There were some epic battles between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier back in the 1970s including the “Thrilla in Manilla” and “The Fight of the Century”. We had the Ali vs George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” and the Foreman vs Mike Tyson “Ear Biting” match. Iconic slugfests that will forever be remembered in boxing history. Well, football fans all over the world were treated to a different kind of heavyweight slugfest in last night’s kickoff to the 2021 NFL season.
The NFL schedule makers gave us all a treat by scheduling two of the most high-powered offenses in football in the Thursday Night Football season opener. The Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers got to kick us off by playing host to the Dallas Cowboys in a game that brought us all the jabs, crosses, and uppercuts that we remember from those iconic heavyweight boxing matches. Coming into the game, we had a superstar showdown of 44-year-old Tom Brady facing off against Dak Prescott who was 11 months removed from being carted off the field with a sideways ankle. The star power was abundant on both sides, and neither side disappointed in a game that hit 60 points and made a lot of fantasy football managers happy. Here is what we saw:
Tom Brady showed that Aaliyah was right when she told us “Age aint nothing but a number”. Brady threw 50 passes, connecting on 32 of 50 for 379 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did throw 2 interceptions, but the box scores don’t tell you that one was a Hail Mary to end the first half and the other was a perfectly designed screen pass that bounced off Leonard Fournette’s hands and into the hands of Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs. Brady looked great and looked like he was in sync with his plethora of offensive weapons.
Dak Prescott on the other side went punch for punch with Brady, connecting on 42 of 58 passes for 403 yards and 3 TDs of his own. Prescott looked poised in the pocket, moved well when he had to, and showed us all that we had nothing to be concerned about with him coming off the gruesome ankle injury.
Chris Godwin led the Bucs in receptions with 9 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 14 times and was the favorite target of Brady in this matchup. He almost had a second touchdown late in the 4th quarter but after spinning and fighting for the end zone, he was met by Damontae Kazee at the 1-yard line and fumbled the ball instead.
Antonio Brown was the one who made the big plays, including a 47-yard touchdown catch right before halftime. AB finished with 5 catches on 7 targets for a whopping 121 yards. He averaged over 17 yards per target and over 24 yards per reception, so it was exciting to see the big play ability that we remember from the vintage AB days. As long as he doesn’t throw any bicycles at people or freeze his feet again, it looks like we can expect some fireworks from Brady and Brown this season.
Rob Gronkowski was the recipient of the other 2 touchdown passes from Brady. Gronk caught all 8 of his targets for 90 yards and the 2 scores. It was easy to see that Brady/Gronk chemistry that we’ve seen forever as they connected like clockwork. Before the second Gronk TD, Brady called an audible, said something to Gronk, and executed a perfect touchdown play up the seam for their 100th touchdown as a duo.
Mike Evans only caught 3 passes on 6 targets for 24 yards. I do believe there will be down games for all the receivers with all these weapons so there will be better days ahead for Evans.
The Cowboys receivers did their part for their fantasy managers as well!
Amari Cooper led the Cowboys in targets and receptions, catching 13 of 16 passes for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. After an off-season of hyping up CeeDee Lamb, Cooper showed the world that he was still the guy in “Big D” and put up over 40 fantasy points for those fantasy managers who still believed in him this draft season.
CeeDee Lamb didn’t disappoint either. Lamb got 15 targets and caught 7 of them. He and Prescott looked off on a couple of throws where the ball was underthrown, or Lamb went a different direction than Prescott expected him to. CeeDee also had a few drops, including a pass over the middle that went off his hands and into the hands of Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis. He still had 104 yards and a 22-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and I expect him and Dak to continue to build their chemistry and have plenty of big games together.
Dalton Schultz was the tight end who led the Cowboys in targets and receptions catching 6 of 6 for 45 yards. Blake Jarwin was also involved catching 3 of 4 for 20 yards. It looks like both tight ends could be involved in this offense, making both tricky starts in fantasy.
Michael Gallup was involved early as well, catching 4 passes on 7 targets for 36 yards before leaving the game early in the second half with an ankle injury. This is something to keep an eye on over the next few days.
Cedrick Wilson was involved filling in for Gallup and caught 3 passes for 24 yards. If Gallup misses time with the ankle injury, Wilson could be worth an add in this high-powered offense.
The running backs were largely disappointing on both sides of the field last night.
Ezekiel Elliott was a non-factor, rushing 11 times for 33 yards and adding 2 receptions for 6 yards. One of them could have been a touchdown but Prescott hit him a little late and momentum led Zeke out of bounds at the 2 yard line. He also could have had a rushing touchdown but Jarwin missed the block on Bucs safety Andrew Adams who was able to stop Zeke in his tracks. I’m not concerned about Zeke as I think the Cowboys knew they were facing the best run defense in the league and running the ball just wasn’t a part of their game plan last night.
Tony Pollard chipped in with 3 carries for 14 yards and was an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield with 4 receptions on 4 targets for 24 yards.
Ronald Jones only played on a few series, getting 4 carries for 14 yards before fumbling in the second quarter and being put in the Bruce Arians doghouse for the rest of the game.
Giovani Bernard showed up on some 3rd down plays and in the 2 minute drill at the end of the game. Gio caught 2 passes in the final drive for 12 yards showing us the role that he will be playing in this offense.
Greg Zuerlein missed 2 field goals and an extra point in his first game after having offseason back surgery. He did nail a 48 yarder with a minute and a half remaining in the game to give the Cowboys the lead when they needed him.
Ryan Succop converted all 4 of his extra points and then hit his 36 yarder to give the Buccaneers the win with seconds left on the clock.
Other Quick Notes:
Sean Murphy Bunting, the Buccaneers slot corner left in the first quarter with a dislocated elbow. He will miss some time and the Bucs don’t have much depth at cornerback so it’s something to take note of as they become vulnerable to passing attacks.
The Cowboys defense had 4 turnovers and may not be as bad as people think they are.
The offensive line for the Cowboys also played great against the Buccaneers defensive front. Even without Zack Martin, they held up protection for Prescott and that should lead to a good season for both Dak and Zeke moving forward.
That will do it for the week 1 Thursday Night Football Wrap Up. Make sure you head over to Razzball.com and check out Rudy Gamble’s Pigskinator as you get ready to set the rest of your week 1 lineup. You are always invited to follow me on Twitter @FantasyCoachJB and ask me any questions you may have. Good luck and happy football season!