Ah, heart-stopping anxiety. Did you miss it, Bucs fans? The Buccaneers wasted no time delivering excitement Thursday night as they held off a rambunctious Dallas Cowboys team, 31-29.
While the defense struggled to contain a rejuvenated Dak Prescott most of the night, Tampa benefited from the elite offense most expected from them. That said, the team received some standout performances all over the field. Let’s go over the top players from the thrilling Week 1 victory.
The G.O.A.T. said earlier this week he felt like a 24-year-old, not 44, and who are we to disagree?
In his 300th regular season start, he carved up the Cowboys from start to finish, completing 32 of 50 passes for 379 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions — both of which were not his fault (one was a blatant drop from Leonard Fournette, while the other was an end-of-half Hail Mary).
Oh, let’s not forget yet another 4th quarter comeback to put Tampa in position for the game-winning field goal with 7 seconds left. No big deal.
He continued to make every throw at every level of the field. Whether it was his beautiful rainbow shot to Antonio Brown for a 47-yard score or the heads-up dart off his back foot to Rob Gronkowski, the Cowboys couldn’t fluster the wily veteran.
Ultimately, this was another showcase of the culture change Brady has helped to implement for this team, as four turnovers and a lot of bad mistakes still couldn’t deter them from the victory.
Gronkowski, Brown and Chris Godwin
We’ll group some of Brady’s best buds together in interest of saving space. Gronk looked back in full football shape after a slow start last season, as he caught 8 passes for 90 yards and two tuddies. The Hall of Famers connected for their 100th score together, and it looks like there might be several more where that came from.
Brown scorched Dallas’s secondary throughout the first half and finished with 5 receptions for 121 yards and score, indeed looking as spry as ever like training camp reports said. When he’s focused and on his A game, Brown takes this offense into an unprecedented level of lethality.
Finally, Godwin was close to being a top disappointment after a critical fumble deep in Dallas territory, as well as a couple bad drops. But we can’t forget his touchdown, the first score of the game, in addition to his critical catches on the final drive. The final grab, as controversial as it was, made the field goal a chip shot for Ryan Succop. With a final stat line of 9 catches for 105 yards, we have to stan for 1Fo.
What more can we say about Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea? This glorious behemoth of a man made a massive impact down the stretch for a defense that struggled with pressuring Prescott, just like he did in the playoffs last season.
He became a Twitter darling by forklifting Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz, but that served as just one of several examples throughout the evening. As the game went on, Vea simply wore down the interior offensive line and made it difficult for Prescott to step up into the pocket. He even made an offensive cameo at fullback to help get a big third down conversion!
Vita Vea mauling people pic.twitter.com/cnD8WzbgNH— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) September 10, 2021
Last season, Tampa’s sack rate went from 5.9% to 10.5% when Vea was on the field. Based on this game, expect a similar impact this year.
I spotlighted Davis earlier this week as someone who needed to anchor this cornerback unit, and he absolutely did when the rest of them didn’t show up to play.
Other than an early pass interference penalty, the only other peep you heard about Davis on the broadcast was when he picked off a tipped pass for Tampa’s first turnover of the year. With Dallas regularly rotating CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup all over the field, Davis stood up when challenged. Overall, he recorded three passes defensed and made a couple sure tackles as well.
With Sean Murphy-Bunting out for an indefinite amount of time with a dislocated elbow and Jamel Dean still struggling far too often, Davis’s steadiness will be pivotal as the secondary once again searches for its groove.
We have to give some love to Tampa’s terrific-toed twosome, Bradley Pinion and Ryan Succop.
Pinion, who has had his struggles in the past, remained a touchback machine on kickoffs while dropping some beautiful punts, including this 65-yard bomb that pinned Dallas at its 2-yard line.
Bradley Pinion making an early case for NFL MVP.— Austin Pendergist (@apthirteen) September 10, 2021
Overall, he averaged 49.3 yards per kick and and pinned three inside the 20 and two inside the 5. That’ll do.
And of course, we continue to owe innumerable thanks to Mr. Succop, who finished a perfect 5 for 5 on kicks. His extra points looked beautiful, and his game-winning 35-yarder was gold. Not worrying about a kicker feels great!