The first of the NFL’s 272 regular season games this season – a new record as the league expands to a schedule of 17 games for each team – stands in after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday the books kick off 2021 in Tampa.
Given the result, it’s pretty obvious to anyone who the top winners and losers of the Week 1 opening match was. But let’s not stop there! It just takes a little extra digging to reveal several other Ws and Ls from the first NFL game to be counted in more than seven months.
Tom Brady: What else is new? The guy with seven Super Bowl rings orchestrated a game-winning field goal drive on the Bucs’ last possession, marching 57 yards in an 82-second-yard line. Brady is now 15-4 all-time in Week 1, the most wins during the NFL’s inaugural weekend during the Super Bowl era (since 1966). TB12 is also 6-0 all-time against Dallas.
Dak Prescott: In his first game action since sustaining an ankle injury that turned his stomach on October 11 – one that ended his 2020 season prematurely and required multiple surgeries – he was spectacular. Statistically, Prescott outperformed Brady, throwing 403 yards, three TDs, and finishing with a 101.4 passer rating. It was the eighth 400-yard passing game in Prescott’s six-year career, one less than any other Dallas quarterback … combined. Not the result he was hoping for, but plenty of reason to be optimistic given all the questions about Prescott’s leg (and the throwing shoulder he injured during training camp) in this game.
Rob Gronkowski: The greatest tight end in NFL history – yes, that’s right – grabbed a pair of TDs, giving him 10 season openers of all time, most in league history in his position. Gronk also impaled Brady passes with one hand on his way to eight receptions (for 90 yards) and generally looked like a 26-year-old version of himself.
Cowboys WRs: Dallas’s CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper claimed early on that they are now the league’s top reception duo, combining for 20 receptions, 243 yards and three TDs.
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Ryan Succop: The Tampa Bay (fully vaccinated) kicker recently returned from a fight with COVID-19 but nailed the game-winning 36-yard field goal with 2 seconds to go.
Buccaneers playoff chances: Since 1978, when the NFL expanded their schedule to 16 games, 53% of the teams that won their opener qualified for the playoffs and 32% secured the division title. All eight 2020 division winners won their first game, as did 11 of the 14 teams that qualified for last season’s postseason field. And for those of you who have suggested the Bucs could go 20-0 on their way to a Super Bowl replay? Maybe.
Brady the Pitchman: I guess he had to bake more bread since his wife makes cheddar. Now TB12 is selling Subway bread … in a spectacular way.
Brady the Pitchman: On Thursday night Brady also tried to sell me cryptocurrency – with the help of his wife Gisele Bündchen. I was totally into a foot-long sub … until this egregious overreach. Now I’m saving my hard-earned one to buy a pair of Air Jordans, like the blue and silver 1s that new Jumpman rep Prescott rocked in Tampa.
The cowboys’ playoff chances: Since 1978, when the NFL expanded their schedule to 16 games, only 24% of teams that started 0-1 have made it into the postseason and only 14% have won the division crowns. At least Dallas is playing in NFC East, the worst league in the league a year ago, a trend that could well last until 2021. Still, three teams reached the playoffs last season after losing in week 1.
Dallas Defense: New D like the old D? Welp … On the plus side, a unit recreated by new coordinator Dan Quinn forced four turnovers, including two interceptions from Brady. But the Cowboys failed to fire TB12, giving up an unsightly 6.7 yards per game and collapsing after being put on a 29:28 lead with less than 90 seconds of play. Dallas allowed the worst 473 points in 2020 – 29.6 per game – and is starting the 2021 season with the surrender of 31 more. In fairness it has to be said that the Cowboys may not face as good an opponent as Tampa Bay, but still a daunting start given the possibility of stealing such a big win on the road.
Running backs: Where were you? Cowboys and Bucs Backs combined to run 93 yards with 27 carries, or 3.4 per try, with Tampa’s Ronald Jones II pitching a Dallas TD in the second quarter with a fumble deep in the back of the Buccaneers field. In the scrimmage game that followed, teammate Leonard Fournette saw the ball ricochet off his hands and get into the grip of cowboys CB Trevon Diggs. The absence of All-Pro Dallas G Zack Martin (COVID-19) certainly did Ezekiel Elliott (playing at 33 rushing yards) a disservice.
Drew Brees: Imagine you’re new to this show, # 9, but we’re going to need more than the NBC halftime table cowboys “have to do to score” touchdowns. Captain of the Holy> Captain Obviously.
Tyler Biadasz: Dallas new center won’t enjoy checking its tape against the 347-pound Bucs DL Vita Vea. Offensive linemen should serve pancakes, not eat them. Advice, Tyler? Sit next to G Connor Williams in the movie room … he wasn’t much better.
Public safety? The way we want to see venues crowded, it’s still staggering to see Raymond James Stadium filled with fans who received only one recommendation to wear a mask – advice was ignored en masse. The pandemic is far from over, and given that Florida has done little – politically and practically – to contain it, one has to wonder at the potential for yet another pointless super-spreader.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.