By Terrance Turner
Sept. 9, 2021
Tonight, the NFL season began. At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, crowds packed the house to witness the action. The home team was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the reigning Super Bowl champions. They are the first team ever to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. But could they beat the Dallas Cowboys in the first game of 2021?
Both teams went scoreless on their opening drives. Tampa Bay had a very quick three-and-out. Dallas was hampered by an aggressive Tampa Bay defense and two dropped passes by receiver CeeDee Lamb. Dallas would make it as far as the Bucs’ 39-yard line before ultimately surrendering to a punt after a false start by ‘the entire offensive line.’ No, seriously.
After starting at their own 6-yard line, the Bucs advanced 94 yards into the end zone.
Tom Brady hurled a 20 yard pass to Rob Gronkowski and a 29-yard pass to Antonio Brown. Then he hit Brown for another first down. A catch by Bucs receiver Chris Godwin the very next play made it first and goal. Brady connected with Godwin again for the touchdown. The extra-point kick was good; the Bucs led 7-0.
The Cowboys’ drive featured back to back passes to Michael Gallup. Prescott threw consistently well, despite earlier ankle surgery and a shoulder injury. Lamb redeemed himself with a 22 yard catch into the end zone for the touchdown. Game was tied 7-7.
Brady and the Bucs put together yet another drive at the start of the second quarter, hooking up with Godwin again for first and goal. Then on second and goal, Brady threw to tight end Rob Gronkowski. In the end zone, surrounded by traffic, Gronkowski made the catch for the touchdown. The Bucs pulled ahead, 14-7.
Prescott was nearly intercepted in the end zone by Carlton Davis. Cowboys settle for a field goal, which kicker Greg Zuerlein missed! The Bucs held on to their seven-point lead.
Cowboys come up with a major fumble recovery when Ronald Jones fumbled on the very first play of the drive. Dallas took over. Their short drive culminated in a touchdown. In a gutsy salvage, Prescott picked up a dropped snap and threw to Amari Cooper in the end zone for the touchdown. But Zuerlein missed the extra point kick. That gave Tampa Bay a one-point lead, 14-13.
The Cowboys got a field goal off of yet another turnover. Brady was intercepted on an errant pass to running back Leonard Fournette. Dallas’ Trevon Diggs came up with the ball. This time, Zuerlein successfully kicked a field goal to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game. They led 16-14 with 3:21 left.
The Buccaneers needed just two plays to get down the field. A catch by Chris Godwin moved the chains, and out of nowhere Brady fired to Antonio Brown for the touchdown. The Bucs led 21 to 16, with 2:38 remaining. The Cowboys took over on a drive that went nowhere. Prescott was sacked on second down, making it third and 32. A holding call on the offense moved them back even further, and the Cowboys called for a 60-yard field goal by Zuerlein, who missed (obviously).
The Bucs got back the ball with just seconds to spare. Brady attempted a Hail Mary and was intercepted in the end zone, but the Dallas returner was stopped before he got to the end zone. It was 21-16 at the half.
The Cowboys spent the first five minutes of the second half on their drive. They advanced down the field rapidly. The Buccaneers’ defense, stymied by penalties, was unable to stop them. Dallas got all the way to first and goal, and a late catch by Ezekiel Elliott took them to the two-yard line on 3rd and goal. But the defense spoiled Elliot on the next play. Zuerlein nailed a 22-yard field goal. 21-19.
Prescott was intercepted by Carlton Davis. CD lamb failed to make a pass; the ball went right through his hands. The Bucs started the drive at the 35-yard line and Brady found Gronkowski again, for the touchdown. The Bucs led 28-19.
After several drives that fell short, the Cowboys finally found the end zone on their ensuing drive. Prescott threw to Amari Cooper, whose end zone catch gave Dallas it’s first touchdown of the half. It was 28-26 with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay would unfortunately come up empty on their next drive but the Bucs’ defense would return the favor as the two teams traded punts. Tom Brady and the Bucs’ offense took back over with 10:54 to play, starting at their own 37-yard line.
The Bucs went all the way down the field, getting to the 13-yard line before Brady fired to Godwin. That catch took the Bucs inside the five. As Godwin was fighting to get into the end zone, he lost the ball and Dallas recovered.
A long fourth-quarter drive took Dallas as far as the 30-yard line before they got stopped by the Bucs defense. After all the drama in the first half, Zuerlein came through. Faced with a 48-yard field goal, Zuerlein made it, giving Dallas a 31-29 lead.
Brady and the Bucs took over with just 1:24 remaining. A false start penalty cost them their final timeout. A big catch by Gronk and an even bigger one by Godwin took them all the way to the 18-yard line. Now assured of a likely win, Brady threw the ball away three consecutive times until it was 4th and 10 at the 14-yard line. Kicker Ryan Succop drilled a 36-yard field goal to make it 31-29, with just two seconds left.
The Buccaneers won, 31-29. They are now 1-0. Prescott completed 42 of 58 passes for 403 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. But it wasn’t enough. Brady threw for four touchdowns and two interceptions. Gronkowski had 8 receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns. “Obviously, a lot to improve on. But I’m glad we won. Ryan had a huge kick at the end,” Brady said after the game.