What We Saw: Cowboys at Buccaneers

A humdinger of a game to open up the 2021 NFL season, including a game-winning drive from who else but Tom Brady!

Cowboys @ Buccaneers

Final Score: Buccaneers 31, Cowboys 29

Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

 

Football is back! And it feels good. We look forward to enjoying this season with you all. A rocking Raymond James Stadium was the venue for the season’s curtain-raiser as the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcomed the Dallas Cowboys in what turned out to be an absolute ripper of a football game that had everything for the neutral, including GRONK!

Tom Brady and the returning Dak Prescott put on a quarterback masterclass for most of the contest, with the two signal-callers combining for a whopping 782 yards, 7 passing touchdowns, and 3 turnovers. The two offenses peppered the receivers all night, ignoring the run game and limiting popular fantasy top-10 pick Ezekiel Elliot to just 11 carries and 33 yards. When Greg Zuerlein, who had missed a couple of easy field goals and an extra point earlier in the night, nailed a 48-yard field goal to put the Cowboys up 29-28 with just 1:24 to play, everyone expected a trademark Tom Brady game-winning drive to give the Bucs the win.

…and that’s exactly what happened. Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski and Chris GodwinΒ to reach the red zone with just 16 seconds to play. There were strong shouts for OPI on Godwin, who seemed to push off from Cowboys cornerback Jourdain Lewis. Ryan Succop came on and converted the 36-yard field goal to give the Bucs the glory to open the 2021 NFL season. Strap yourself in tight, folks. It’s going to be a memorable season.

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

Quarterback

 

Dak Prescott: 42/58, 403 yards, 3 TD, INT, Sack | 4 carries, 13 yards

 

Dak Prescott looks like that guy we once knew, and that is a mouthwatering prospect for the season to come. After Tom Brady put the Bucs ahead, Dak responded with a beautiful throw under pressure to hit CeeDee Lamb for a touchdown from 22 yards out. Dak was under pressure all night and showed the elite pocket awareness and pinpoint accuracy under duress that has made him a top quarterback in this league.

 

To only succumb to one sack (trying to escape Shaq Barrett on third and long to extend a drive to try and score before halftime) was a tremendous achievement for Dak, who showed terrific poise to stand in and throw intermediate to long most of the night. His only truly risky throw resulted in his only interception, however, you could argue CeeDee Lamb needs to do better to catch the ball. The throw was into traffic but it was right where Lamb should have come down with it.

 

His response was to straight back down the field for a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to Amari Cooper to bring the game back to within two points.

 

Cowboys fans, despite the loss, would have been proud of Dak and their team tonight. They showed heart, hunger, and toughness that just wasn’t there last season. Dak was the catalyst for it all. He’s in for a tremendous season.

 

Running Back

 

Ezekiel Elliot: 11 carries, 33 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 6 yards

Tony Pollard: 3 carries, 10 yards | 4 targets, 4 receptions, 29 yards

 

It was a quiet night on the ground for both teams but this one hurts for those fantasy managers who went high on Ezekiel Elliot in their drafts. It was a tough matchup anyway against a formidable Tampa defensive front, but the shootout through the air meant the Cowboys had no choice but to let Dak go off in the passing game. Still, Tony Pollard racked up more yards on half the touches and looked much nippier out of the backfield in the passing game.

Elliot had a great chance to hit paydirt on the first drive of the second half but looked indecisive and lethargic before being stopped by fresh-off-the-practice-squad cornerback Andrew AdamsΒ on a third-and-goal from the Tampa two-yard line.

 

Elliot will have better days this season for sure but this is a red flag. The Cowboys offense has averaged over 32 points allowed per game in Dak’s last five starts. Dak may look through the air rather than on the ground more often than not this season.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Amari Cooper: 16 targets, 13 receptions, 139 yards, 2 TD

CeeDee Lamb: 15 targets, 7 receptions, 104 yards, TD

Dalton Schultz: 6 targets, 6 receptions, 45 yards

Michael Gallup: 7 targets, 4 receptions, 36 yards

Cedric Wilson: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 24 yards | 1 carry, -4 yards

Blake Jarwin: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 20 yards

 

Both Amari Cooper (16 targets) and CeeDee Lamb (15 targets) were the receivers of choice for Dak today and it was electric to watch. Cooper was much more efficient with 13 receptions and was the most complete receiver on the field for either team. He is one of the best route-running outside receivers in the game and showed it throughout the night by creating separation effortlessly. He was Dak’s favorite look in the red zone.

 

Lamb, who primarily worked out of the slot last season, lined up on the outside much more which is promising for his fantasy output going forward. Lamb had some troubles with drops early in this one but made up for it with some big plays at important times for his team. His ability to change direction and accelerate from opponents is second-to-none.

 

Michael Gallup saw some increased targets after a few drops from Lamb early doors, however, he left with an ankle injury in the first half and didn’t return. A popular flex option for fantasy managers, he could miss significant time. Cedric Wilson saw more looks and looked good in limited touches.

The Cowboys tight end duo shared targets and neither looked to be in-line for a primary role. Dalton Schultz looked the more impressive of the two in the receiving game but neither can be relied upon for fantasy output.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Quarterback

 

Tom Brady: 32/50, 379 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT

 

Tom Brady was phenomenal. There are no other words. After a quick three-and-out, Brady took the soul of the Cowboys’ defense in his second drive, hitting four different receivers and going 6-of-7 for 86 yards and the dart to Chris Godwin for the score. It was pure Brady – efficient, precise, clinical.

 

The 44-year-old continues to defy the relationship between sport and age. Working within his elite receiving corps, Brady spread it around to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown with ease. There was no doubt about where he was going in the red zone, however. Gronk Spike #1!

 

Brady did throw two interceptions, although his second was from a hail mary at the end of the first half. His first was thanks to a case of butterfingers from running back Leonard Fournette.

 

A return to the Super Bowl for Brady? Are you going to say no?!

 

Running Back

 

Leonard Fournette: 9 carries, 32 yards | 7 targets, 5 receptions, 27 yards

Ronald Jones II: 4 carries, 12 yards, FUM

Giovani Bernard: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 12 yards

 

Much like the Dallas backfield, this unit saw limited action, and neither Leonard Fournette nor Ronald Jones II covered themselves in glory. Fournette was responsible for the second Bucs turnover as we just showed and Jones coughed up the ball for the first. That fumble saw him ride the bench for the rest of the night.

 

This backfield was already one to avoid and on the back of the production from this Bucs receiving unit, that verdict still stands.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Antonio Brown: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 121 yards, TD

Chris Godwin: 14 targets, 9 receptions, 105 yards, TD

Rob Gronkowski: 8 targets, 8 receptions, 90 yards, 2 TD

Mike Evans: 6 targets, 3 receptions, 24 yards

Tyler Johnson: 1 target

 

Chris Godwin season! The wideout led the team in targets with 14 and looked to be explosive down the middle of the field as Brady focussed his attack on rookie Micah Parsons. Godwin worked beautifully between the numbers and was always an early read for Brady throughout the night. He did get away with a clear offensive pass interference infraction on the game-winning drive.

 

Oh, hi Antonio Brown! It was him and not Mike Evans who saw WR2 targets behind Godwin. Brown looks in fantastic shape and his ability to lose his opponent near the sideline was obvious to everyone all game. The way he breezes past the cornerback for his touchdown is reminiscent of peak brown in Pittsburgh.

 

One receiver that disappointed in terms of fantasy output was Mike Evans. He saw the first target of the game but yielded looks to both Godwin and Brown. More worrying was that he did not see a target in the red zone. For him to reach his potential this year, he needs those looks. We should also give credit to Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs. The second-round pick from 2020, who has been a likable character on Hard Knocks, was excellent in man-coverage in this contest.

 

Gronk Spike #2! Rob Gronkowski was always going to score in this one, but a two TD haul from the veteran tight end will have fantasy owners licking their lips going into Sunday’s games. He is the best value at the tight end position already for 2021.

 

That 100th touchdown connection was yet another slice of history for two of the most decorated players in today’s game.

 

Long may it continue! (Yes, I have Gronk in a lot of leagues!)

 

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire| Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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