The Tampa Bay Buccanneers won an ugly, but exhilarating game 31-29, providing a capper on a night where they raised a banner and completed the celebration of their Super Bowl LV championship.
The Dallas Cowboys almost spoiled the whole thing, taking advantage of Buccaneers’ miscues to stay in the game and nearly pull off a huge upset of the defending champs.
What I Liked
The crowd. I haven’t heard a crowd like that at Raymond James Stadium in the last two decades. It was fun, it was loud, the fans were definitely hyped for this game and even caused a Cowboys mistake or two.
The pre-game celebration was unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a Buccaneers game, and I’ve been going since the Old Sombrero days. It’s been 19 years since Tampa Bay’s last Super Bowl celebration, so maybe my memory of that night is still a little foggy. I don’t remember it being like this. It was special, folks.
What I Didn’t
Buccaneers miscues. We all thought “the Bucs beating the Bucs” was out of their system, but apparently not. Tampa Bay was -3 in the turnover battle, committed 11 penalties for 106 yards, had a number of dropped passes and blown coverages. You don’t win many games playing this way and Tampa Bay wouldn’t have won this one if not for the Ray Jay Whammy getting veteran Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein.
Pieces of Eight
- You can’t belabor the point enough, this is not a recipe for success in the NFL.
Since the merger, teams are 3-31 when they’re -3 in TO battle, have the ball for less than 26 minutes (25:33 tonight for Tampa) with 100+ yards in penalties.— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 10, 2021
Only three wins? 2020 Raiders, 2016 Giants, and 1989 Lions.
Add Tampa Bay to that list. Rare indeed. https://t.co/3N9K8cUmfL
- Look, the Cowboys have a heck of an offense. Three excellent receivers, a top flight running back and a quarterback who can definitely play extremely well. I think what surprised me the most was seeing the Dallas receivers thoroughly outplay Tampa Bay’s receiving core.
While Tampa Bay’s pass catchers were popping balls up in the air and getting them intercepted, dropping passes we’ve seen them make with their eyes closed and fumbling near the goal line, Dallas’ trio were toe-tapping nabs, making diving catches, and making Jamel Dean look like he didn’t belong in the NFL. Before the game, I would have taken the Bucs trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown against any other in the league. At least for one night, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup were better.
- While Godwin was terribly inconsistent and Evans caught just 3 of his six targets, Brown flashed some of the talent that made him one of the best in the league. Brown torched the Cowboys secondary for 121 yds on 5 catches, hauling in a gorgeous 47 yard bomb from Brady to put the Bucs up 21-16.
If the Buccaneers can continue to get that consistent play from Brown (and they take care of the darn football), it’s going to be extremely difficult to stop this offense.
- Speaking of Godwin, I’m one of the biggest Chris Godwin fans anywhere. I love the kid. On Thursday night, it was feast or famine with CG. He finished the night with 105 yds on 9 receptions and a touchdown. The night could have been so much bigger for Godwin.
- Early in the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers were clinging to a two point lead and Brady put up a deep ball to Godwin who had gotten behind the Dallas defender. Godwin lost the ball not once, but twice in the lights and dropped a pass that he makes 9 times out of 10. It wiped out a huge gain and maybe even a touchdown.
Godwin would also make some big third down catches to sustain drives and help the Bucs moved the football down the field, but the famine part of the night would rear it’s ugly head again, as Godwin fought for a touchdown and fumbled the football near the goal line.
Godwin would then go from goat-to-hero again, catching a huge 24 yard reception and getting out of bounds with 24 seconds left in the game to set up Ryan Succop’s game winning 36 yd field goal.
By the way, to all the Dallas fans whining, it wasn’t an offensive pass interference. For one, that’s rarely called – it has to be a blatant push off and that wasn’t, for another, there was hand fighting on both sides, the defender could have easily been called for pass interference. The officials made a good call in letting the players decide the outcome.
- Okay, it’s now time to discuss that performance by the defense. As we mentioned earlier, the Cowboys’ receiving core is elite and Prescott is a heck of a quarterback when healthy. Add to that, the Bucs lost their starting corner Shaun Murphy-Bunting in the first quarter while already missing Jordan Whitehead in the secondary. It forced Jamel Dean into a starting role along with Ross Cockrell and Andrew Adams (fresh off the practice squad) on to the field as a nickel.
It allowed Amari Cooper to abuse Dean for three quarters before the Buccaneers waved the white flag and put Carlton Davis on Dallas’ top receiver.
The Cowboys’ gameplan was well thought out as well. They knew they couldn’t run the ball, even with Zeke Elliot. They didn’t even try, passing the ball 58 times while rushing it 18 (only 11 times with Elliot). They put the game on Dak Prescott’s shoulders and the Dallas quarterback responded going 42-of-58 for 403 yds, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Dallas helped Dak by getting the ball out of his hands quickly, neutralizing the Bucs’ rush and blitzing capability with a short passing game that wasn’t much more than a long handoff, but was extremely effective in the first game of the season, where tackling and coverage weren’t as on point as they will be later in the year.
The Cowboys knew that Dean had to respect Lamb and Cooper’s ability to go deep. Dean is a liability in press, so Tampa Bay played him off most of the game, which played right into Dallas’ short game hands. Dallas couldn’t run the ball, but the short passing attack helped them dominate time of possession and keep Tom Brady off the football field.
While I don’t believe it is some recipe for success against the Buccaneers defense, Todd Bowles will adjust to teams trying to pull that off and the Bucs defense won’t miss as many tackles as they did Thursday night, for Dallas in Week One, it almost helped them pull off the biggest upset of the 2021 opening weekend of football.
- While this column is new to Bucs Report, in other iterations readers of DLT’s Doubloons would know my biggest criticism of the 2020 Bucs was their substandard special teams. Well folks, I’m here to tell you, the Bucs may not of won this football game without their special teams unit last night.
From Bradley Pinion’s pinpoint punting that forced the Cowboys into mounting long drives that often came up empty, to Jaydon Mickens’ rise from the practice squad and excellent kick returns, to the kick and punt coverage units to Ryan Succop’s clutch game winning field goal.
It was a shockingly fantastic performance by the Buccaneers’ special teams unit and I’m here for it.
- In the end, they don’t ask you how you won, just how many you won. Bucs’ coach Bruce Arians told the media after the game, “I learned a long time ago that you don’t learn anything more from losing than you do from almost losing”.
The Buccaneers were very lucky to win this football game playing as poorly as they did. It also helps that with 1:24 left in the ball game, they had the greatest to ever do it leading them down the field for the game winning field goal.
I know many Buccaneers fans (myself included) feared the worst when Dallas took the lead late. We’ve seen that script way too many times as Buccaneers fans, haven’t we? The difference is Tom Brady. With him, you’re never out of it. 1:24 left and just one time out left (which Donovan Smith wasted on an inexcusable false start)? No problem for the G.O.A.T.
Sure, Succop still had to make the kick and let’s face it, we’ve seen that story, too. He did and the Bucs won a game they really had no business winning. They all count as one, right?
- Next week, the Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons. Let’s hope without the bright lights, pomp & circumstance, that this Bucs team will be a lot more focused and make this one a little easier on the eyes. While the Buccaneers swept the Falcons last season, Atlanta gave Tampa Bay everything they could handle in both outings. If the Bucs play the way they did on Thursday night, they may not escape this time.
Tweet of the Game
From NFL Network Field Producer and NFL Researcher Bobby Belt:
Buccaneers are the first team in NFL history to lose the turnover margin by at least 3, incur 100 penalty yards, allow 450 yards, and still win the game.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) September 10, 2021