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Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Buccaneers of the Week: vs. Cowboys

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Thursday’s season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys?

With their 31-29 season-opening win over the Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, the Buccaneers now have a nine-game winning streak that dates back to last season. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but it was a win nonetheless and the defending Super Bowl champions are off to a 1-0 start in the 2021 season.

There were plenty of things that went wrong for Tampa Bay in Week 1, with four turnovers and over 100 penalty yards nearly giving the game to Dallas. But the best teams overcome when they aren’t at their best, and that’s what the Bucs did. With under a minute and a half to go, they got the ball back trailing by a point. The offense kept its cool, drove down the field and set up a game-winning field goal with two seconds to go.

So, while there were some negative aspects about the opening game of the 2021 season, there were also plenty of positive performances that resulted in the victory. Before we move on to the upcoming Week 2 matchup against the Falcons, let’s take a look back at the five best players from the Week 1 win.

A reminder of how this works, for anyone who hasn’t been around for the last three years: Each week, I’ll rank the top five Bucs of the Week and assign them point values, which will determine their place in the “Buccaneers of the Week Standings.” No. 5 gets one point, No. 4 gets two and so on. The 2018 Buccaneer of the Year was Mike Evans, while Shaquil Barrett was the 2019 Buccaneer of the Year. In 2020, Tom Brady was the Buccaneer of the Year and, for the first time ever, we had a Buccaneers of the Playoffs series that ended with Devin White earning the top spot. OK, let’s get it going.

Honorable Mentions

Lavonte David led the Bucs in tackles with 11 (five solo) and picked up a pass defended and a quarterback hit... Shaquil Barrett earned the Bucs’ lone sack of the night, dropping Dak Prescott for a big loss in a key moment just before halftime... Carlton Davis was easily Tampa Bay’s best defensive back on the night and it feels a little harsh to leave him outside the top five this week as a result. He came up with the defense’s only turnover, intercepting a pass that went off the hands of CeeDee Lamb, plus he finished the night with three passes defended...

Tampa Bay’s special teams as a whole were a major factor in this win. Ryan Succop is another who is getting harshly left out of the top five this week, given that his 36-yard field goal with two seconds left gave the Bucs their 31-29 win... Bradley Pinion was lights-out for the Bucs, downing three of his four punts inside the Dallas 10-yard line... Jaydon Mickens, who was elevated from the practice squad on game day, had a great night returning kicks. He took three kickoffs for 92 yards, which was good for an average for 30.7 yards per return. Add two punt returns for 21 yards to that and you have a solid night from Mickens.

OK, now let’s get it going.

5. Vita Vea (One point)

How do you not show some love to a guy who can bulldoze through an NFL center like he’s the same size as a small child? Because that’s exactly what Vita Vea did to Tyler Biadasz on Thursday night. Vea’s name didn’t show up in the game’s box score, but it didn’t need to. His impact on the game was clear, as he totaled a team-high six quarterback pressures. Some of those came late in the game and helped keep Dallas to a field goal attempt, which allowed Tampa Bay’s offense to get the ball back with some time to work with. Vea was also a force in the run game—as usual—leading the Buccaneer defense’s efforts to contain Ezekiel Elliott, who totaled just 33 yards on 11 carries. There were good moments for the big nose tackle throughout the night, and just imagine what he could’ve done if he wasn’t blatantly held on a number of plays. Big No. 50 gets the first Bucs of the Week point for the new season.

4. Antonio Brown (Two points)

It’s tough to drop the Bucs’ leading receiver from Thursday night down to the No. 4 spot because you can’t take away the effect that Antonio Brown had on the game. He was a key figure in the first half, which was when he hauled in four of his five catches and 118 of his team-high 121 yards. It was also when he caught a 47-yard touchdown pass, which swung the game back in Tampa Bay’s favor just before halftime. He didn’t have as much of an impact over the final two quarters, which is why he’s lower on this list than he maybe deserves to be. But even still, his 24.2 yards per catch led the team—by far—and he was also a major part of the offense’s first scoring drive, on which he caught passes for 28 and 16 yards to get the ball inside the red zone. It should be a massive season for Brown and he kicked it off the right way, earning two points in the initial Bucs of the Weeks Standings.

3. Chris Godwin (Three points)

In a way, it feels a bit uncomfortable to place Chris Godwin here given that he had a bad drop and later nearly cost the Bucs the game. With the home team threatening to go up by two possessions late in the fourth quarter, Godwin made a nice catch and did well to work his way near the goal line, only to have the ball knocked loose. Dallas recovered and its offense drove down the field to kick a go-ahead field goal with 1:24 to go, putting Tampa Bay in a tough spot. But Godwin redeemed himself on the ensuing possession with perhaps the biggest catch of the game. With the Bucs outside of field goal range, he managed to find separation and make a 24-yard catch near the sideline to set up what was eventually the game-winning field goal from Ryan Succop. And with that catch essentially canceling out his fumble, we can look at his game as a whole and be impressed with his 2021 debut. He caught nine passes on 14 targets (both team highs) for 105 yards and a touchdown, which was certainly enough to pick up three points in the standings this week.

2. Rob Gronkowski (Four points)

Our top two in the standings after Week 1 are guys that apparently just don’t age. At 32 years old and in year two of the post-retirement portion of his football career, Rob Gronkowski can still take over a game. He was a force against the Cowboys, catching all eight of his targets for 90 yards and two touchdowns. It seemed like when the Bucs needed a big play, it was the future Hall of Fame tight end there to make it. First, it was a two-yard touchdown catch that put Tampa Bay up 14-7 in the second quarter. Then, it was an 11-yard touchdown grab on 3rd & 6 in the third quarter to give the Bucs a 28-19 lead. And finally, it was on the team’s game-winning drive that he stepped up the biggest, catching passes of six yards and 20 yards to help Tampa Bay move down the field for its eventual game-winning field goal. Plus, with his two touchdown catches, he and Tom Brady became the duo with the third-most regular season touchdown connections in NFL history. The two passed Steve Young and Jerry Rice, and that certainly didn’t hurt Gronk’s case for the No. 2 spot in this week’s standings.

1. Tom Brady (Five points)

Who better to earn the full five Bucs of the Week points in Week 1 than 2020 Buccaneer of the Year Tom Brady? There was no other choice for the top spot this week, as the Bucs simply don’t win that game without the 44-year-old legend. He threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-50 passing and, most importantly, took control of the game late when the Bucs needed him most. Down by one and starting at the 25-yard line with one timeout and 1:24 left on the clock, Brady led the offense down the field and put them in position to win the ball game. It was his 100th career 300-yard passing game, and that made him just the second player in league history with 100 such games in a career (Drew Brees is the other). And though he was credited with two interceptions on the night, you can’t truly place either on his record in good conscience. The first interception went directly off the hands of Leonard Fournette and the other came on a Hail Mary attempt with time expiring in the first half. Brady was phenomenal in Tampa Bay’s opener, and that earned him five points and the top spot in the Bucs of the Week standings after one game.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 1:

  1. Tom Brady — 5 points
  2. Rob Gronkowski — 4 points
  3. Chris Godwin — 3 points
  4. Antonio Brown — 2 points
  5. Vita Vea — 1 point

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