The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-0 in the 2021 NFL season, and that’s the most important part of the Week 1 results after the Dallas Cowboys came to Raymond James Stadium looking to spoil the Super Bowl celebration.
In its simplest form, that is what we really need to focus on. There are layers to football, and layers inside every game. In this weekly column, we take a look into some of those layers to identify the best and worst from what we saw on the field.
Third Worst - Buccaneers Giveaways
Every NFL team preaches takeaways and winning the turnover battle. After Week 1, there’s going to be a big focus on giveaways.
What’s the difference? Well, outside of talking about the offense turning the ball over rather than the defense taking it, we’re talking about the mental mistakes which lead to disastrous results a lot of times.
Tampa Bay had terrible turnovers on back-to-back drives midway through the second quarter.
First, a fumble from Ronald Jones II looking to carry the ball from Tampa’s own 21-yard line after a missed Greg Zuerlein field goal. The turnover resulted in a Dallas touchdown and threatened to tie the game.
Then, a pass from quarterback Tom Brady bounced off the hands of running back Leonard Fournette and right into the waiting hands of Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs. The result of that subsequent possession was a field goal, and Dallas took a two-point lead with less than four minutes remaining in the first half.
It was the first of four giveaways in the game and kept Dallas alive with a nine-point boost coming off drives the Bucs gave away, in the first half alone.
Third Best - Tampa Bay Stepping Up When It Mattered Most
The Buccaneers took a five-point lead into halftime, and that was amazing news considering the three first-half turnovers (even though the interception at the end of the half was kind of an ‘eh’ moment), and considering the 224-yards passing with two touchdown throws from Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Many watching the Bucs had a feeling the upset bid was well and alive as Jerry Jones’ squad looked to start the ‘Super Bowl Hangover’ discussion early.
It was the way the first half ended though, that would be a preamble to the way the game ultimately ended.
After Dallas took their first lead of the game, there was an upset feel building, until Brady found wide receiver Antonio Brown for a 47-yard touchdown. The Cowboys held their first lead of the 2021 season for less than one minute.
In the second half, the Buccaneers' defense locked down in the red zone keeping the Cowboys from regaining the lead despite a 13 play drive which ate up almost six full minutes to start the third quarter.
Eventually, Dallas was able to regain the lead and did so with just 1:24 remaining in the game, and that’s when the Buccaneers' offense really showed up when it mattered most.
Driving into range for a Ryan Succop field goal the veteran kicker nailed a 36-yard three-point shot with two seconds remaining. Just like the Bucs planned it all along.
Second Worst - Missed Opportunities for Bucs Defense
Brady finished the first half with two interceptions. Dak Prescott finished with none.
The Cowboys quarterback didn’t escape the first two quarters without a turnover because he didn’t put the ball at risk though. In fact, two dropped interceptions by the Buccaneers' defense could have significantly turned the tide of the game, early.
First, a dropped interception cost the team some valuable momentum. While the drive ended in a missed field goal for Dallas, the ever so important momentum factor of the game was different than it would have been if the drive ended in a Tampa Bay takeaway.
Then, Lavonte David dropped an interception opportunity on third-and-six from the Buccaneers’ 17-yard line.
At the time, the Bucs held a 14-13 lead, and David’s interception would have not only been the second of the game, but it would also have kept the Cowboys from gaining their first advantage of the evening.
In future match-ups, gaining the momentum over the opponent is going to be crucial, and people are talking about Prescott’s return a little less glowingly if he throws two first-half interceptions with his team in scoring range.
Second Best - Buccaneers’ Late Game Clock Control
Time of possession is important. In the first half, the Cowboys' offense was on the field for 18:10 out of a possible 30. Meaning the Buccaneers defense spent 61% of the first two quarters on the field. In the first game of the year.
Dallas then started the third quarter with an almost six-minute drive. By the time the Bucs offense got their first possession of the second half, their defensive unit had been on the field for nearly 70% of the game.
Not good when conditioning is at its worst, in the first full game, and it’s an especially humid evening.
Tampa Bay’s offense held the ball for just over three minutes in the third quarter and had a tired defense entering the fourth with a motivated Cowboys team looking to shock the NFL world.
Then, Brady and his squad dominated the fourth quarter time of possession holding the ball for 70% of the final stretch.
We can argue the final field goal-producing drive for the Cowboys which kept the game within a final kick opportunity is much more likely to be a touchdown if not for the rest Tampa Bay’s defense finally got in the final quarter of play.
It took all game, but the Bucs offense gave their defense time to breathe when they needed it most.
THE Worst - Sean Murphy-Bunting Injury
This isn’t hard. Sean Murphy-Bunting’s injury came at the end of a really good drive for the Cowboys, a particularly bad one for the Bucs defense, and took the air out of the building all by itself.
Credit to the leaders on Tampa Bay’s roster for keeping the team engaged and energetic, but the tough night the team had after Jamel Dean and Ross Cockrell saw their roles increase dramatically, is getting no small amount of attention.
Coming out with a win helps, but there are plenty of questions ahead as the team figures out just how long they’ll be without their young cornerback.
And Dean becoming a favorite target of opposing passers isn’t going to end with Dallas.
THE Best - Bucs Offensive Firepower on Full Display
Some weeks we’ll dedicate this to a player of the game. This week though, we’re going with the example of offensive dominance put on display by the Buccaneers.
Brady threw for 379-yards and four touchdowns to go with the two turnovers we talked about earlier. Neither turnover really lays on the head of the quarterback here.
In compiling those stats, he connected with Antonio Brown for 121-yards, Chris Godwin for nine receptions, and Rob Gronkowski for two touchdowns. Three different receivers led the team in each of the key receiving stat lines.
Mike Evans finished with three catches for just 24-yards. Not good for those with Evans on their fantasy football rosters, but great for the Bucs who put up 31 points for the third-straight game, and put up 30-points or more for the eighth straight game.
Tampa Bay had their defensive struggles, and in large part, they stemmed from injuries that may bleed over to future games.
As long as they have an offense this explosive and this productive, they’re going to have a chance to win every game. Period.