Breathe. It’s all over, now. It wasn’t the grand beginning many expected or hoped for, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers escaped the 2021 NFL season opener with a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys thanks to some late game heroics from Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, some late game redemption from Chris Godwin, and the leg of Ryan Succop.
Let’s dive right in and Pick Six.
Six Topics Suitable For Conversation
1.) The defense looked rough. Yes, they were down a starting safety in Jordan Whitehead and lost cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to an ugly elbow injury - but this defense got worked by Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense most of the night. Now, hat tip to the Cowboys’ game plan. They had Prescott getting the ball out quickly to neutralize the Bucs’ pass rush, they hyper-targeted Jamel Dean to much success after Murphy-Bunting left the game, their receivers ran short routes and moved the sticks, and it worked to near perfection. The secondary looked vulnerable all night, the pass rush couldn’t get home, and Dak was outstanding. However, if you’re going to be lauded as one of the best defensive teams in the NFL all offseason thanks to some stellar postseason performances, you have to go out there and prove it. Now, this is probably the best receiving corps the Bucs will face all season but there is plenty to be concerned about if Murphy-Bunting is missing any sort of extended time.
2.) Those penalties are inexcusable. This was one of the most disciplined and least penalized teams down the stretch last season and old habits began creeping in throughout the night. Eleven penalties for over 100 yards is not the stuff of champions. A false start with under a minute left by your left tackle and quarterback, forcing you to burn your final timeout while trailing by a point is not something that is ever okay. Bruce Arians can’t be happy about that performance and it’s something that has to be cleaned up before the next game. There were way too many free first downs and free plays handed to the Cowboys throughout the night and it almost ended up costing the Bucs the game.
3.) As are the turnovers. Something else that almost cost the Bucs the game were the turnovers. They finished with four - two interceptions and two fumbles. Now, we can throw out one interception because it came on the hail Mary to end the first half. Now, the Ronald Jones fumble and the interception - that was actually the fault of Leonard Fournette - led to nine quick Dallas points and began to turn the tide in the game. Then a brutal Chris Godwin fumble as he fought to get into the end zone resulted in the lead changing field goal by Greg Zuerlein with under two minutes left in the game. Those have to be cleaned up immediately.
4.) Don’t worry about Mike Evans. He didn’t have a stellar night. A few drops, three receptions on six targets for 24 yards. It’s not a big deal. There will be nights like this for all the big name guys. Why? Because there’s only one football. Tonight, the targets were going to Chris Godwin, the yards to Antonio Brown, and the touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski. There will be weeks where Evans is the guy. For this game, however, the mismatches were elsewhere and that’s what Brady focused on. If this team is going to win games, no one can be concerned with personal stats or accolades. It’s about the collective. Fantasy football players, however, may feel differently. It’s hard to decipher who is going to have the big game and when, but one game is not indicative of the entire season. At least, we hope not...
5.) This is why Tom Brady is so valuable. There was 1:24 left on the clock, the team was down, and only had one timeout. These are the situations where you have faith that, no matter what the issues were earlier in the game, the offense was going to figure it out and get the win. That calmness under pressure, making the right decisions, and strategically moving the ball down the field to give the team a chance to win - that’s what makes him the goat. Was there anyone that didn’t think nearly 90 seconds on the clock and Brady under center didn’t give the Bucs the advantage in that situation? Okay, maybe that’s a little on the optimistic side - but name a quarterback in team history you would have trusted more to lead them on a game winning drive under those circumstances more than you trusted 12 last night.
6.) Maybe this was needed. There has been nothing but hype and horn tooting all offseason long for this Bucs team. All the starters back, best roster in the league, all the weapons, vicious defense, and on and on and on. Maybe this was the slap in the face the team needed to realize that they aren’t going to just waltz their way straight back to the Super Bowl. This team is going to get the hardest haymaker that every team can offer all year long and they have to find ways - ugly or not - to overcome those efforts and gut out a tough victory. They did exactly that right out of the gate. Could this game have finished differently if the Bucs played flawless football? Of course, but that isn’t going to happen often if at all. They have to clean up a lot on both sides of the ball, but they came away with the win. That’s what matters. It should give Bucs fans some confidence knowing that the Cowboys did everything in their power to win this game, they executed a great game plan on both sides of the ball, they won the turnover battle, and the Buccaneers still came away victorious. This team’s best football is still ahead of them and that’s still a scary thought.
Six Numbers To Consider
300 - Career starts by Tom Brady, most in NFL history
86 - Regular season touchdown passes from Brady to Gronk, third most of any duo in NFL history
34 - Career four touchdown games by Tom Brady
-3 - Bucs’ turnover margin
3 - Bradley Pinion punts downed inside the Dallas’ 10 yard line
25 - Career touchdowns by Chris Godwin, tied for seventh most in team history (Mike Williams)
Six Best Tweets
Let’s start off with some hopeful news;
Bucs Win!! Be back soon— Sean Murphy-Bunting (@seanbunting_) September 10, 2021
Perfect? hell no! Damn ugly but a win is a win. In a a lot of ways we can’t play worse and still put up 31 and made enough plays when it mattered most. @Buccaneers #LFG #FireTheCannons 1-0!!! All that matters!— Jake Arians (@JakeBArians) September 10, 2021
Tom Brady: “Let’s raise those flags and let’s f***ing go!” pic.twitter.com/UWHUOfulhY— Evan Closky (@ECloskyWTSP) September 10, 2021
can't imagine how humbling it is to be a real live nfl offensive lineman and vita vea treats you like you're 14 years old.— bomani (@bomani_jones) September 10, 2021
JPP being held by the neck and Collinsworth says "that's a tight call"— Bailey Adams (@BaileyJAdams22) September 10, 2021
Six Ways To Now Spend Your Sunday
1.) Re-watch the game. Sometimes a second viewing can give you fresh perspective on things you may have missed
2.) Panic. It’s time to fully tilt and question your every thought when it comes to setting your fantasy football roster. Just know, everything you change will end up being the wrong decision and it will inevitably cost you your matchup.
3.) Knock out all your chores for the week. That way, when the Bucs play in week two, you have no responsibilities hanging over your head.
4.) Practice your game day recipes. No sense in ruining a normal game day with a botched football food. Have a trial run while there’s no Bucs game on. See what works.
5.) Kick back and watch Red Zone. Nothing like watching literally every score from every game.
6.) Surprise family day. Go to a festival, head to an amusement park, go to a movie and dinner. Earn those brownie points you’ll need to cash in sometime between now and the end of the year - especially with Bucs ticket prices being what they are on the secondary market.
Six Super Bowl Bets
1.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Wasn’t pretty, but they’re 1-0
2.) Kansas City Chiefs - Always dangerous as long as number 15 is out there
3.) Buffalo Bills - Can they get over the hump?
4.) Green Bay Packers - See “Buffalo Bills”
5.) Cleveland Browns - With Baltimore collecting torn ACLs the way I collect Star Wars goodies, should be a clear path for the Browns in the AFC North
6.) Los Angeles Rams - Officially the super sexy pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl by talking heads on all media platforms