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Prescott, Cowboys tasked with avoiding letdown of no Rodgers in home opener against Wilson, Jets

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — As a fellow quarterback to have experienced a major injury, Dak Prescott felt as much as anyone for Aaron Rodgers when the four-time MVP went down early in his New York Jets debut with a torn Achilles tendon.

The star QB of the Dallas Cowboys had a couple of other reasons to be concerned. His team was waiting to play the Jets next, and he was looking forward to another meeting with his former NFC rival under center.

Now Prescott is one of the leaders in charge of making sure the Cowboys (1-0) don't have a letdown in their home opener Sunday against Zach Wilson, who helped the Jets (1-0) persevere in an overtime win over Buffalo.

“Obviously I wanted to play against the guy,” said Prescott, who lost a wild-card game against Rodgers and Green Bay after leading the Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC as a rookie in 2016.

“But to say it diminishes an NFL game would be wild of me, especially understanding how great this defense is,” said Prescott, whose 2020 season ended in Week 5 with a gruesome ankle injury. “Watch the way that they won that game the other night. They’ve got our respect and haven’t lost any bit of that.”

Both teams opened at MetLife Stadium, the Cowboys routing their NFC East rivals, the Giants, 40-0 a night before Rodgers went down on New York's fourth offensive play against the Bills.

Wilson rallied from an interception with a touchdown pass, and the Jets won 22-16 on Xavier Gipson's punt return in overtime. The Cowboys started their season by returning a blocked field goal for a score.

Now New York faces the reality of diminished Super Bowl expectations in a season without Rodgers, while looking for the franchise's first 2-0 start in eight years.

“As unfortunate as it is, you can’t dwell on it,” Jets center Connor McGovern said. “Sure, everyone is saying whatever they’re saying, but we’re not believing it. We know we’re ready to roll, we have an incredibly talented team, we have all the talent to make the run — same run we talked about at the beginning.”

FEEL THE RUSH

Plenty of focus will be on the pass rushes for both teams. Dallas' Micah Parsons-led crew sacked Daniel Jones seven times. The Jets had five sacks of Buffalo's Josh Allen. The defensive fronts combined for 21 QB hits and 57 pressures.

“You love it because now it’s battle of the defense and usually people are like, ‘Who’s going to score the most?’” Parsons said. “Nah, (it’s) who’s going to keep the least amount of points. And those are the type of games we love.”

HAPPY RETURN

Gipson went undrafted out of Stephen F. Austin and had an uphill climb on the Jets’ depth chart going into training camp.

The rookie wide receiver had a terrific summer on the field and was a featured star on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”

Now the Dallas native faces his hometown team in his second game after the 65-yard punt return that electrified New York.

Even coach Robert Saleh was part of the jubilant mob that swarmed him.

“I felt like I was going to pass out, they all got on me,” a smiling Gipson said. “It felt like I was dreaming. I didn’t know what to do — I just took off running.”

DELAYED DEBUT?

Prescott's first game with fourth-year coach Mike McCarthy as his play-caller was overshadowed by rain, and Dallas' first two touchdowns coming from special teams and defense. The focus turned to protecting the ball and keeping the lead.

Inside the retractable-roof home of the Cowboys, Week 2 might be the real Week 1 for everything Prescott and McCarthy have worked on since the move was made soon after last season.

“The rain did what the rain does,” Dallas receiver CeeDee Lamb said. “But now we’re home in a dome, so it can rain if it wants.”

DYNAMIC DUO

Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook provided an early glimpse of how productive they might be as a 1-2 punch out of the backfield for the Jets.

Hall, in his first game back after a torn ACL cut short his rookie season in Week 7 last season, ran for 127 yards on 10 carries and had a 20-yard reception. His 83-yard run on his second carry was the second-longest rush in Jets history.

“Once I got on the field,” Hall said, “I was like, ‘I’m still that dude. Any time I touch the ball, I can do whatever I want with it.’”

Cook, signed late in training camp after six seasons in Minnesota, had 33 yards on 13 carries and caught three passes for 26 yards.

HAT TRICK

Jordan Whitehead intercepted Allen three times to become the first player with three in a game since Tampa Bay’s Andrew Adams in 2018.

With a lot of the focus on cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed, Whitehead was somewhat of an overlooked member of the Jets’ secondary. Well, not after Monday night.

“He’s been outstanding,” Saleh said. “He was four dropped interceptions away from having an All-Pro year last year. He caught them all (Monday) and he’s going to catch a hell of a lot more.”

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