Tom Brady, Prescott would have led the Cowboys to an impressive Week 1 win.
Prescott’s performance, which took place nine months after his second surgery on his right ankle, is impressive enough. But when you also consider he missed significant time during training camp with a shoulder sprain, Prescott’s effort against the Buccaneers is nothing short of remarkable. Here’s where Prescott’s performance ranks when compared to other notable NFL stars’ first games back from a major injury.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, 2020
- 21-32, 229 yards, 3 TDs vs. the Giants
There were legitimate questions regarding Roethlisberger’s ability to play at a high level after the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback had surgery to reattach three torn flexor tendons in his right elbow in 2019. Roethlisberger quickly quelled those concerns in Pittsburgh’s season-opening win in New York to kick off the 2020 season. After falling behind early, a pair of touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster and a third to James Washington lifted Pittsburgh to a 26-16 victory. And while he and the offense’s performance dipped during the final weeks of the 2020 season, Roethlisberger played well enough to warrant his return to the Steelers for the 2021 season.
4. Tom Brady, 2009
- 39-53, 378 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT vs. the Bills
Brady’s streak of 111 consecutive starts came to an abrupt end after he tore both his ACL and MCL in Week 1 of the 2008 season, but the then 32-year-old didn’t miss a beat upon returning to the field in 2009. In New England’s season-opener, Brady led a vintage comeback after the Patriots fell behind by 11 points with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left. He threw two touchdown passes — both to tight end Ben Watson — in the game’s final 2:06 to lead New England to a 25-24 win. Along with Watson, Brady utilized receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, who combined to catch 24 of 32 targets for 234 yards. Brady was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl that season while also winning Comeback Player of the Year.
3. Adrian Peterson, 2012
- 17 carries, 84 yards, 2 TDs vs. the Jaguars
Peterson tore his ACL and MCL late in the 2011 season. After rehabbing all offseason, Peterson was able to make it back for the start of his 2012 season, his sixth with the Vikings. In his first game of the season, Peterson rushed for nearly five yards per carry while helping lead Minnesota to a 26-23 overtime win over the Jaguars. Peterson would go on to have his best season in 2012. After rushing for just one 100-yard game during the first six games of the season, Peterson tallied nine 100-yard games during the season’s final 10 games. He finished the season with 2,097 rushing yards, the second-highest single season total in league history.
2. Peyton Manning, 2012
- 19-26, 253 yards, 2 TDs vs. the Steelers
There were legitimate doubts about Manning ever playing football again after he underwent multiple neck surgeries along with spinal neck fusion surgery in 2011. Manning missed the entire season before signing a four-year deal with the Broncos, who were looking to upgrade at quarterback after getting blown out by the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Over the next four years, Manning would win his fifth MVP award while helping the Broncos win their third Super Bowl title. The run started with Manning’s remarkable 2012 season that saw him win Comeback Player of the Year while leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record. Facing Pittsburgh’s formidable defense in Week 1, Manning completed over 73% of his throws that included two second-half touchdown passes in Denver’s 31-19 win.
1. Dak Prescott, 2021
- 42-58, 403 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT vs. Buccaneers
Down by two scores late in the third quarter, Prescott’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper made it a two-point game heading into the final stanza. On his final drive of the night, Prescott’s 31-yard completion to CeeDee Lamb helped set up Greg Zuerlein’s go-ahead field goal with 1:24 left. Prescott’s two favorite targets Thursday night were Cooper and Lamb, who combined to catch 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
Along with his gaudy passing numbers, Prescott made numerous plays with his legs throughout the course of the game. His performance Thursday night should quell any lingering concerns about his health. And while the Cowboys did come up short, their performance should bring optimism to a fan base that is hoping to see their team compete for a division title in 2021.
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