Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went back and forth with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys to open the NFL season in enthralling fashion on Thursday. It was Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions who began their season with a victory, though, as the Buccaneers drove down for a game-winning Ryan Succop field goal in the waning seconds to defeat the Cowboys, 31-29. Chase Goodbread breaks down what you need to know from Thursday’s action.
Chase Goodbread’s takeaways:
- Trick bag still full for Brady. Tom Brady opened his 2021 season going right back to Brady things. He put all sorts of different throws on display in leading the Bucs’ first TD drive, serving notice to the league that he not only still has the fastball, but a wide range of other pitches. A rifle-like throw to Rob Gronkowski into a tight window over the middle plainly had plus velocity. On the very next play, he dialed up a deep toss to Antonio Brown with drop-in-the-bucket touch and trajectory for a 28-yard strike. He finished, of course, with a classic Brady game-winning drive to set up kicker Ryan Succop for a game-winning 36-yard field goal. Notch another late comeback for the GOAT. He’s still Brady.
- Dak comes out firing. You had to like how Dallas came out offensively, even though its first possession ended in a punt. Backed up near his goal line against what might well be the NFL’s best defensive front seven, Dak Prescott showed no ill effects from his ankle injury. Well-protected from his own end zone, he fired a deep strike with midseason touch, hitting a wide open Amari Cooper for 28 yards. It was a gutsy call from the Cowboys coaching staff, one that demonstrated not only the initial confidence in post-injury Prescott, but in the pass protection, as well. Mike McCarthy placed the game squarely in his hands with 58 pass attempts, and he was up to the task everywhere but the scoreboard.
- Shaky start for Zuerlein. Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 48-yard FG in the clutch — to take a one-point lead with 1:24 remaining — but in a 31-29 loss, it’s the misses he’ll remember. He had a chip shot FG try go wide from 31 yards, and missed an extra point. Forget the ill-advised 60-yarder he missed late in the first half — that was too much to ask — but leaving four points on the field from short range in a two-point loss is the kind of thing that shortens a coaching staff’s patience quickly. Following offseason back surgery, his performance going forward warrants attention.
- Bucs secondary a primary issue. The Bucs’ defensive backfield was short-handed, and it showed. Already minus injured starting safety Jordan Whitehead from the outset, the Bucs also lost nickelback Sean Murphy-Bunting, whose night had barely begun before he exited with a dislocated elbow, and safety Mike Edwards, who exited but later returned. Not surprisingly, the Bucs’ vaunted defense had its troubles against Prescott. The Dallas QB threw for 403 yards to eight receivers, and beat Bucs fill-in Ross Cockrellon a second-half TD throw to Cooper. Tampa Bay’s pass rush will cover for this secondary, but at least early in the season, it might have to do it a lot.
- Tall task for McGovern. Dealing with the Bucs’ defensive front wasn’t a fun assignment for backup OL Connor McGovern. He stepped in at right guard for one of the best in the game in Zack Martin, who is stuck in COVID-19 protocols. He was overpowered at times and had his share of trouble anchoring in pass protection, leading to more pressure on Prescott than Tampa Bay’s sack total (one) would indicate. That pressure came from everywhere, however, so it wasn’t nearly all on Martin’s replacement. Still, Martin’s return to the lineup won’t come a moment too soon for the Cowboys.
Next Gen stat of the game: Tom Brady faced pressure on just 18% of his dropbacks against the Cowboys, even better than the 24.9 pressure percentage that his pass protection allowed in 2020.
NFL Research: Tom Brady’s two TD passes to Rob Gronkowski gave them 100 all time, counting postseason play. The only duo with more in NFL history? Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison (114).