The first game of the 2021-22 NFL season is now firmly in the books! And the defending Super Bowl champions kicked off their title-defense campaign in fine style, after edging the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 in a thrilling primetime Thursday night football showdown at Raymond James Stadium marking week 1 of the 2021-22 NFL season.
Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and marched the Buccaneers down the field on a game-winning drive with barely a minute and a half left on the clock to clinch the 31-29 win over the Cowboys.
The 44-year-old veteran was in his element. The game on the line; the weight of expectation on his shoulders. He did what he’s done countless of times in his career and winning seven Super Bowls. Brady was simply Brady. TB12. The Goat. Calmly moving the chains to set up Ryan Succop for a 36-yard winning field goal in the dying seconds of the game.
Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their season with a heart-breaking loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. It was Brady’s first game with his new team and the lack of any preseason warmup games under his belt, due to the coronavirus restrictions imposed in 2020, proved to be his undoing. A year later though, it’s a different story. This is Brady’s team now in every sense.
Overall, Brady went for 32 of 50 and passed for 379 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions – although one was on a Hail Mary attempt in the dying seconds of the first half. Brady and his BFF Rob Gronkowski combined for two touchdowns, making history at the same time by combining for their 100th passing touchdown (86 regular season and 14 postseason TDs). Anthony Brown caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Brady and finished the night with a leading 121 receiving yards.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination and some of the credit for Tampa Bay’s struggles belongs to the Dallas Cowboys. At times, there were unpolished plays, miscues, fumbles and costly penalties. But the Cowboys also gave the Bucs a run for their money and played better the most NFL expert picks had predicted ahead of the game.
A fumble by Chris Godwin at the Buc’s 2-yard line denied the Buccaneers an almost certain touchdown at 5:04 in the fourth quarter with the Bucs leading 28-26. However, the Cowboys failed to capitalise on the pivotal turnover as the ensuing drive resulted in a 48-yard field goal and gave the Cowboys merely a narrow 29-28 lead. Crucially, though, they left 1:22 on the clock, which is an eternity for Brady to do his thing. And so he did, with aplomb.
After the game, Brady and Co. took turns talk about the importance of this win but, at the same time, they stressed the need for improvement.
“Fortunately, we found a way to win,” said Brady. “I’m really happy Ryan (Succop) and the field goal team made that really clutch kick at the end, that was great to see. Special teams were just awesome tonight. As a team, we all know that we’ve got to get back to work and try to improve.”
Dallas Cowboys Fall Short
All the talk about Dak Prescott’s suspect fitness, lack of form and potential rust after missing almost a year of competitive football went out of the window instantly. The Dallas Cowboys franchise quarterback came ready to play in his first NFL game since suffering a season-ending ankle injury in 2020 and surprised many with just how ready he was to play. Most media analysts and NFL experts predicted the Buccaneers, closing as the 8.5-point home chalk, would win comfortably.
Prescott launched an aerial assault on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as he went 42 of 58 and threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He connected with Amari Cooper 13 times for 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns and lifted the Cowboys to the narrow 1-point lead with 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Overall, the Cowboys produced 450 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers. And yet, they lost the game.
Arguably, Greg Zuerlein let the side down by missing a couple of field goals and shanking an extra point attempt. He missed a 31-yard field goal and an ambitious 60-yard field goal. When it mattered the most though, Zuerlein did come to the good with a perfectly kicked 48-yard field goal that gave the Cowboys the narrow lead.
Dallas’ defense was one of the worst in the league last season and those struggles on the defensive side of the ball played a factor in the Cowboys’ decline. The revamped D-line under Dan Quinn showed flashes of improvement, but not enough to shutdown the Buccaneers in the last 80-odd seconds of the game.
In spite of the loss, the Cowboys nevertheless made a statement in defeat. In the main, they showed just how competitive they could be by having the defending champions on the ropes for the last quarter of the game. If there’s one thing that favours the Cowboys in the coming weeks, it’s the NFL schedule. The Cowboys aren’t set to face a playoff team from last year until they take on the Kansas City Chiefs in week 11.