The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 in the first game of the highly anticipated 2021/22 NFL season.
Tom Brady, who won his record-extending seventh Super Bowl last season, threw for four touchdowns, including two to Rob Gronkowski.
Opposing quarterback Dak Prescott also looked sharp having returned from a season-ending injury.
Both teams provided a world-class game, which went to the wire and was only settled by a late field goal from Ryan Succop.
The game was unaffected by Covid-19, with vaccinations in the league slowly stagnating as the NFL implements strict rules regarding the vaccination. No game from Week 1 had any coronavirus issues.
Fans were also treated to an “NFL Kickoff” live Ed Sheeran performance, who performed ‘Shivers’, his new single for his fourth solo studio album, =.
While Sheeran’s performance received a mixed reception, the Bucs-Cowboys game itself received unanimous high praise.
The first touchdown of the season went to Chris Godwin, who caught a dinked pass from Brady in the middle of the end-zone after a long, 94-yard drive.
CeeDee Lamb was able to equalize for the Cowboys late in the first quarter, however. He caught a side-line ball from Prescott before charging in for the score after shrugging off a defender.
The score entering the half was 21-16 to the Bucs thanks to touchdowns from Chris Godwin, Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. The Cowboys found some success through Lamb and Amari Cooper’s touchdowns, but their efforts were dragged back by some poor kicking from Greg Zuerlein.
Not a perfect game, there’s obviously a lot to unpack from this one. But they’re [the Cowboys] a good football team
– Tom Brady
The Cowboys’ lack of conviction was punished as the cannons fired for the Bucs again: Gronkowski fought his way into the end-zone for his second score of the game. However, Prescott put the Cowboys back into the game with a sensational throw to Cooper.
It seemed that Brady had led the Bucs to safety as they charged down the field only for Godwin to lose the ball on the goal line. A nervy ending to the game ensued as Dallas’ late field goal was later cancelled out by an even later field goal by the Bucs to wrap up a tight victory for Brady’s Buccaneers.
“Not a perfect game, there’s obviously a lot to unpack from this one. But they’re [the Cowboys] a good football team.”
“There’s always going to be a lot to clean up,” said a calm Brady after the game.
Are Bucs Super Bowl-bound again?
Off the back of their Super Bowl 55 triumph, Tampa Bay were able to retain all 22 of their starting line-up. They also kept coach Bruce Arians, who had previously said he would retire after winning a Super Bowl.
Despite not adding any big-name talents, general manager Jason Licht’s efforts to preserve his Super Bowl-winning formula ought to be applauded as the Bucs are undoubtedly one of the strongest outfits in the NFL currently.
This was proved against a Dallas Cowboys side that was nearly back to full strength, having had an injury-riddled 2020/21 season. Against the high-powered Dallas offence, the Bucs were able to convert their chances and went toe-to-toe with the Cowboys.
While victory is a great start to their season, it was not the most convincing win, and Bucs fans will certainly be wary of that.
The win was only ensured through Succop’s late field goal. The Cowboys had previously been ahead with one minute left on the clock – the score at 29-28 to the Cowboys. However, Brady was able to rally his offence down the field to set Succop up for the winning kick.
While Brady is famously good in clutch situations, it must be said that luck was on his side as his long pass to Godwin late in the game to set up Succop was a source of controversy. Some fans felt that Godwin was overly physical with his marker, thus warranting an offensive pass interference penalty, but the referees were of a different opinion.
One player who stood out for the Buccaneers was Brown. Brown, nicknamed ‘AB’, was formerly one of the premier wide receivers in the league. He was crucial to the Super Bowl win for the Bucs and, in the opening game of this season, the 33-year-old proved to have found a new spring in his step, as he managed to haul in five catches for over 100 yards and a touchdown.
The Super Bowl is certainly in reach for Tampa Bay
Along with Brady’s other offensive weapons including legendary tight end Gronkowski, the Buccaneers have a lot of firepower to play with throughout the season.
One point of concern, however, could be the running back position. Jones was benched by coach Arians after fumbling the ball from DeMarcus Lawrence’s “peanut punch”. He was replaced by Super Bowl hero Leonard Fournette, who also had a largely uninspired game.
If the Bucs are to have a successful season again this year, it will be important for them to maintain balance in their game to ensure they do not rely on Brady’s arm too much, as is the case with every NFL team.
Most fans continue to wait for signs of Brady’s decline. At 44 years old, he is the oldest starting quarterback in the league, but his play suggested nothing of the sort. His arm looked fresh, and he still had good variety in his throws, both short and long.
“At 44 years old you’d probably still say he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the division. Can he, and his personality, and everything around him lead the Bucs to the Super Bowl again this year?” asked Boar Sport Editor Sam Matthews Boehmer.
The Super Bowl is certainly in reach for Tampa Bay. So far, they have looked great, with playmakers and game-changers in nearly every position. Their division (the NFC South) also looks slightly weaker than last year and so they seem to be locks for the playoffs.
The Buccaneers’ season continues against division rivals Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.