Here we are. The first "morning after" discussion of the Bucs' -and the NFL's- season.
The matchup with Dallas was an exciting one. There were points, big plays, suspense, and a game-winning field goal. If that doesn't spell football to a "T", then I don't know what does.
Hopefully this post can be as thrilling as last night's game, but that's OK if it's not. There are 16 more opportunities to perfect the craft.
Let's dive in to the first postgame takeaways of the 2021 season.
5. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady
I mean, this is just wild. Brady is not of this world.
Brady looked as he always does on Thursday night: great. He was making crisp throws, good reads, and completed 5-of-7 passes for 62 yards on the game-winning drive before throwing the ball away three times to preserve the clock. His final stat line read as such: 32-of-50, 379 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. The numbers would've looked a lot better if it weren't for the last three throws of the game, if Leonard Fournette catches the bobbled screen pass, and if Jourdan Lewis doesn't intercept the Hail Mary at the end of halftime.
It was pretty much a perfect night from Brady and what we are used to seeing from him on a consistent basis. If the Bucs didn't have him as their quarterback, then it's safe to say Thursday night ends up being a loss for the defending champs.
4. Penalties and mistakes galore
Four turnovers and 11 penalties for 106 yards is pretty much a death sentence in the NFL, but somehow the Bucs were able to overcome their mistakes against the Cowboys.
(cough, thanks Tom, cough).
It's very possible that some first-game jitters were at play. The Bucs had a similar stat line in last year's opener against the Saints. Tampa Bay finished that game with a (-3) turnover margin and nine penalties for 103 yards in what became a 34-23 loss. Things came to a head during the Week 5 matchup in Chicago after the Bucs tacked on 11 penalties for 109 yards, but the Bucs corrected course afterward and didn't have much issue with penalties from that point on.
The Bucs know they can't do this and win games on a consistent basis. It's just not going to happen. And you can certainly throw out a shot at another Super Bowl title if this doesn't get cleaned up.
"Obviously, not pleased with the start of the game," Bruce Arians told reporters after the game. "Loved the finish, our guys are winners. They’re going to finish and they’re going to win, but we can play better and not put ourselves in that situation. Obviously, there’s turnovers, penalties, things we can improve on but our guys fought and won the game."
We'll see what happens next week when the Falcons come to town.
3. The secondary still has questions to answer
Yes, the trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup are going to give opposing secondaries fits. Especially with Dak Prescott in the fold. Things will get even better once Zack Martin hops off the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
However, the Bucs secondary was the defensive weakness on Thursday night. Prescott tore them to pieces en route to 391 net passing yards and three touchdowns. The versatility of Lamb and Cooper was a major problem all night as both receivers finished with a combined 20 receptions for 243 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 31 targets.
The Bucs have the talent to improve and get better, but accomplishing such will be much tougher if Sean Murphy-Bunting is out for an extended period of time. The third-year corner dislocated his elbow defending Lamb during Dallas' first touchdown. Arians said after the game that he thinks SMB is going to be okay, but that was a pretty gruesome-looking injury.
The secondary was the biggest question on the defense coming into the season and Week 1 did nothing to quell said question, despite the matchup. It will be interesting to see how this unit plays as the season wears on.
2. Rob Gronkowski is drinking from Brady's Fountain of Youth
Whatever it is that Brady does to keep play at an elite level has apparently trickled down to Gronk, because Gronk looked fantastic on Thursday night.
We are far away removed from 2020's Week 1-4 Gronk back. It was clear last year that he was getting back into football shape, but that's not the case anymore. If he can stay healthy, then expect a big year from Mr. Tuddie.
"Gronk is in the best shape he’s been in, in a few years," Arians said. "They [he and Brady] have that history. He [Gronkowski] doesn’t have to be looking, Tom is going to throw it at the back of his head, and [Gronkowski] knows it’s probably coming there. It’s unbelievable chemistry that they have for a long time.”
1. Special special teams
The most overlooked aspect of football came through in the biggest way for the Bucs on Thursday night. Keith Armstrong's unit is a major reason why Tampa Bay is 1-0 right now.
"Special teams were outstanding," Arians said. "I thought special teams won the game for us today. Mick (Jaydon Mickens) did a hell of a job. Kickers did a great job. Offense and defense had spurts. Nothing that I would want to see, but stuff that we can work on.”
Ryan Succop looked unflappable and Jaydon Mickens did work returning kicks and punts. Tampa's drives started at their own 33, on average, largely due to Mick. Bradley Pinion had a helluva game, as well, pinning Dallas inside its own 10 on multiple occasions. He also finished with a 45.8-yard net average, which would have led the NFL in 2020.
On the other side, we saw how bad special teams play can lose a game. Greg Zuerlein did not have a good night. He missed two field goals (one was a 60-yard attempt) and a PAT, which wound up being the difference in the two-point loss.
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