Brady Outduels Prescott on Opening Night

Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons
Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Compiled by Vincent Verhei

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

We start, as is now tradition, with this Opening Night special.

Dallas Cowboys 29 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

Scott Spratt: If 76% of "America" picks the Bucs to win, what is their actual likelihood to win? The Cowboys are a public team, but does GOAT status offer a betting trump card?

Bryan Knowles: I still wish we were opening the season with Buccaneers-Bills; I feel like the Cowboys jumped Buffalo in the Week 1 Tampa Bay queue because of that public status.

Ah well. I'll take football any way I can get it.

J.P. Acosta: It’s America’s team vs America’s QB.

Scott Spratt: That quick handoff to Ezekiel Elliott on a third-and-1 was a wild choice. The Bucs are the reigning No. 1 run defense by DVOA. I'm not convinced that was a first down as ruled.

J.P. Acosta: I thought he got it on second effort.

Aaron Schatz: He ran into Jason Pierre-Paul's back and somehow snaked forward enough to convince the refs he had the first down before his knee hit the ground.

Cale Clinton: It’s so nice to see Dak Prescott back on the field. His injury robbed us of a potentially historic season. NBC just flashed Dak’s stats from his first five weeks of play in 2020. 1,800-plus yards in five games is jaw-dropping pace.

Prescott has picked up right where he left off. First pass of the game was a strike to Amari Cooper for 28 yards.

J.P. Acosta: He looks real comfortable back there. Throwing strikes.

Aaron Schatz: Prescott looks very comfortable, and looked very good until the underthrown pass to CeeDee Lamb. Then the Bucs pressure got to Prescott on third-and-15 after the entire line jumped.

J.P. Acosta: LOVE that blitz by Todd Bowles, immediately testing the Zack Martin hole.

J.P. Acosta: Dan Quinn already going into a lot of looks for Micah Parsons as a pass-rusher.

Scott Spratt: Is Quinn the NFL's version of AAAA? Overqualified to be a coordinator but can't hit MLB pitching ... err, be a head coach?

J.P. Acosta: Him and Vic Fangio.

Aaron Schatz: There are a lot of guys like that, Scott. Norv Turner, for example.

Scott Spratt: Actually I'll nominate Anthony Lynn, too. Not Todd Bowles. He's going to be a good head coach when he gets another shot at it.

Bryan Knowles: Well, small sample size and all, but Vince's prediction that this would be the year Tom Brady turns into a pumpkin isn't off to the best start.

J.P. Acosta: RPO Glance out of a condensed set for the touchdown. Easy money.

Scott Spratt: Keep at it, Vince. No one beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.

J.P. Acosta: Brady’s arm looked stronger than Dak on that drive

Tom Gower: Isn't Wade Phillips the ur-example of that type?

One of the fun things about NFL games is finding the pigeon. Noah Brown seemed to be a particular target of Brady on the drive for the opening score, while on the touchdown it was manipulating Micah Parsons to get him out of the throwing lane. With the corner guarding against Chris Godwin releasing outside, taking away his inside help is like stealing.

Carl Yedor: Looked like Micah Parsons (I think I had the jersey number right) was put in a bind there and couldn't get in the throwing lane in time to disrupt the pass to Godwin. Easy money for Brady, especially when Godwin has the additional help for his release from motioning across the formation.

J.P. Acosta: The run fake held him up good.

J.P. Acosta: Cowboys going to a lot of Pony personnel to create mismatches with the linebackers.

Aaron Schatz: I really like the game Kellen Moore is calling. Had the receiver completely open on that first Dak Prescott pass from empty. I loved the Tony Pollard fake-flipback run. The pony personnel. Moving the three receivers around so they're all in all three receiver spots. Good stuff.

Bryan Knowles: I haven't been impressed with Prescott's arm strength so far tonight, but his accuracy and touch are there, and his mobility doesn't seem to be impacted from the ankle. That was a pretty shot to Lamb for the tying touchdown, and I enjoyed the play design, as well. Fake those meaningless screens!

More meaningful might be Sean Murphy-Bunting on the ground. Tampa Bay brought all 22 starters back; they may not get them all out of the first quarter of Week 1. We were somewhat concerned about their potential depth coming into the year, right?

Scott Spratt: Sean Murphy-Bunting is still down after that CeeDee Lamb touchdown. Injuries may be the only thing that can stop the Bucs this season after they returned all of their starters from a team that had the fewest adjusted games lost last year.

Derrik Klassen: Only thing not *fully* there yet with Dak Prescott is the arm strength. Everything else looks phenomenal. Pocket management, timing, poise—just does not look like someone who missed almost a full season. Hope that arm strength gets back to 100% sooner rather than later.

J.P. Acosta: Throwing the entire playbook at Tampa Bay.

J.P. Acosta: Yeah I thought it looked alright first drive but on the slant in Drive 2 I saw a definite dip in velocity.

Cale Clinton: The amount of weapons on this Bucs offense is downright silly. Put your best corners on Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and you run the risk of Antonio Brown gashing you for 71 yards on three catches.

J.P. Acosta: If AB is anywhere near 2015-2016 AB then it’s wraps.

Vincent Verhei: 7-7 at the end of the first quarter with the Bucs about to punt. My favorite play so far was Dallas' touchdown on the fake WR screen that turned into a go route. As the guy who writes our DVOA by route series, I fully endorse faking something bad to run something good instead.

Aaron Schatz: There was one point where we did a list of the league leaders in DYAR on short passes (up to 15 air yards) and then another list on deep passes (16 or more air yards). Antonio Brown was No. 1 on both lists for whatever season that was, and nobody else was in the top 10 for both.

Carl Yedor: I don't think we can truly say football is back until we have multiple penalties on the same special teams sequence.

J.P. Acosta: I don't know if I like that decision to run the ball there, felt like Dak was in a rhythm.

Dave Bernreuther: My thoughts through the first quarter will kick off with—what else?—two uniform comments.

First: this Cowboys set might be the most under-the-radar excellent uniform in all of sports. The only thing that *might* make it better would be if the inside of the numbers were the same light grey as the sleeve stripes, leaving a white border. They should wear these all the time. They're fantastic.

Second: I won't go so far as to side with Tom Brady, whose job it is to study film and know his opponents ... but I will definitely say that I can see his point. These new number rules take some getting used to. An 18 running around on defense? Leonard Fournette in a quarterback's number? I don't like it. I need an adult.

Beyond that, I think my biggest observation is just how nice it is to see Dak Prescott back. He's *just* a touch behind his guys, and missing that first deep throw to Lamb (before the drop) hurt badly, but you expect such things after this long without any snaps at true game speed. He looks very comfortable, even as the pocket collapses, and has so far made all the right decisions. The perfect timing will come, possibly by the second half. He looks great, and I was happy to see them get on the board on their second chance after Lamb's early drop.

It's unfair to judge Mike McCarthy after last year, with both an aborted offseason and a quarterback injury, but all those preseason puff pieces about how much he learned and changed didn't really come true in 2020. Through two drives of 2021, though ... he and Moore have definitely changed their look. They're really stretching the Bucs defense horizontally and while it'd take an all-22 session to really check out the route combinations, so far they seem to be getting guys open at all levels. We'll see how things look as the season develops, but for a guy with a rep for maybe not necessarily setting his quarterback up for success, that was an A+ first quarter.

Cale Clinton: As impressive as Brady and Dak have looked in this first quarter, how about these punters?? Bradley Pinion kicked things off (*ba dum tssh*) with a perfect 65-yard punt that pinned Dallas at their own 2-yard line. Bryan Anger answered by pinning Tampa Bay at their own 6. Pinion nearly had another inside the 2-yard-line, but the punt was called back after a penalty. His follow-up still landed at the 5-yard-line. I love me a special teams battle.

J.P. Acosta: Pinion? More like Pin-Them-Deep-In-Their-Own-Territory.

Scott Spratt: Pinion is a better name for a punter than Blewitt is for a placekicker.

Carl Yedor: Something to monitor from someone who used to work for the Eagles:

J.P. Acosta: Taunting rule sucks. Throw it away.

J.P. Acosta: If Dan Quinn is gonna keep putting Parsons in coverage, it’s gonna be a long night.

Aaron Schatz: Cowboys defense is absolutely getting killed by play-action tonight.

Scott Spratt: Tampa Bay used play action on just 19.9% of their pass plays in 2020, fourth-fewest in football. If they're going to add that to the mix this season like they have a bunch in the first half, then man, bad news other teams.

J.P. Acosta: Putting Parsons and Jaylon Smith in the Phantom Zone.

Tom Gower: Earlier in the game, I thought the pigeon was going to be Noah Brown. After the Bucs drive to make it 14-7, it looks very much like using motion to get Micah Parsons everywhere but the throwing lane in the middle of the field. A definite "welcome to the NFL" night for the rookie.

J.P. Acosta: Dan Quinn has gotta let him be a blitzer.

Cale Clinton: Tampa Bay got off to a slow start to start their 2020 season, but through about 20 minutes of 2021 action, Rob Gronkowski is hot out of the gate. Three catches for 26 yards and a touchdown so far in this one.

For reference, it took Gronk until Week 3 to reach three receptions and 26 yards in 2020. He didn’t see his first touchdown until Week 6.

Bryan Knowles: Speaking of that, that was the 85th time Brady has hit Gronk for a regular season touchdown, tying Steve Young-to-Jerry Rice for third all-time. Catching Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison (112) is likely out of the question, but that's just the regular season.

Brady-to-Gronk now has 99 touchdowns if you include the postseason, putting Manning-to-Harrison (114) in a much more doable reach. Which brings me to my point: how the hell did Marvin Harrison only have two postseason touchdown catches in his career?

Scott Spratt: Mike "Idiot Kicker" Vanderjagt?

Rivers McCown: Bryan, you don't want to know how many comments that question will launch.

Bryan Knowles:We're all about engagement here, Rivers.

Rivers McCown: Speaking of Vanderjagt...

J.P. Acosta: Buddy kicked that one to Disney World.

Bryan Knowles:I think Greg Zuerlein's honked field goal there would have missed even if you had two sets of goalposts placed side by side. That went left in a hurry.

J.P. Acosta: RoJo in midseason form.

Bryan Knowles:Well, that might end Ronald Jones' time in the backfield tonight, as DeMarcus Lawrence comes in and punches the ball out. No harm from that missed figgie, as the Cowboys are right back in scoring position.

Scott Spratt: Leonard Fournette has one fumble in the last three seasons.

J.P. Acosta: Dak’s shoulder might be a bigger problem than we believed…

Bryan Knowles: Dak may not have an arm—that deep shot to the end zone was a flutterer. Dak may not have legs—his scramble out to the left was a shadow of what we have seen him do in the past. But even still, Dak is so much better than anything Andy Dalton gave last year. The poise to scoop up the low snap and still find Cooper for the touchdown was some fantastic work. And then of course Zuerlein doinks the extra point. I think we may have our first Loser League-worthy performance!

Aaron Schatz: The mental stuff is all still high quality, and the short passes. The longer passes to the sidelines look a bit weak.

J.P. Acosta: Everything else is there for him today. Absolutely cooking in every other aspect of the position.

Tom Gower: Sheil Kapadia points out on Twitter that through the Cowboys' drive that should have tied the score at 14 in the second quarter, all of Dak's passes not to CeeDee Lamb have been completed. 17-for-17 for 148 yards, only 2-for 7 targeting Lamb.

Bryan Knowles: Tom Brady was so confused by seeing defenders wearing single-digit numbers, he bounced the ball off of Leonard Fournette's hands and right to Trevon Diggs for the interception!

Fournette can take a seat next to Ronald Jones before Bruce Arians turns puce.

J.P. Acosta: Giovani Bernard might see the rest of the snaps.

Scott Spratt: Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones were both top-five among running backs dropping 16.3% and 15.2% of their catchable targets in 2020. Get my guy Giovani Bernard out there.

J.P. Acosta: Again, if AB is gonna do this consistently it’s a WRAP.

Bryan Knowles: Antonio Brown just absolutely torched Anthony Brown for at least the second time today. It's good to see Dallas' secondary in midseason form.

Rivers McCown: Looking forward to the Dallas defense turning it around after Week 6, as is Dan Quinn's tradition

Scott Spratt: Did the Bucs just score 21 points in a half with two turnovers? Yikes.

Cale Clinton: Dallas getting inside the red zone three times and coming away with nine points (one field goal, one touchdown with a missed extra point) really feels like something that’ll come back to haunt the Cowboys later. When they’re not turning it over, Tampa Bay looks like they can basically score at will on this Dallas defense.

J.P. Acosta: So outside of *gestures hands wildly*, where does AB rank among wide receivers all time? He’s definitely top five of this generation. Carl Yedor: When you don't have the personnel to make those Seattle-style single-high schemes work, success on that side of the ball becomes really turnover-dependent. Having watched up close in 2018, 2019, and early 2020 when Seattle's defense simply didn't have the dudes around Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to make it happen, those defenses were incredibly reliant on making big plays in high-leverage situations. The Cowboys have two turnovers tonight that provided them with great field position for two scoring drives, but hoping the Buccaneers continue making mistakes seems like a losing strategy. A touchdown drive here could give Dallas the lead at half, but Tampa has been dicing them up thus far.

Bryan Knowles: Now, hold on a second. Jamel Dean just got flagged for pass interference and a facemask, which WAS the pass interference. (It wasn't a facemask, but that's neither here nor there). The refs enforced both penalties. You can get penalized twice for the same act? I had no idea.

Cale Clinton: The Buccaneers’ own errors are really allowing Dallas to stick around. On top of the fumble and the interception, Tampa Bay has already racked up six penalties for 69 yards before the two-minute warning. Granted, that most recent facemask call was a little soft, but there have been a lot of unforced errors tonight.

Aaron Schatz: Somebody please explain the Cowboys trying a 60-yard field goal when Brady would still have time on the clock once he gets the ball back?

Bryan Knowles: Erm. I love seeing long-bomb field goals as much as the next guy, but a 60-yard attempt, from a kicker having a bad night, with time for two plays left for Tampa Bay at midfield, seems like terrible game management, right? One of the rare times I was calling for the punt.

Cale Clinton: Ben Baldwin’s 4th Down Decision Bot favored the decision to punt, but only barely.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what you do at fourth-and-31 with 15 seconds left in the half, but I’m sure Baldwin’s bot doesn’t have a Tom Brady variable included in its system.

J.P. Acosta: That felt like an attempted confidence shot by McCarthy, but from 60 yards out it’s dumb.

Tom Gower: Bucs up 21-16 at the half.

One striking thing about the first half is that Tampa Bay had eight possessions (including the short one after the silly 60-yard field goal attempt) and Dallas had seven. That's a particularly large number. I remember the AFC Championship Game last year, the Chiefs only had seven effective possessions in the entire game. It seems like the Buccaneers offense has been particularly strong minus the Jones fumble and Fournette drop turned interception, but they did punt a couple of times.

The halftime evaluation of Dak Prescott is the stuff other than his ability to throw the ball has looked really good, but that ability to throw the ball thing is pretty important for a quarterback! I did a quick check of the play-by-play, and all of his throws listed as "deep" have been to the left side of the field, nothing to the middle or to the right. I don't think that's likely to be purely defense-oriented, but is plausibly based on how well Prescott is able to throw the ball based on his body position. I'll try to keep an eye in the second half open for any attempts to throw more than 8 or 10 yards downfield to the right side.

J.P. Acosta: Bucs are gonna start jumping those short routes and they’ll get a turnover off of it.

Vincent Verhei: I'm pleasantly shocked at how pass-wacky Dallas was in the first half. Only seven runs. Their receivers vs. Tampa Bay's defensive backs is the best matchup in their favor on that side of the ball. Might as well make the most of that.

J.P. Acosta: Dak is so good under pressure.

Scott Spratt: Specifically, Prescott had -8.2% passing DVOA under pressure in his healthy 2019 season. Only Lamar Jackson (5.5%) and Patrick Mahomes (-0.5%) were better.

Bryan Knowles: So, Dallas attempts the 60-yard field goal at the end of the half rather than punting, but then attempts a 21-yard field goal rather than going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 3, down five points.

Mike McCarthy's fourth-down chart is just an index card that says "FIELD GOAL", isn't it?

Scott Spratt: McCarthy's analytics boot camp was the greatest marketing campaign in sports history.

Scott Spratt: This guy is having a bad night so far.

Dave Bernreuther: I take back the nice things I said about him earlier. This was vintage McCarthy.

You’re trailing in the second half on the road against the defending champs and the only way you have stopped them so far is because they made their own mistakes. TRY TO SCORE POINTS.

(Several expletives deleted.)

Aaron Schatz: Just to go back to the 60-yard field goal, I'm very surprised but the EdjSports model had this as the right decision, by 2.0% win probability. The big issue there was that Tampa Bay was out of timeouts; it would have been basically a 50-50 decision if Tampa Bay still had timeouts.

Bryan Knowles: The Loser League doesn't give bonus points for drops. CeeDee Lamb is probably very thankful for that tonight. That interception, on what I believe was Dak's first deep shot down the middle, really should have been caught.

Scott Spratt: Tonight made me realize that Lamb also dropped 9.8% of his catchable targets in 2020, fourth highest among wide receivers with 100 or more targets. I find it interesting he's up there with fellow 2020 rookie Jerry Jeudy (16.1%). Is that an NFL comfort thing?

Bryan Knowles: Four plays after the interception, the Cowboys show Cover-Zero and ask their linebackers to respond to Gronk delaying a route down the middle of the field. That goes just about as well as you might think, and it's all of a sudden an 11-point game. This went from a tight game to the Cowboys being on the ropes really fast.

Vincent Verhei: Tom Brady just tied the single-season record for passing touchdowns by a player age 44 or older. It's the third quarter of Week 1.

J.P. Acosta: I mean that’s a great play call too.

Aaron Schatz: Scott, Mike Tanier has been looking into it and had a Tweet a couple days ago ... it certainly does look at first glance like rookies generally drop more passes than veterans.

Rivers McCown: Down nine? Perfect time to establish the run.

J.P. Acosta: They’ll never see it coming!

J.P. Acosta: Dak is so, so good.

Bryan Knowles: I picked Dallas to underperform our projections because I was worried how Dak would look after all the injuries. Consider those worries alleviated, at least for now. Prescott finally uncorked one to the right, and it's another touchdown catch for Amari Cooper. I wonder if he's getting more comfortable as the game's going along; remember, he didn't play at all in the preseason.

I also picked Dallas to underperform because I figured their defense was going to be a shambling disaster area. Those worries are slightly less alleviated, though stopping Tampa Bay may not be the fairest test available.

Cale Clinton: Amari Cooper said earlier this week that he believes he’s the best receiver in the league. Tonight, if anything, is a reminder showing just how good he can be. Ten catches, 116 yards, and a pair of touchdowns on 11 targets. Really keeping the Cowboys in this one.

Also, while we’re talking stats, this feels like a weirdly quiet 300-yard three-touchdown game by Dak. I don’t know what it is. Yes, he’s looked good throwing the ball. Yes, he still has the whole fourth quarter to play. There’s just something about this game that makes this feel like it’s just a solid passing effort and not some jaw-dropping performance. Maybe it’s the fact he hasn’t taken many shots downfield, achieving 331 yards on 35 completions. Could just be me though.

J.P. Acosta: Dak definitely doesn’t have the arm strength all the way back but he’s dialed in.

Scott Spratt: I think it may just be you, Cale. I find it super impressive Prescott has done what he's done without any offensive balance.

Scott Spratt: Cris Collinsworth mentioned that the normally sure-handed Chris Godwin had an unusual number of drops in the playoffs last season. To that point, Godwin dropped just five of 177 catchable targets from the start of 2018 to Week 7, 2020 (including the playoffs). Since, he has dropped five of 56 catchable targets (plus the one tonight). I think the reason is his broken finger and the pin he had inserted there.

Scott Spratt: If Vita Vea can play fullback, he deserves a rushing touchdown this season.

Bryan Knowles: Well, THAT was huge. If Godwin goes into the end zone and puts the Bucs up nine points, this game is probably over. Instead, he fights for a couple of extra yards and gets the ball bashed out by Damontae Kazee, and the Cowboys scoop it up. Four turnovers for the Bucs! Well, three if you exclude the Hail Mary, which you should. We're up for an exciting finish...

... he says as the Cowboys decide to try to establish the run right away.

Dave Bernreuther: I’d buy that that most recent drop was the head turn ... but losing a fumble near the goal line? Could definitely have been helped by the bad finger.

A sequence or two earlier, we see that the Tampa Bay pass-catching running backs taketh away, but they also ... giveth? Collinsworth correctly pointed out that Brady throwing while falling was a TERRIBLE decision that could have gone back for six, but Leonard Fournette bailed him out by winning a contested catch.

Rivers McCown: I am truly excited to watch how Mike McCarthy will lose this game.

Bryan Knowles:Dak has now broken the record for completions in a season opener with 41. That's a very weird cross-section of a stat, but Dak has been dealing no matter how you judge it.

And now the Cowboys are in range for a game-winning field goal. Mike McCarthy's eyes dart to his post-it note.

Dave Bernreuther: Well it’s worth pointing out that if he hadn’t kicked on fourth-and-3, they could potentially be ahead by a field goal (would have required a two-point conversion as well, of course). So while it’s not a sure thing, it’s at least possible that he already lost it.

I’m not going to pretend that Tyron Smith didn’t commit holding on that play they flagged to potentially screw that drive ... but I will say that I’m very surprised that they decided that that was the time to call it.

Oh, and it doesn’t even matter! Dak hits Lamb in stride—told you the timing would come back quickly!—and things are looking good for the Cowboys.

OK. Back to Rivers’ pessimism. And let’s also not forget Zuerlein’s woes tonight ... this is feeling very much like a “we’re in field goal range, run it into the line and trust the kicker" kind of coaching failure all of a sudden.

Aaron Schatz: It seems like kicking the field goal to go up 29-28 is the right move, but EdjSports has that as a 5.5% error. You just gave Tom Brady the ball back down one with 1:30 to go.

Bryan Knowles: Well, credit to McCarthy for not just plowing it into the line, but a holding call and a negative ALEX throw forced the Leg to make a 48-yarder to take the one-point lead.

Brady has 84 seconds with a timeout left, and the Bucs just need a field goal. I think I'd rather be the Cowboys right now and, y'know, have the lead, but it's not exactly an ideal situation.

Dave Bernreuther: The second holding was egregious; that had to be called. And now it gives McCarthy a pass. No issues with kicking there.

Zuerlein nails it. Now we see if the Cowboy defense can win it. Against the loaded Bucs offense.

Not a bad start to the season.

J.P. Acosta: They have held Vea the entire drive.

Bryan Knowles: Yeah, that's the second time tonight I'm going to disagree with Edj here. I don't think you can pass up taking the lead with less than two minutes left; you go for it on fourth-and-fail and that's the ballgame.

Dave Bernreuther: 5.5% Wow. I would never have guessed that. Even with as well as Dak has been playing. Heck, I hate field goals as much as anyone I have ever met and that one felt fine to me.

And that’s why we have computers!

Aaron Schatz: So, did Chris Godwin get away with offensive pass interference on the catch that put the Bucs into field goal range? The cornerback did fall to the ground.

Bryan Knowles: Brady's driving, and now the Bucs are in position to kick the game-winner, so I guess that's Model 1, Bryan's Gut 0.

J.P. Acosta: Yeah probably.

Bryan Knowles: I think Jourdan Lewis sold it some, but I wouldn't have strenuously objected to an OPI call there.

Rivers McCown: Rivers' pessimism deserves a point as well, I believe.

Bryan Knowles: I'm fairly sure Rivers' pessimism remains undefeated.

Dave Bernreuther: Coaches would do well to have a much healthier dose of Rivers’ (and my) pessimism when making their decisions. In a vacuum I don’t hate the field goal given the penalty and circumstances, but I still hate that earlier kick and the possible points it sacrificed. Don’t trust your defense when it hasn’t earned that trust. They were a wet napkin on the final drive, and it was hardly unexpected. Coach to score enough points that you aren’t forced into that situation. Look at that offense. Play to your strengths.

Tom Gower: I'm a member of #TeamCallOPIMoreOften. The normal tripwire is full arm extension. With that, you'll normally get a call. Without that, you'll rarely get a call. Godwin didn't get full arm extension on the push, so that tripwire didn't go off. But it seemed pretty clear he used his arm to create separation and gain an advantage, which is what the rule is supposed to cover. I'm not surprised it wasn't called.

Going back to the halftime notes, Dak's interception that went to CeeDee Lamb was a terrific on-point throw deep down the middle. The touchdown to Amari Cooper to make it 28-26 was a great touch throw deep right. Those boxes were checked. Those weren't drive throws, and his personal mobility isn't back (on the first drive of the second half, I think a healthy Dak probably scores on that first-and-goal run, no matter how good Lavonte David's tackle was, instead of the 21-yard field goal the drive finished with). But the point about his composure under pressure and decision-making, and the accuracy on the throws he can hit, doesn't make me question joining Aaron in thinking the Cowboys can make the Super Bowl.

But even with some unforced errors and bad fumble luck tonight, the Bucs are still good. Not uniformly—the Cowboys did have success throwing the ball, and the backs didn't cover themselves in glory running or catching (despite that one Leonard Fournette catch)—but enough.

Tom Gower: And I mentioned it on Twitter, but for most of the game, Mike Evans didn't do a thing. Coincidentally, the Cowboys were playing cornerbacks by sides and Trevon Diggs was on that side of the field. If only he could have pulled off the spectacular interception to clinch the game...

Dave Bernreuther: I thought it was pretty obvious OPI but didn’t hate that it wasn’t called because I thought he might well have caught it anyway. I’m more interested in seeing if any of those throwaways were grounding.

That said, if I were a Cowboys fan, I’d be VERY upset right now, especially if we look back to their opener last year:


57 comments, Last at 17 Sep 2021, 7:45am

2 Brady's Arm

In the open discussion, someone was saying he thought Brady's arm strength was poor. I certainly didn't see it - he pumped some bullets through tight windows. Apparently, he also has pretty good timing with Gronk.

Brady is nothing like terminal stage Peyton or Brees. Seems to me that the only concern would be if he starts to break down over the course of the season.

If the turnovers were even, Tampa wins by three touchdowns.

6 Wonder why...

In reply to by RobotBoy

I'm at the point were Brady feels like the football Lance Armstrong. We passed the "too good to be true" a few years ago; to watch his contemporaries retire or be washed for years and then guys five to six years younger than him also reach that point... it's almost insulting to my intelligence. Alas...

Anyway, fun but sloppy game. Seemed like OPI live and the replay confirmed it; so missed call on the refs. Cowboys probably should have won even without the OPI, so they can feel robbed and disappointed in their performance at the same time.

46 Yes, it's become totally surreal

In reply to by TecmoBoso

Love him or hate him, Brady has put together what's arguably the greatest career any professional athlete has ever had. He's not just a curiosity either, as he's still playing as well as anyone is. There's just no obvious glaring physical drop-off there, which is pretty astounding when you think about it. I almost hate to admit it, but someday discovering that he "cheated" somehow would be sort of crushing. 

3 So, the refs got both calls…

So, the refs got both calls right, last year and this year, re OPI. 

Gallup initiates the contact with the defender, reaching his arm out. It is not mutual contact and the DB does not extent his arm to Gallup. Then Gallup very clearly pushes off and extends his arm in doing so. 

Godwin and the DB have mutual contact running down the field, the DB's arm around Godwin, and Godwin's elbow up holding his space. As Godwin hits the brakes at the top of his route, the DB looses his footing and trips over Godwin's foot (which you can see very clearly from the sideline camera). Godwin's arm stays bent and they separate, with only a slight flexion as is normal when two bodies in contact have a shift in relative momentum. Short story: watch the sideline camera view. It's not even close to OPI. 

Also, how is no one commenting about how Brady is hitting his receivers in the hands on almost every throw all over the field?

11 I disagree. Because if the…

I disagree. Because if the DB engages in "mutual contact" with Bucs receiver it will be called holding/DPI - ala Breeland v. Evans in the Super Bowl.  You cannot let the Bus receivers engage the DB if you wont let the DB hand fight back. 

4 Ben Baldwin's bot had the…

Ben Baldwin's bot had the last 4th down as a *very* strong "kick it", by 6%. I *have* to guess that Bens bot doesn't take timeouts into effect, or the Tampa O vs Dallas D effect is *large*.

I totally thought they should've went for it, but my gut also knows they wouldnt've got it. No chance. They felt screwed on that march.

7 There was a lot asked of…

There was a lot asked of Dallas' pass protection in that game and The Bucs' pass rush was really starting to close in the more that game wore on. I'm not saying kicking was the correct decision, but there were legitimate reasons to feel pessimistic on that drive (as you suggest).

5 EDJ sports says kick is 5.5% error, does this account for teams?

Do you attempt a 48 yard FG on 4th and 6 with Zuerlein under two minutes, or do you go for it? 

Interesting thoughts on open discussion, and now above on audibles, I said go for 4th and 6, theslothook says no, kick it - - that is until I threw the Peyton Manning card at him and asked as a Colts fan don't you want the opposition to kick it when you have Peyton Manning?  Then I get: I go for it I guess.  Then Pat comes in with the book is to kick it, but he would go for it, as he states above.  

I'll count this as 3-0 in favor of I go for it, which regardless of EDJ Sports model, we set an unofficial record by having 3 FO readers and commenters agreeing on something albeit with some reservations and uncertainty.

Now as a Ravens fan, I would have Tucker, I know he makes that kick most of the time, I have Baltimore defense not Dallas defense, and yet I still go for it if I am the Ravens.  Yes, the variables change with the players from different teams but my argument is as follows:

The way to lose close NFL games is to rely on your defense. any defense to stop elite QB's such as Brady with 1:29 left and a timeout left especially when there is another alternative.  But to add to this, first Zuerlein had to make the kick.

Finally, does EDJ Sports model take into account variations in kicker (say Tucker vs Zuerleine) offense vs defense (Ravens vs Dallas offense lets say) and who is waiting on the other side to get the ball (lets say Tyrod Taylor and Houston instead of Tom Brady and Tampa Bay) or is it just a standard average?

26 5.5 percent of what win probability?

In reply to by Noahrk

When you give away 5.5 percent of win probability when you are a serious underdog in that position you are giving away a high percentage of your chance to win.   It is not as if Dallas had a 90 percent chance to win at that point.

31 I might have been a bit of a…

I might have been a bit of a prisoner of the moment. I am nearly always universally a go for it person and especially in today's nfl, no lead appears safe. I watched that Ravens Browns game last year that had like 5 lead changes in under 3 minutes(not exactly 5 but around there). 

I probably would have gone for it in retrospect, but the whole Dallas offense felt so herky jerky last night that my risk averse nature tilted in that direction. That plus I really didn't think Dak looked that great and the pass blocking, in particular, looked pretty bad. That's why its a bit of a cheat to ask me how I'd feel with Peyton Manning as my QB(or Rodgers or Mahomes or someone of that vein). Obviously, in a binary win loss decision you trust it in their hands every time over trusting your defense. But even in this case, a noodle armed, under duress Prescott probably has better odds of winning on one play than asking Dallas to hold the Bucs. 

36 Exactly

That is why I asked if EDJ sports is using actual players or general situations to determine win probability lost.

I never ever give Brady the ball.  I go for that with_____ (fill in blank as to who you think worst QB in league is:  Note Nathan Peterman excluded)

But I gotcha with Manning, you could not decline the chance of getting ball back with Manning.  I am not mean LOL but I loved your comment and enjoy our conversations.

39 You as well. As to your…

In reply to by jheidelberg

Thank you, I do as well.

As to your question about QB specific win probability. I don't know what EDJ's is, but I can confirm that AWS was working on this problem on behalf of next-gen stats. It's a fairly complicated and difficult problem. 

8 And more on that decision

Rivers McCown: I am truly excited to watch how Mike McCarthy will lose this game

Its opening night and Rivers is on top of his game.  There are 271 more regular season games, then the playoffs and Rivers comes out firing, on top of his game, this will be a tough audible to beat this season.

Now you have the answer, kick the 48 yard FG and give Brady the ball back.  Not as obvious a blunder as the 21 yard FG earlier, but a nice crunch time blunder nonetheless.  

When I picked WFT as my sleeper in the NFC, I forgot to take into account the Rivera vs McCarthy factor, giving even more impetus to the WFT favoritism. 

It is national jump to conclusions week, Dallas is the better team with that version of Dak, but I'll stick with WFT.

As noted on a previous post:

Full disclosure: As a Ravens fan I am contractually obligated to hate WFT, yet I still pick them with the Fitzpatrick upgrade vs last year's Haskins-Smith combo platter.

9 Pony

I suspect y'all knew when you wrote it that you'd have to explain it, so:

What the hell is pony personnel. It's like football people go out of their way to make up absurd terminology every year

22 Thanks, I was just about to…

In reply to by Ryan

Thanks, I was just about to make the same point. Some football pundits feel the need to establish how inside they are by using obscure jargon like this as if it's common knowledge.

25 Thanks

In reply to by Ryan

I was confused as well. The only pony personnel I remembered needed Eric Dickerson and Craig James. 

12 Nerd nirvana

108 passes, 1 sack. 

Nerdz are winning. 

13 I would have to imagine DVOA…

I would have to imagine DVOA would love TB and hate DAL in this game despite being very close.

-DAL recovered 3/3 fumbles

-DAL ran 77 plays compared to 64 for TB; TB had almost a full yard more per play

14 My post game thoughts were…

My post game thoughts were on Daks arm as well. I was confused as hell about that.

Other than that, the league continues to be so tolerant of offensive holding and offensive pi that it's seriously embarrassing. 

16 I know Brady looked good,…

I know Brady looked good, but that fall to the ground and fluttering pass asking for a pick six looked like a senior moment to me.

18 Do the buccaneers have the…

Do the buccaneers have the greatest wide receiver only core in NFL history? 

Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown are all legitimately very good players. You could argue one would be a Hall of famer if not for his reputation. Another is on the Hall of Fame track. And the third is a solid pro bowler at the very least.


I can't think of another team that had three legitimate pro bowl quality receivers at the same time.



I agree there have been clearly better duos in history and its not close and to that extent, from a pure talent perspective, this isn't the best group of all time. But most of the competing responses highlight a pair of dominant stars and then complimentary role players. In the Bucs' case, all three, to me anyway, are really standalone good to great players. 

23 In Antonio Brown's rookie…

In Antonio Brown's rookie year, the Steelers had four WRs who would make at least one Pro Bowl: Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown, although AB wasn't at the top of his game yet. They also had Antwaan Randle El, who wasn't too shabby.

Their offensive coordinator: Bruce Arians.


24 There are several other teams with similar WR corps

The Greatest Show on Turf Rams had Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl. The 90's had the Vikings trio of Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed. The WFT trio of Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders Is another good group. I'll also add the 2011 Packers with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and rookie Randall Cobb since that's the best group I remember from my team (the 1996 SB trio of Antonio Freeman, Andre Risen, and Robert Brooks and the early 80's trio of James Lofton, John Jefferson, and Phil Epps were also pretty good). I'd say the Rams and Vikings WR corps were the best I remember. 

44 Since this got long you'll…

Since this got long you'll get headings! The more interesting bit might be the "tables" at the end.

Me Waxing poetic about the 2011 GB receivers
Yeah that 2011 crew was pretty good with Jennings (101 targets), Nelson (96), Driver (55), James Jones (55), and Cobb (31). Only Jennings made the Pro-Bowl that season, but they had 4 Pro-Bowl winning players. Jennings 2010, 2011; Nelson 2014 Pro Bowl and several All-Pro nods (1st team PFF, in 11, 13, 14; 2nd team AP in 14); Driver 02, 06, 07; Cobb 2014. So 2 acknowledged Pro-Bowlers (Driver, Jennings) and 2 future Pro-Bowler (Nelson, Cobb) and how Nelson didn't make more is beyond me he had 4 seasons that were as good as or better than anything Jennings did. I added Jones because by DYAR he was GB's #3, though he had 1 fewer target than Driver. Nelson had 520 (2nd overall 52.9% DVOA 1st), Jennings 278 (10th, 20.8% DVOA 13th), Jones 237 DYAR (16th, 41.7% DVOA 3rd), Driver 135 DYAR (35th, 17.7% DVOA 15th), Cobb 128 DYAR (didn't qualify, 42.5% DVOA). Sure 2011 MVP Rodgers was great, but as we know you need great catching and throwing.  Having the #1, #3, #10, and #15 WR by DVOA is pretty damn good. 2, 10, 16, 35 by DYAR not quite as impressive but still scary. Cobb would have been 3rd in DVOA and 43rd in DYAR had he qualified but 18 targets short of qualifying is significant even though we know that he was that level of player. Oh and they had a Tight end who got 92 targets, and posted 165 DYAR (5th for TE) on 18.3% DVOA (7th) in Finley.

That offense probably would have been better without the McCarthy, we're going to force the ball to Finley offense. I mean when it's technically less optimal to throw to a player with a 66.1% catch rate and 17.7% DVOA (Driver) than anyone else that's a pretty damn good receiving corps. I don't know if it's the best 3 deep ever since the #3 (be that Driver, Jones, Cobb, or Finley depending on how you want to slice it was) were all just "good" but for a 4, 5, or 6 deep class?

Me Deciding to look through the stats to see if I could find something to substantiate things better!
Flipping through WR DYAR/DVOA rankings where my display currently gives me the top 18 players by DYAR I found 8 times where a team had 3 or more players in the top 18 for DYAR. If I saw a team with 3 then I went I dug up all their qualifying receivers to see how they did. Then since I had done it for 2011 GB when this was just a comment about that I dug into qualifying TE's. The TE's will be listed with a * after the name and at the end of the list because I was getting tired of digging and wasn't sure how to include them in a readable fashion in a comment. They are listed with Tight End DYAR/DVOA and rankings which is a different baseline. I really hope I didn't miss a team....

TEAMS with at least 3 WR in the top 18 of DYAR since 1983
1990 Houston Oilers
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
H. Jeffires (119)     288 - 3rd     18.4%  - 8th
E. Givins (113)       268 - 4th     18.1% - 9th
D. Hill (120)           255 - 7th     12.8% - 13th
C. Duncan (94)      228 - 8th     17.7% - 10th
T. Jones (52)          91 - 37th    10.5% - 17th

2001 St. Louis Rams
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
T. Holt (133)           346 - 6th      21.2% - 9th
I. Bruce (103)         270 - 14th    21.5% - 8th
R. Proehl (55)        265 - 16th,   48.3% - 1st
A. Hakim (53)          32 - 54th   -4.8% - 50th
E. Conwell* (52)      45 - 14th    4.6% - 15th

2004 Indianapolis Colts
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
R. Wayne (115)      477 - 1st     36.4% - 2nd
B. Stokley (102)     383 - 4th     35.3% - 3rd
M. Harrison (139)   275 - 15th   11.7% - 29th
D. Clark* (39)          87 - 9th      24.0% - 5th
M. Pollard* (41)       80 - 11th     21.7% - 7th

2008 Arizona Cardinals
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
L. Fitzgerald (154)  410 - 3rd      20.4% - 7th
A. Boldin (127)       271 - 9th      13.9% - 16th
S. Breaston (113)   257 - 12th    16.0% - 13th
J. Urban (51)           93 - 42nd    10.2% - 23rd

2009 Pittsburgh Steelers
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
H. Ward (137)        291 - 9th     15.0% - 18th
S. Holmes (138)    280 - 10th   12.8% - 19th
M. Wallace (72)     229 - 17th    29.1% - 4th
H. Miller* (98)        144 - 10th    15.1% - 11th

2011 Green Bay Packers
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
J. Nelson (96)        520 - 2nd     52.9% - 1st
G. Jennings (101)  278 - 10th    20.8% - 13th
J. Jones (55)          237 - 16th    41.7% - 3rd
D. Driver (56)         135 - 35th    16.7% - 15th
J. Finley* (92)         165 - 5th      18.3% - 7th

2012 Green Bay Packers
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
R. Cobb (104)        357 - 7th      21.1% - 10th
J. Jones (98)          287 - 13th    22.5% - 13th
J. Nelson (73)         257 - 17th    20.7% - 7th
G. Jennings (62)     38 - 63rd     -5.2% - 57th
J. Finley* (87)         95 - 10th      7.0% - 17th

2015 Arizona Cardinals
Player (tgt)             DYAR - rk    DVOA - rk
L. Fitzgerald (146)  363 - 4th      18.9% - 10th
J. Brown (101)        352 - 5th      29.9% - 4th
M. Floyd (89)          256 - 14th    24.0% - 8th
D. Fells* (28)           86 - 14th    35.8% - 3rd

Interesting note that 2006 had 4 pairs in the top 16.  IND with Harrison and Wayne, CIN with Ochocinco and Houshmandzadeh, DAL with Glenn and Owens, and DET with Williams and Furrey


Edit: Some of the other combos mentioned in comments not on the list.
1998 Minnesota Vikings
R. Moss  428 - 2nd    30.1% - 5th
C. Carter 290 - 10th  15.7% - 12th
J. Reed     52 - 51st    -2.9% - 46th

2010 Pittsburgh Steelers (Antonio Browns Rookie Year.  Brown didn't have enough targets to qualify)
M. Wallace  462 - 1st    49.1% - 1st
H. Ward       159 - 29th  9.4% - 25th
E. Sanders   71 - 52nd   6.2% - 35th
A. Brown       59 - N/A     27.7% - N/A (only 19 targets so well below the 50 threshold)

2007 New England Patriots
R. Moss          568 - 1st     29.2% - 4th
W. Welker       374 - 4th      20.5% -11th
D. Stallworth   150 - 28th   12.2% - 21st
J. Gaffney        145 - 31st   22.7% - 10th
B. Watson*       96 - 8th      20.7% - 7th

Hmm no years given on the others, even coming back to this as an edit I'm done looking. Sorry

29 If we're talking duos

The Rams duo of Holt/Bruce and the Vikings duo of Carter/Moss I mentioned earlier both easily beat the current Buccs WR top duo. Let's also toss in the 49ers with Rice/Owens and Steelers Lynn/Stallworth. And that's not even getting to the 49ers Rice/Taylor, Raiders Branch/Biletnikoff and the Bills Lofton/Reed. I'd take any of those duos with a slot receiver to be named later over the current Buccs WR corps. 

28 I'd take the trio of Jerry…

I'd take the trio of Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes over the Evans/Godwin/Brown trio, but the Bucs have the stronger third receiver of that group and not by an insignificant margin.

30 Yea that I made that edit…

Yea that I made that edit. If we're just talking sheer talent, you'd take Rice, Owens, and you or me as the third receiver over possibly any grouping in history. But that wasn't the intent of my post. 

34 So what you meant was “don’t…

So what you meant was “don’t the Bucs have the best #3 WR in history”?

I’m not certain that’s true, with today’s Antonio Brown. But it’s worth talking about.

If you meant “don’t the Bucs have the #3 WR whose peak in earlier years on other teams was the highest?” That’s probably wrong, too. 


40 I'm not sure we know how…

I'm not sure we know how good Antonio Brown is or isn't right now.

His recent career has been marred by off of the field issues. He was still a star when he was last playing meaningful snaps over a full season but that was a while ago. 

His recent performance with the Bucs makes me think he's closer to what he used to be than some washed up player

47 This is a super fun topic,…

This is a super fun topic, but I'm shocked it's gotten this far without a mention of the 07 Pats and their Moss/Welker/Stallworth trio.

I do think the Bucs will have a good case for the best #3 receiver of any of the groups mentioned, assuming all these guys stay healthy and produce like they are capable of. 

32 This didn't receive enough…

This didn't receive enough commentary, but there were three plays last night where Zeke was essentially in space isolated against a single defender and got tackled. It sounds inconsequential, but if I am paying my running back anything above a standard vet minimum and the dude is not known as some kind of ace pass blocker and or receiver; he'd better be able break that tackle or at least plow for some additional yards.

As others have noted, I am happy for Zeke to get his money because the roi(especially in terms of health consequences) is so badly tilted against Rbs. But otherwise, he is a big red flashing example of why a) You never pay running backs and b) don't draft one high either. 

42 It's too soon to say he's…

In reply to by Raiderfan

It's too soon to say he's washed up, but Zeke is at the age at which a lot of recent RB stars have declined significantly. I also noticed how he was unable to win a one-on-one against a Bucs CB at the goal line, which I'm sure was one of the plays you were citing above.

With the way Dallas' offense operated last night and early last year when Dak was healthy, they seem like the favorite to lead the league in passing attempts. 

50 I mean.. that's exactly what…

I mean.. that's exactly what Zeke has looked like the last few years. The optimism around him becoming an elite back is baffling when hasn't even looked like a very good back basically since his rookie season.


Best to worst:

HOFr Antonio Brown: 6

Tony Pollard: 4.67

Lenny: 3.56

Dak: 3.25

Zeke: 3

RoJoJr: -9  (averaging 3.5 ypc while losing a fumble will do that for ya)  

Bad ground day. Average last year was 5.05. TB did allow the lowest YPC last year though.

37 Could not have been more…

Could not have been more impressed with Dak last night; I figured between coming off a nasty injury and losing his best lineman he'd be at least a bit skittish, but, damn, was he on point.  While the Cowboys line looked much better than expected, a lot of that was Dak just getting the ball out very accurately whenever he needed to.  Figured Dak was going to get pasted, but, man, was he good.

41 I came to a different…

I came to a different conclusion. I thought he took some bad sacks and his arm strength was really problematic. He also had a Jimmy g like interception dropped to a linebacker he never saw.

I agree he didn't look skittish in the pocket and was pretty patient and willing to take the underneath stuff. But it felt like a lot of his longer throws were sailing.

51 Thought the actual post was good, but the title?

It's true Brady's YPA was better, but does the QB comparison hold up as the critical piece of the play?

If Zuerlein hits one more FG?

More accurate would have been something like "coaching, special teams decide tightly contested opener".

57 Dishonest Headline

Come on Vincent, what the hell's up with this dishonest headline? Just for the clicks right? Trying to give Brady more hype that he doesn't need. Prescott had a better QBR and passer rating against a MUCH TOUGHER defense. Give me a break.

Honest headline: "Dallas kicker chockes, Bucs kicker is money".