Tom Brady engineered a dramatic final drive and Ryan Succop kicked a last-gasp field goal as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 in a NFL season-opening thriller on Thursday.
Succop drilled a 36-yard field goal with just seven seconds remaining as the reigning Super Bowl champions opened their title defense with a close victory at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs got into into field goal range after a clutch final drive from Brady, the 44-year-old quarterback who is embarking on the 22nd season of his age-defying career.
After a Greg Zuerlein field goal put the Cowboys ahead 29-28, Brady and the Bucs took over on their own 25 with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining.
Brady, as calm and cool as ever, moved Tampa Bay up the field, with a couple of crucial completions to tight end Rob Gronkowski, before a 24-yard pass to Chris Godwin put the Bucs into field goal range.
“Everyone was pretty poised, we’d actually worked pretty hard at that during training camp so it’s good that situation came up,” Brady said afterwards.
“There’s a lot to improve on, Ryan made a huge kick at the end, and defense made some really big stops. But we’ve got to get back to work.”
Brady finished with 379 passing yards and threw four touchdowns in a vintage performance from the seven-time Super Bowl champion.
Two of Tampa Bay’s touchdowns came via Brady’s close friend and former New England Patriots teammate Gronkowski.
“We’ve played together a long time,” Brady said afterwards. “We have a lot of tools in our toolbox.”
The defeat was hard on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who was playing his first competitive game since a horrific leg injury last year caused him to miss almost the entire 2020 season. Prescott threw for 403 passing yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring on its second possession, with Brady finding Godwin from five yards after a 94-yard drive.
Prescott responded to the challenge with a confident drive of his own, taking the Cowboys 75 yards for a touchdown over seven plays with CeeDee Lamb scoring on a 22-yard completion.
The Bucs regained the lead early in the second quarter when Brady found Gronkowski in the end zone from close range after a 50-yard drive to make it 14-7.
Dallas once again remained unfazed, responding with a touchdown from receiver Amari Cooper before Zuerlein’s field goal put the Cowboys up 16-14.
Brady and the Bucs responded with a touchdown for receiver Antonio Brown to make it 21-16 at the break.
Zuerlein’s second field goal early in the third quarter cut the deficit to 21-19, but a costly interception from Prescott allowed Tampa Bay to take control with a second Brady-to-Gronkowski touchdown at 28-19.
Dallas hit back with a 10-play drive that ended with a TD pass to Amari Cooper to make it 28-26.
Tampa Bay then squandered a chance to put the game out of reach when Godwin fumbled near the end zone.
That gave Dallas the chance to take the lead through Zuerlein’s late field goal, but Brady and the Bucs’ late rally denied the Cowboys a win.
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