It wasn’t the opener that we expected from the defending champions, but a win is a win. After a sloppy and dysfunctional game from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers they were able to steal this game away from the Dallas Cowboys. Still, despite the win it feels like there is as much frustration as there is celebration.
There was good, bad and extremely ugly in this game. Here’s what stood out to me.
The Brady Bunch
Tom Brady was excellent Thursday night. Despite two interceptions in the box score, Brady performed at an MVP type level. He distributed the ball over the field and ended the night with 379 yards and 4 touchdowns.
211 of those yards and three of Brady’s touchdowns went to Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. This group of relative newcomers was in midseason form and carried the offense for much of the night. There is no doubt that this group of 2020 additions continue to be vital to the Buccaneers success.
Special Special Teams
The Buccaneers made it clear that improving the special teams has a top priority this offseason. Most of the new faces on this roster, guys like Jaelon Darden, KJ Britt and Grant Stuard, are here for their special teams ability. However, it was the familiar faces that stole the show last night.
Punter Bradley Pinion had three punts downed inside the ten yard line, including one at the two. After initially being cut and signed to the practice squad, Jaydon Mickens was excellent with kick and punt returns. And of course the game winner. Ryan Succop went 4/4 on extra points and hit the game winning field goal with seven second left in the game.
On a night where there was a lot of bad, it was the third phase of the game that made all the difference.
It’s always important to protect the quarterback. It’s even more so when your quarterback is twice the age of some of the defenders chasing him down. The Buccaneers were able to do just that as they allowed zero sacks throughout the night.
Granted, this wasn’t a perfect performance against a mediocre defensive line. Brady did feel some pressure and was moved off his spot more than once. With that said, he was very rarely touched. It was a strong start for a unit that should continue to impress and even improve.
Interior Defensive Line
With Cowboys All Pro guard Zach Martin out for this game, it was expected that the Buccaneers would dominate upfront. And while there were positive moments, like Vita Vea absolutely manhandling Tyler Biadasz in route to hitting Dak Presscott, it was largely a quiet night for this group.
Ndamukong Suh had just one tackle and one quarterback hit. William Gholston also had just one tackle. And as exciting as Vea’s highlight play was, the pocket held strong for most of the night. It was an underwhelming game for a unit that I expected to dominate.
It was a rough night for both Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. Each was responsible for a turnover and neither were particularly effective when given the opportunity. You could, and I would, argue that Giovani Bernard was the Buccaneers best running back last night, but with just two receptions he didn’t make a huge impact overall.
This also leads to the question of snap distribution to the running backs. Fournette saw the lion’s share of snaps last night, even after his turnover. Bernard was not utilized on third downs and obvious passing downs as much as many believed he would. And Jones, the Buccaneers best ball carrier, was an afterthought after his fumble in the first half. It’s clear that the coaching staff is still figuring out how to utilize the players they have here.
The Cowboys game plan became obvious as the game went on last night. In short, it was “target Jamel Dean”. Dallas obviously identified him as a mismatch in their favor and he was picked on early and often.
This was admittedly one of the toughest wide receiver groups that Dean will see this year. With that said, this preference wasn’t good enough. I’m certainly not ready to hit the panic button here, but his play has to be better moving forward.
Sean Murphy-Bunting’s Elbow
Despite turnovers and penalties, the hardest thing to watch was the Sean Murphy-Bunting injury. After being beaten on the Cowboys first touchdown, Murphy-Bunting and Antonie Winfield Jr collided at the end zone. When Murphy-Bunting hit the ground, his arm bent in an unnatural way.
We have since learned that this was an elbow dislocation. While this looked more gruesome and painful than most injuries, this is actually good news. There is a lot of optimism that Murphy-Bunting will be able to return this season. We will wait for official news, but this gut wrenching moment may not have been as bad as it initially looked.