A WIN IS A WIN!
The Dallas Cowboys rode into town Thursday night with plans of wrangling a win at the RayJay Corral, but our Buccaneers had other plans. It was a good old-fashioned gunfight between Tom Brady and Dak Prescott, with “the GOAT” being the last man standing.
This turned out to be a great game, but it was much closer than any of us Bucs fans were wanting. It was everything the TV networks were wanting, though, becoming the most-watched NFL Kickoff game since 2015 and the highest-rated television event since the Super Bowl with 26 million viewers.
The debut of this 2021 Buccaneers team was full of ups and downs, with good plays and bad plays and a little bit in between. So I decided to continue the often imitated; but never duplicated “Good, Bad & Ugly” series that I put out after every game last season. For those “new fans” that may not be familiar with it, I take a few “GOOD” things, a few “BAD” things, and one “UGLY” thing about every game and talk a little about it. So without any further delay, here is the REAL “Good, Bad & Ugly” from the Bucs season/home opener against the always overrated Dallas Cowboys.
The Special Teams
Bruce Arians stated in his post-game press conference that the Bucs special teams won this game for them. I agree. They helped cause Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein to miss two field goals and an extra point. Wide receiver Jayden Mickens had a great day returning three kicks for 90 yards. Ryan Succop hit all five of his kicks (1 FG, 4 XP) on the day. And Bradley Pinion pinned three punts inside the Cowboys’ 10-yard line and another to the 13-yard line that was returned out to the 25-yard line. Unfortunately, long snapper Zach Triner injured his finger during the game, and it requires surgery, so he’s now out for the next 10-12 weeks. Hopefully, it doesn’t affect the kicking game very much.
In his 300th career start, the 44-year-old Tom Brady kicked off his 22nd NFL season in big-time fashion finishing this game 32 of 50 for 379 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did have two interceptions in the game, but neither of them was on him. The first was a screen pass that bounced off the hands of running back Leonard Fournette straight into the hands of Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs. The second was a “Hail Mary” pass at the end of the first half. It looks as though he has a full grasp of this offense now and should put up some impressive numbers this season.
The 12th Man
The Buccaneers played in front of a sold-out Raymond James Stadium for the first time in over a decade, and the crowd did not disappoint. I haven’t heard or seen that stadium like that in a long, long time. There were quite a few Cowboys fans there, but it wasn’t anything like it’s been in recent years, where there used to be more blue than red in that lower bowl. The pregame ceremony to unveil the new Super Bowl banner hosted by the legendary Gene Deckerhoff was amazing. But the best part was the hype video where Tom Brady looks into the camera and says, “Let’s f#@%ing go!“. The crowd went nuts, and it set the pace for the rest of the night.
The Bucs lost the turnover battle 4 to 1 in this game. Tom Brady threw two interceptions, neither of which were really his fault. And there were two lost fumbles, one by running back Ronald Jones deep in Cowboy territory and the other by wide receiver Chris Godwin at the goal line. Jones didn’t play much after his turnover, which Bruce Arians blamed on his “mental state“. Godwin redeemed himself later in the game, hauling in a big catch with less than a minute left to set the Bucs up for a game-winning field goal. However, moving forward, these types of mistakes need to be limited or even eliminated if this team wants to repeat.
The Bucs were one of the NFL’s least penalized teams last season. In this game, they had 11 penalties for 106 yards. That’s a ton for a normally disciplined Bruce Arians team. I’m going to chalk it up to first-game jitters or maybe even just knocking the rust off, and I fully expect the accountability that Arians demands of his players to kick back in and eliminate these mental mistakes.
It was clear that the Cowboys’ game plan was to stay away from the middle of the field where Devin White, Lavonte David, and Antoine Winfield Jr. patrol and to test the Bucs’ young corners on the outside with screens and out routes. It worked pretty well, especially after cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting went out with a dislocated elbow. When that happened, Jamel Dean came in to replace him, and the Cowboys’ offense attacked him repeatedly. Wide receiver Amari Cooper caught ball after ball finishing with 13 catches for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. Todd Bowles and the Bucs defense needs to make better adjustments to situations like that, and the players need to do a much better job of tackling on those screen passes.
The Buccaneers had no business whatsoever winning this football game. They were the first team in NFL history to lose the turnover margin by at least three, have over 100 yards in penalties, AND allow more than 450 yards of offense and still win the game. They ran 13 fewer plays on offense, had 20 fewer total yards, and lost the time of possession by almost 10 minutes. A win is a win, no doubt, but they cannot continue to play like this if they want to get back to another Super Bowl.
It was ugly, but it was a “W” on the schedule, and that’s all that counts. You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one. That was one of the better offenses in the league, so it was nice to see this team overcome the turnovers and losing the lead late to pull out the last-second victory. The adversity will help this team grow and get better. Hopefully, this game was the bitch slap back to reality that they needed to knock them down off of that championship pedestal. This close call should translate into a solid week of practice and a refocused Bucs team. I fully expect them to absolutely dominate the Atlanta Falcons next week and send Matty Ice and the Dirty Birds back to Georgia with a big fat loss.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!