Close call for Tom Brady and the Bucs

NFL Coverage

Griffin Traylor, Sports Editor

 The Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced off against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL season opener on Sept. 9. 

Coming into the game, Dallas had lost all three of their preseason matchups. Tampa Bay joined in the game hot off their only preseason win against the Houston Texans, losing prior to Tennessee and Cincinnati. 

ESPN’s football power index had Tampa Bay at 70 percent to take the first game against Dallas. From the start, Tampa had high expectations to meet entering Raymond James Stadium. In the 2020 season, Tampa fought back from a 7-5 record to win eight straight games, including the Superbowl LV blowout over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. With that win, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first NFL team to win the Superbowl in their own stadium and the first NFL team to beat three Superbowl winning quarterbacks on that journey in the postseason.

The Sep. 9 game against Dallas marked Brady’s 300th consecutive start in the NFL, placing him two games ahead of Brett Favre’s long held record at 298. In 2020, Brady also broke the Tampa Bay franchise record of most passing touchdowns in a season with 40. At 44 years old, many tuned into the game questioning if the 22-year veteran could still be as effective on the field.

With the game soon underway, the new Superbowl LV signs were revealed to fans, accompanied by a firework display and the iconic cannon fire as the Bucs trotted out. 

Dallas entered, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who was coming off a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in a week five matchup against the Giants the prior season. Beforehand, Prescott was seen doing a baseball pitchers warm up routine. Prescott suffered another injury that was considered rare in the football profession, but more common for baseball pitchers. The injury prompted the Dallas Cowboys’ training staff to reach out to the Texas Rangers for help. The result was a baseball warm up routine for Dak before the Sept. 9 game. 

In 2020, Tampa Bay’s defense cracked down on rushing allowed. Per game the Bucs had the lowest yards per game/carry allowed in the NFL. This, coupled with the fewest touchdowns and runs converted to first downs, made the Bucs the first team, since 2011, to lead the NFL in all four categories. With this defense against the run, Prescott was under pressure to have a good showing on his first game back from injury. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys’ running back, came into the game off a career low performance in 2020 with 65.3 yards per game. 

The Cowboys lead the NFL with 81 dropped passes since 2019, coming into a game where passing would be key. 

Dallas won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to Brady and the Bucs. Tampa Bay received the ball to start the season after a touchback. Brady was shut down on the first drive after a quick three-and-out, forcing the Bucs to punt. The first punt for the Bucs, by Bradley Pinion, fell out of bounds at the Dallas 2-yard line after traveling 65-yards. 

Prescott stepped onto the field for the first time in nearly 11 months with 98-yards to cover. Out of the shotgun, Prescott let loose down the left side of the field to one of his favorite receivers, Amari Cooper, for a 28-yard gain. The Cowboys made it to the Tampa 39 before a dropped pass by CeeDee Lamb and a false start by the entire offensive line forced them to punt.

Starting at the Tampa 6, Tom Brady began shredding the Dallas defense with passes. Deep passes to Rob Gronkowski down the middle and Antonio Brown down the right side of the field set Tampa up at the Dallas 32. After a no-huddle, Brady quickly went back to Brown, pushing the ball to the Dallas 16, signaling the iconic Buccaneer’s redzone cannon fire. Soon after, Brady found Chris Godwin from 5-yards out for the seasons first Tampa Bay touchdown. 

Dallas stepped onto the field and rapidly returned fire, showing off their passing game. In just under four minutes, the Cowboys moved the ball 75-yards in seven plays. Lamb made up for the previous drive ending drop with a 22-yard touchdown reception, after a fake screen play, putting Dallas on the board. Greg Zuerlein knocked down the kick, tying the score at seven a piece. 

Tampa came out and was stopped after five short plays and a gain of only 25-yards. The Bucs began the second quarter with a punt where Dallas set up shop at their own 5. 

After three plays and only 2-yards, Dallas was forced to punt. Brady and company came back, moving the ball 48-yards in five plays, setting up a 2-yard strike to Gronkowski for Tampa’s second touchdown and the 101st of his career. 

Dallas then moved the ball down the field with the help of Tampa’s two penalties. setting up a 31-yard field goal with 6:41 remaining in the second quarter. Zuerlein chopped the ball wide left on the attempt as Dallas left the field empty handed. The Cowboys defense then took the ball away after defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence forced a fumble on Tampa’s first play out, setting the Dallas offence up at the Bucs 27. 

Dallas began picking on Jamel Dean, who was taking the spot of Sean Murphy-Bunting after a dislocated elbow injury on Lamb’s touchdown play. Dean played his role on Lamb, but ultimately Amari Cooper was found for a Dallas touchdown. Zuerlein stepped on to the field to tie the game and again missed his kick, leaving the Cowboys trailing 13-14. 

Tampa came onto the field for one play as Leonard Fournette tipped Brady’s pass, leading to an interception by Trevon Diggs. 

Dallas again made the most of their defensive play with Zuerlein hitting a 35-yard field goal putting the Cowboys on top 16-14. 

Brady came out and quickly made up for the interception with a two-play drive, ending in a 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.

The Cowboys appeared on the field with 2:38 until halftime. After pushing the ball to the Tampa 21, Prescott looked deep for Cooper, but the backup Dean shut it down with the help of a zone, forcing a sack. A holding call then brought Dallas to 3rd and 32 at the Tampa 43-yard line, where Prescott scrambled again for only a yard before being pushed out of bounds. With 20 seconds left, Dallas attempted a 60-yard field goal that fell just short. 

Brady took over at the 50-yard line, throwing two incompletions and an interception after a heave to the end zone. The first half closed at 16-21 Tampa Bay. 

Dallas opened the second half going 72-yards in 13 plays for a field goal. Tampa had a quick three-and-out on the next possession. Dallas followed with an interception thrown on the first play of their drive, setting the Bucs up at the Dallas 35. 

Tampa quickly struck again with a 2:08 drive that ended with another Gronkowski touchdown. Dallas then put together a 10-play drive for 75-yards ending in a 21-yard pass for another Amari Cooper touchdown. Zuerlein hit the extra point with :33 left in the third quarter for a score of 26-28 Tampa. 

After a failed drive by both Tampa and Dallas, the game was set at 10:54 remaining as Brady stepped onto the field. After nine plays and nearly six minutes, Tampa was in position to score from the Dallas 13-yard line. Brady took the shotgun snap, quickly dropping it down to Godwin, who was hit at the 2-yard line by Da’Montae Kazee, forcing a fumble at the goal line. Dallas’s Jourdan Lewis recovered the fumble being taken down at the 10-yard line soon after. 

With 4:52 left in the game and down by two points, the Cowboys’ offense went to work, almost ending in a three-and-out, before a neutral zone infraction by Tampa’s Ndamukong Suh set up a 6-yard first down. 

Prescott then hit Cooper for an 11-yard gain followed by a first down incompletion. On second down Prescott found Lamb for a 23-yard pass before an offensive holding brought it back. Facing 2nd and 20, Prescott hit Cedrick Wilson for a 9-yard gain, setting up 3rd & 11 on the Dallas 35. Prescott found Lamb, who cut up field down the left sideline for a 31-yard gain to the Tampa 34. 

On 3rd and 6, Dallas guard Connor Williams was called for holding, forcing the Cowboys into 3rd & 16 on the Tampa 40. Prescott again found Lamb for a 10-yard completion, setting up a 48-yard field goal attempt by Zuerlein who split the uprights giving Dallas the lead 29-28. 

With 1:24 remaining in the game, Brady started the Bucs drive on their own 25. Running the no-huddle, the Bucs quickly got a first down at the Tampa 37 with :54 remaining. Tampa’s Donovan Smith was called on a false start, bumping the Bucs back to the 32 yard-line. Brady found Gronkowski wide open in the middle who ran out of bounds to stop the clock at :49. 

On the next play, Brady again found Gronkowski, who trampled two Cowboys before being brought down at the Dallas 42 after 20-yards. With the clock running and no timeouts, Brady ran to the line and decided to throw the ball deep out of bounds to stop the clock at :24. Brady then found Godwin down the left side line for the most controversial no-call of the game. Godwin extended his arm, ultimately pushing number 26, Jourdan Lewis, to the ground enabling the catch. Fans and players on social media showed their frustration with the offensive pass interference (OPI) no-call soon after the play. This no-call led to the Bucs setting up for a Ryan Succop 36-yard field goal to win the game and push the Bucs to a 1-0 record to start the season. 

Despite the loss, Prescott looked amazing in his return with 403-yards on 42-58 attempts for 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Brady ended the game with 379-yards on 32-50 attempts for 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. 

Tampa won with a final score of 29-31.