By: Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida
In front of a crowd of over 65,000 fans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on the Dallas Cowboys for Game 1 of the 2021 NFL Season.
Throughout training camp and preseason, the Buccaneers have tried to focus the attention on their 2021 team and quiet the hype surrounding their recent Super Bowl victory. However, you can’t ignore the fact they returned all 22 starters from their Super Bowl team, and the man at the helm, quarterback Tom Brady now has 18 months under his belt with the Buccaneers offense.
During the game, it was a slow start for the Bucs as they failed to convert on their first possession. Short gains by running back Leonard Fournette and an incomplete pass to receiver Chris Godwin led to 3 and out.
Kicker Bradley Pinion took the field and showed off a 65-yard punt that dropped on the Dallas 2-yard line. Despite the good field position for the Bucs defense, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott sent his offense out to the 30-yard line with a 28-yard pass to Amari Cooper. The Cowboys slipped further down the field past the Bucs defense on short passes and runs.
However, as they approached field goal range, a false start on the entire Cowboys offensive line moved them back to the Tampa Bay 44-yard line. Pressure from inside linebacker LaVonte David forced an incomplete pass to CeeDee Lamb and the Cowboys punted the ball back.
On their second possession of the game, Brady and the Buccaneers offense gave a lesson in precision as they drove down the field 94 yards in 9 plays (4:02) and completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin in the end zone. Brady’s targeted receivers on the drive included Mike Evans for 10 yards, Rob Gronkowski with a 19-yard pass, and Antonio Brown with a deep right pass for 28 yards.
The Cowboys answered the call with a 75-yard series ending in a short touchdown pass to Lamb who ran it in the corner of the end zone. Unfortunately, during the play, Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting collided with safety Antoine Winfield Jr.. His arm was extended for the ball as he fell to the ground. Murphy-Bunting was immediately taken off the field and unable to return due to an elbow injury.
The Bucs put in backup cornerback Jamal Dean. It become readily apparent that the Cowboys preferred this matchup and targeted receivers against Dean on a number of plays. In the second quarter, Dean drew several penalties, including two penalties (pass interference and face mask) on the same play for a total of 26 yards. The Buccaneers defense held their ground and, along with a 10-yard offensive holding penalty, forced the Cowboys to attempt a 60-yard field goal. It was short and no good.
On the Bucs offensive side, the second quarter included a fumble by running back Ronald Jones and an interception when Leonard Fournette tipped a pass into Dallas hands. Both plays resulted in scoring drives for the Cowboys, who took the lead 16-14.
Tampa Bay responded with a 10-yard pass from Brady to Godwin and a deep right pass to Antonio Brown for a 47-yard touchdown. It can’t be overlooked that the 2-play scoring drive was set up due great field position. Jaydon Mickens, who was called up from the practice squad in place of rookie Jaelon Darden, had a 41-yard punt return giving Brady the ball on the Tampa Bay 43. Darden had regular appearances on returns during all three preseason games and in practice, but was listed inactive for game 1.
Heading into the second half, there were questions surrounding which team could maintain momentum as neither had played starters through a full game in preseason.
In the third quarter, both teams put up a field goal, but the Cowboys completed a 21-yard touchdown to keep the score close at 28-26 with Buccaneers in the lead. In the fourth quarter, a fumble by Godwin on the 2-yard line led to a 3:28 drive for the Cowboys and a field goal. Dallas took back the lead 29-28 with less than two minutes in the game.
Brady said, “a lot of games come down to 2 minutes on both sides of the football. It came down to the offense tonight.” He led the offense down the field 57 yards to set up kicker Ryan Succop for a game-winning 36-yard field goal attempt. Their strategy included three throwaway passes by Brady from the 18-yard line because they had no time outs and only 18 seconds on the clock. One sack or even a penalty could eat up the remaining clock.
The plan paid off as Succop kicked it through the uprights and the Buccaneers won the game 31-29. Brady explained, “the margin of error is thin in the NFL. One or two plays, that’s the way the game goes. Fortunately, we found a way to win. Really happy Ryan [Succop] and the field goal team made that really clutch kick there at the end. . . . Special teams was just awesome tonight.”
On the game winning field goal, Succop said “you know that’s something our couches do a great job preparing for. We practice situations like that all the time.” He added, “to get to do this in front of [the fans] on opening night, it was really special. Something I’ll remember for a long time.”
The Buccaneers pulled off the win in front of a home crowd against a tough opponent. While they certainly have correctable mistakes in dropped passes, missed tackles, and penalties on both sides of the ball, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are clearly worth the hype heading into the 2021 season.
Their next matchup is against the Atlanta Falcons on September 19th in Tampa.
The videos used in this story were provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Youtube channel.