The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) came into Thursday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys (0-1) with all kinds of preseason expectations.
As with most life in the NFL, the Bucs had to pull out all the stops in order to win their first game of the year. It was an exciting opening night that provided plenty of action and kept both Bucs and Cowboys fans holding their collective breath until the final whistle.
Leonard Fournette received the start at running back and got the NFL season started off with a five-yard gain on the ground. Another Fournette run put the Bucs in a 3rd and 2, but Tom Brady overthrew Chris Godwin and the Bucs started the season with a three-and-out.
An excellent punt by Bradley Pinion pinned the Cowboys at their own 2, but Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper on first down for a 28-yard pass down the left sideline. It looked like the Cowboys were going to start their season with some points, but an underthrown pass to CeeDee Lamb, a Lamb drop, and then a false start on the subsequent 3rd and 10 led to a Bryan Anger punt.
Anger had success a la Pinion and pinned the Bucs at their own 6.
Ronald Jones II started the drive off with a five-yard run of his own and Mike Evans caught a 10-yard pass on the next play to give the Bucs their first first down of the game. Brady then found Rob Gronkowski over the middle for a 20-yard gain and then Antonio Brown for a 29-yard pass down the right sideline to move the Bucs into Cowboys territory.
Another completion to Brown moved the Bucs into the red zone. Brady found Godwin a couple of plays later for an eight-yard completion that gave the Bucs a 1st and goal at the Dallas 6. Brady hit Godwin on the next play for the game's first touchdown to give the Bucs a 6-0 lead. Ryan Succop hit the PAT and the Bucs led, 7-0, after a nine-play, 94-yard drive.
Prescott and the Cowboys literally threw on every play of their next drive. And with maximum success. Prescott completed all seven of his passes for 75-yards that included a highlight-worthy 22-yard touchdown pass to Lamb. The Bucs brought the blitz, but the Cowboys picked it up and Prescott sealed the deal in terms of six points. Greg Zuerlein hit the PAT, which tied the game, 7-7, with 1:35 to go in the first quarter.
Injury was added to insult as Sean Murphy-Bunting was injured on the touchdown pass. He was the primary defender on Lamb at the time.
Brady was able to find Brown for a 27-yard pass over the middle, but the drive eventually fell short after the Bucs couldn't convert a 3rd and 5 from the Dallas 40.
The Bucs decided to punt. Pinion would've pinned Dallas at their own 5 again, but a holding call forced the Bucs to punt again. Pinion provided another solid punt and the Bucs special teams was able to track down Cedrick Wilson at the Dallas 10. But an illegal block in the back ironically pinned the Cowboys back at their own 5.
Tampa Bay's defense forced its first three-and-out of the game and Dallas punted from inside its own end zone. It looked like Jaydon Mickens was going to hand the Bucs offense a drive starting at the Dallas 30, but a holding call during the punt return started the drive at midfield.
Brady and the offense faced a quick 3rd and 3, but Brady found Godwin for a 19-yard gain down to the Dallas 43. He found No. 14 again on the next play to set up a 1st and goal from the Dallas 7. Fournette carried the ball five yards to the Cowboys 2 and then Brady hit Gronk on the next play to give the Bucs a 13-7 lead. Succop hit the PAT to make it a 14-7 game with 9:48 left in the first half.
Penalties started to have their effect on the game as Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean were called for defensive pass interference and defensive holding in that respective order. The end result was a Dallas 1st and 10 at the Tampa Bay 20, but the Bucs held strong on 3rd and 3 thanks to an off throw from Prescott. Zuerlein then missed the 31-yard field goal attempt.
The Bucs still led, 14-7, with 6:36 to go in the first half.
But tragedy struck on the first play of the next drive for the Bucs. Demarcus Lawrence stripped Jones of the football and gave the Dallas offense the ball back at the Tampa Bay 27.
Tampa Bay's defense was able to force the Dallas offense into a 3rd and 8 right off the bat, but Prescott stood tall in the pocket and found Wilson for the first down. It took just two more plays for Prescott to find Cooper in the end zone, but Zuerlein missed the PAT, which enabled the Bucs to hold on to a 14-13 lead with 4:20 left in the first half.
Things became worse for the Bucs on the very first play of the next drive. Brady tried to hit Fournette on a screen, but Fournette couldn't pull it in and Trevon Diggs was right there for the interception. As a result, the Dallas offense started its drive at the Bucs 21.
Tampa's defense held strong and forced another Zuerlein field goal attempt. He hit the 31-yard attempt this time around to give Dallas a 16-14 lead.
But it didn't matter as Brady hit Brown for a 47-yard touchdown a few plays later to put the Bucs in front, 20-16. Succop's PAT went through the uprights afterward to give Tampa Bay a 21-16 lead with 2:38 left in the first half.
It looked like Dallas was going to put more points on the board, but a Shaquil Barrett sack on a 2nd and 10 and subsequent holding call on Connor Williams left the Cowboys in a punting situation at the Tampa Bay 42. As it turned out, the Cowboys elected to kick a 60-yard field goal. Zuerlein missed, which gave Brady and the Bucs offense a chance to put more points on the board before halftime.
The drive started at midfield, but the Bucs couldn't take advantage of the situation and went into halftime with a 21-16 lead. Brady was picked off for the second time as he attempted a last-second Hail Mary.
Dallas' passing attack took the reins after halftime. Prescott converted two third downs and 5-of-6 passes for 46 yards, which led the Cowboys to the Bucs 2, but the Bucs held strong to force a 21-yard field goal attempt. Zuerlein hit the attempt to make it a 21-19 game with 9:15 left in the third quarter.
The Bucs offense couldn't get anything done on the next drive, leaving the Dallas offense in prime position to take the lead.
But the Bucs defense forced an interception on first down of the referenced drive. Davis picked off Prescott as his throw went through the hands of Lamb. The Bucs took over at the Dallas 35 looking to extend the lead.
It didn't take the Bucs long to face their first third down on the drive. But it didn't matter. Brady hit Gronk over the middle on 3rd and 6 for an 11-yard touchdown and Succop hit the PAT to put the Bucs up, 28-19, with 6:23 left in the third quarter.
Ezekiel Elliott started Dallas' drive with a 13-yard run. Dallas then proceeded to pass on six of the next nine plays, with the end result being a 21-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Cooper on 3rd and 4 from the Tampa Bay 21. The drive was keyed by a seemingly-innocuous two-yard scramble by Prescott under pressure on 1st and 10 that led to a 2nd and 8 as opposed to a 2nd and 16.
A 10-yard pass to Fournette and an illegal use of hands call on Diggs brought the ball to the Bucs 35. The Bucs were then able to reach the Dallas 47 a few plays later, but an inefficient run from Fournette and two straight Brady incompletions forced the Bucs to punt the ball.
Dallas took over at its own 6-yard line down by two points, but the Bucs defense forced a three-and-out. Dallas punted and the Bucs took over at their own 37.
A one-handed catch by Gronk, a nine-yard Godwin reception, and a six-yard Brown rush led to a fantastic seven-yard reception by Fournette from a falling Brady to give the Bucs a 1st and 10 at the Dallas 34. The Bucs later faced a 3rd and 1 from the Dallas 14 and Fournette converted said down. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Godwin fumbled the ball a few plays later as he tried to get into the end zone. Jourdan Lewis recovered the fumble and. Dallas took over at its own 10 with 5:04 left in the game.
It looked as if the Bucs had the Cowboys number on a 3rd and 6 and a 3rd and 11, but a neutral zone infraction on Ndamukong Suh set up a 3rd and 1 and then a 31-yard reception by Lamb converted a 3rd and 11 to put the Cowboys at the Bucs 34 with 1:51 left in the game.
Things quickly unraveled as a 3rd and 6 from the Bucs 30 turned into a 3rd and 16 form the Bucs 40. But the 'Boys still had a chance to take the lead as Zuerlein faced a 48-yard field goal attempt to take the lead.
Zuerlein drilled it after a tough night, giving the Cowboys a 29-28 lead with 1:24 left in the game.
But the Bucs have a guy named Tom Brady at quarterback. He completed 5-of-7 passes for 62 yards to set the Bucs up with a chance to win the game on a 36-yard field goal attempt.
Sure enough, Succop banged it through to win the game, 31-29, and start the Bucs off with a 1-0 record to start the season.
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