Tom Brady threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns, helping the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the NFL season with a mistake-filled 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.
With seats in a NFL stadium filled to full capacity for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Ryan Succop won it with a 36-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. Brady set the victory up with a last-minute drive directed on the same field where the Bucs won the Super Bowl in February.
For Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl winner, it was the 300th regular-season start in his sparkling 22-year career, a record for a quarterback. The 44-year-old also joined Drew Brees as the only players to throw for 300-plus yards in a game 100 times.
Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown caught first-half touchdown passes for the Bucs, who extended their winning streak to nine games dating to last December. Brady’s second TD pass of the night to Gronkowski put the champs up 28-19. Succop’s field goal came after Greg Zuerlein put the Cowboys ahead with a 48-yarder with 1:24 to go.
Dak Prescott threw for 403 yards and three TDs for Dallas in his first game since suffering a severe injury ankle that ended his 2020 season after just five games. The sixth-year pro didn’t play in the preseason after straining his right shoulder early in training camp, and limitations on his throwing weren’t lifted until about two weeks before the opener.
The Cowboys have never beaten Brady, who improved to 6-0 against them, with five of the victories coming during his historic 20-year run with the New England Patriots.
But Prescott, with help from a revamped Dallas defense that forced a fumble and intercepted a pass that glanced off Leonard Fournette’s hands to set up a touchdown and field goal, pushed the defending champs to the limit before 65,566 fans.
Ultimately, though, Brady made the Cowboys pay for kicking woes that contributed to Dallas only scoring 16 points in the opening half. In addition to missing a 31-yard field goal, Zuerlein had an extra point clank off the left upright in the second quarter.
Seven of the Cowboys’ first eight possessions either started or ended in Tampa Bay territory, yet Prescott still faced a nine-point deficit before Dallas pulled within 28-26 on Amari Cooper’s 21-yard scoring reception with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.
Cooper finished with 13 catches for 139 yards, including a five-yard TD catch in the second quarter. CeeDee Lamb had a 22-yard scoring reception for the Cowboys, who finished 6-10 with Prescott missing the final 11 games of last season.
Brady completed 32 of 50 passes and was intercepted twice, one on a desperation pass at the end of the first half. Ronald Jones and Chris Godwin also lost fumbles, with the latter’s mistake preventing the Bucs from putting away the game in the closing minutes.
Brown had five receptions for 121 yards, including a 43-yard TD before halftime. Godwin had nine catches for 105 yards, but fumbled at the Cowboys one-yard line to stop a potential clinching drive before Prescott drove Dallas to Zuerlein’s go-ahead field goal.