Cowboys at Bucs score: Tom Brady spoils Dak Prescott's magical return, guides Tampa Bay to game-winning FG

What ... a ... game. If you believed the Dallas Cowboys would be roundly thumped by Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night, you couldn't have been more wrong. Sure, Dak Prescott hadn't played a snap of regular-season football in 334 days and, sure, Brady won his seventh Super Bowl 214 days ago, but the past is the past and the present is a gift -- this regular-season opener being exactly that: a gift for NFL fans worldwide. The Cowboys took the Buccaneers to the brink before their mistakes ultimately caught up with them -- Brady and Co. escaping a nail-biter with a 31-29 win at Raymond James Stadium thanks to a Ryan Succop 36-yarder with two seconds remaining.

Brady, Gronkowski and Antonio Brown simply wouldn't let the Cowboys escape their mistakes.

Heading into halftime, both teams were backing up their offseason promises of being a contender -- at least from the offensive standpoint. On one hand, you had Prescott who, after suffering a season-ending fractured ankle last October and a strained shoulder this past July that saw him rest most of August, mostly play completely out of his mind. Not to be outdone, Brady threw his own share of haymakers, but also got caught in a web of unexpected Cowboys takeaways; and that's a category Dallas has been seeking to improve in for years now. Any questions on if Prescott could regain prime form are officially dead and buried, as are any that claim Brady might finally lose a step in 2021. 

After seeing their respective opening drives stall -- the Cowboys defense forcing a clean three-and-out while their offense left the field due to drops that derailed the progress they were making -- both found the end zone and mounted a tie game at the end of the first quarter. That's when Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski went to work, adding another TD to the game's tally and daring Prescott to match serve yet again. 

From there, things got very spicy, with the Cowboys getting a total of four takeaways on the Bucs while giving up only one themselves (and INT on Prescott that was attributable more to CeeDee Lamb than the QB), in a fight that was a heavyweight bout from the moment they stepped into the ring to square off. Prescott finished with 403 yards on 42 completions with three touchdowns and the aforementioned interception -- his passer rating of 101.4 being higher than Brady, who finished with a 97.0 on 32 completions with four TDs. And even after intercepting Brady twice, they were undone by mistakes made throughout the game, and an otherwise impressive outing by the Cowboys is now nothing more than something positive to build on.

Be sure to check out the live blog below for any action you missed from an epic Week 1 clash in the NFC!

Why the Buccaneers won

Tom Brady.

I mean, I could stop there, but I'll dive in a bit deeper. Brady threw two interceptions, but he didn't care. The Buccaneers highly regarded defense let the Cowboys romp over them for 29 points (which might've been a 40 burger if not for missed opportunities) and 451 total yards of offense, but Brady didn't care. Prescott outplayed him in every category, but Brady didn't care. The Buccaneers couldn't get their running game going, but Brady didn't care. By now, you're sensing a very real theme here: Brady didn't care. All Brady cared about was having the ball in his hands with the game on the line, and he got his wish. Credit Prescott for leading the Cowboys to the brink of a massive upset over the Buccaneers, and despite Dallas' final drive being pushed back by a couple of holding penalties, putting his team in position for Greg Zuerlein to try and delete his missed boot swings with a potential game-winning field goal that he'd go on to make.

But hey, Brady didn't care about that, either. The 48-yard kick gave the Cowboys a 29-28 edge with only 1:24 remaining in regulation, and Brady took it from there. Helped by what will go down as a controversial non-call (see below) that helped set the Buccaneers up for their own potential game-winning field goal that actually did materialize as just that, Succop took the field and showed Zuerlein that it's not about how many field goals you make in a game, it's about how many you don't miss. Succop had only one field goal attempt the entire game, and he made it. Because like Brady, having seen Zuerlein finally get some mojo back with less than two minutes remaining, Succop didn't care.

Snap. Hold. Kick. Good. 

And just like that, the Bucs escape talk of a possible Super Bowl hangover -- which is all they care about.

Why the Cowboys lost

Simply put, the Bucs didn't let the Cowboys heal from the list of self-inflicted wounds while doing just that themselves. As noted above, it's not the Buccaneers played perfect football. They lost the turnover margin (-3), had six fewer first downs, four fewer third-down conversions, had 20 fewer total yards of offense, fewer passing yards, fewer rushing yards, three more penalties, and lost the time of possession battle by nearly 10 minutes. Seeing this, you're probably trying to un-spaghetti your noodle and figure out how Brady pulled it off. Well, with the help of Gronkowski's two touchdowns and another two combined between Brown and Chris Godwin (who put up a total 226 receiving yards on the Cowboys secondary -- mainly aimed at veteran cornerback Anthony Brown), and some key plays on the final drive of the game, the Buccaneers would simply never lay down and die.

Ultimately, the Cowboys lost by two points, having left a minimum of four points on the field by missed kicks alone. That was exacerbated by drops from Lamb, the normally stellar wideout sensation who admittedly made big plays to help balance out his performance, but it was all one drop of blood on the carpet too many. So when Brady had the ball in his hands with time to mount a game-winning drive, he did what usually does, and mounted a game-winning drive.

There's a lot of positives to take away from this game if you're the Cowboys -- from literal takeaways to the performance of Prescott and Cooper in their return from injury and more -- but this one will sting going forward. The question now is will they use it as bulletin board material going forward? Because they should, considering how close they came to shocking the world in Week 1, and knowing it took a laundry list of errors to guarantee a two-point loss on the road against Tommy Legend. 

Turning point 

There were several turning points in this game for both teams, but the one you'll see argued this entire week (and maybe longer) is the following, when Godwin extends his arms to create space against Jourdan Lewis and reel in the catch that ultimately set up the game-winning kick by Succop. If this is called for offensive pass interference, the Buccaneers are backed up into Cowboys territory with a loss of downs and precious seconds burned off of the clock. 

Would Brady have still found a way to make magic happen? 

Quite possibly, but the world will never know, making this non-call the most pivotal point in helping (key word: helping) to decide the outcome. The Cowboys achieved the rest by waffling between great football and bad football.

Play of the Game 

How in the world?!

On second-and-4 from the Cowboys 41-yard line and holding on to a narrow two-point lead with under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Dallas had a chance to really punch Brady in the bread basket with what nearly turned into the first career interception for rookie first-round pick Micah Parsons, but instead turned into a completion to Leonard Fournette for a first down that extended a critical drive in the game. Luckily for the Cowboys, they'd force another fumble against the Buccaneers in the end zone on the very same drive that then gave Prescott a chance to give Zuerlein a chance to make amends, but it was for naught.

Seeing Brady make this throw, and while contorting awkwardly on the way to the ground, was a pretty good indicator the football gods were going to find a way to make sure he got the 'W.'

Dak wants a rematch

"We'll see y'all again." -- Dak Prescott to Tom Brady after the game, via NFL UK

What's next

The Cowboys reload and try to bounce back when they travel across the country to face the Los Angeles Chargers, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to string together wins when they play host to their NFC South rivals in the Atlanta Falcons.

Live updates
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Tom Brady continues to amaze

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Tom Brady is doing Tom Brady things right now.

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When he needs it the most, Zuerlein has his best kick of the night! Cowboys now up 29-28 with 1:24 to go.

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CeeDee Lamb making up for his drops with some BIG catches to help Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott in crunch time. 

September 10, 2021, 3:36 AM
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@NFL via Twitter
September 10, 2021, 3:31 AM
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Oh boy! Another Buccaneers turnover. Chris Godwin tried to fight for extra yards near the end zone and coughs up the football. Cowboys will now have just under five minutes to get within field goal range to take the lead. Buckle up.

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More history for TB12!

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Leonard Fournette completely bailed Tom Brady out. Terrible decision to throw it there and Fournette was not only able to bring it in, but get the first down.

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Michael Gallup is questionable to return with an ankle injury. NBC cameras showed him on the sideline with his helmet off. Was having a solid game to this point, catching four of his seven targets for 36 yards.

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Back-to-back bad drops by Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Evans' would have moved the chains for a first down while Godwin's likely would have resulted in a touchdown. Not the best turn of events when you're only up by two. Massive drive coming up for Dak and the Cowboys.

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Vegas completely underestimated how ready Dak Prescott would be for the opener. He's crushed the Over on a ton of his props: Passing TDs, passing yards, rushing yards, pass attempts, completions all hit.

And we are just starting the fourth quarter.

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I don't believe Ronald Jones has seen the field since his fumble.

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Nearing end of Quarter 3: 

Dak - 35/47, 331 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT (on the WR, not him), 105.9 rating 

Brady - 18/29, 258 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 101.7 rating

September 10, 2021, 3:01 AM
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Dak is BALLING OUT! If he even plays half as good as he has tonight for the rest of the season, he'll have CPOY locked up.

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