When the 2021 NFL schedule was released in the spring, it was immediately clear that the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns had the tallest tasks in Week 1.
They were taking on the teams who made it to last season’s Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, in the conference champions’ home stadiums.
The Cowboys traveled to Tampa Bay for the Thursday night opener; whereas, the Browns traveled to Arrowhead for their Sunday afternoon game.
Both stadiums would be filled to capacity with fans cheering, something that did not happen for regular season games in 2020.
While the Cowboys and Browns came up short in their bids to upset the Bucs and Chiefs, both teams scored moral victories in Week 1.
Here is how.
Both Teams Were Underdogs
Few, if any, objective media personalities gave either Dallas or Cleveland a chance of knocking off Tampa Bay or Kansas City.
Because both Tampa Bay and KC were coming off of successful seasons, they were deemed unbeatable in Week 1.
In addition Tampa Bay had all of its starters on both sides of the ball returning, something that is practically unheard of.
Essentially, Dallas was facing that Super Bowl champion team in its entirety seven months after the big victory.
Both Teams Could Have Won Their Games
Cowboys and Browns fans will tell you that both teams should have won their games.
Special teams was the stopper in both cases.
Two points separated the Bucs and Cowboys; the final score was 31-29.
Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein missed two field goals and one extra point.
Seven points not recorded on the scoreboard made the difference.
Cowboys K Greg Zuerlein: "If I did my job, we win that game. I feel bad for the guys in there that played their ass off, and I didn’t hold up my end of the deal. …We’re right there (as a team). I just have to do my job."
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 10, 2021
In the Chiefs and Browns game, a botched punt by Jamie Gillan put Kansas City well into Browns territory setting up the winning touchdown.
Browns punt blocking on this play was excellent. He could have got that punt off still. Jamie Gillan just panicked.pic.twitter.com/G87L5cUdjZ
— Tim x opTIMus 🎮 (@timschuerger) September 12, 2021
Both Had New Players Or Returning Players From Injury
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was actually returning from two injuries.
It had been nearly a year since he last played a regular season game before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.
During the preseason as he was getting back into the flow with a recovered ankle, he injured his throwing shoulder.
No one knew exactly how Dak would look or play given the long layoff.
He played great.
"Of all the players who played in the NFL in week one, the best was Dak Prescott."
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) September 14, 2021
As for the Browns, the team revamped its defense after losing to the Chiefs in last season’s Divisional playoff game in January.
That defense had not played together in a regular season game before.
What Browns fans learned is that the defense is definitely better than last season, but game experience always exposes the rough edges that need to be worked out before future games.
This is not the same Cleveland Browns defense.
What a difference a year makes.
— Nick Karns (@karnsies817) September 12, 2021
A Moral Victory Is Nice, But…
Both teams are unsatisfied with moral victories.
They do not count in the win column.
Since they are 0-1, it does not really matter how well they competed.
NFL success is measured in wins and losses, not moral victories.