By Leo Haggerty


On a very condensed week, the Pewter Pirates prepared to open the NFL 2021 regular season Thursday night.  The opponent will be the Dallas Cowboys led by QB Zak Prescott .

Columnist Paul Wales made it to the Sunday practice.  I was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday but was shut out due to Covid restrictions when the Buccaneers were forced to go indoors due to inclement weather.

I want to thank Michelle Sabin from Sports Talk Florida for asking the following question of Coach Arians on my behalf.  Her query of the Bucs Head Honcho is below.

MS : Is there a key Cowboys player or players that the Buccaneers have to account for on every down on offense and defense?

BA : Offensively, it’s Ezekiel because it all starts with him and that big offensive line. They’re going to try to run the football, so we’ve got to get them in a one-dimensional game there. Defensively, those two outside pass-rushers, DeMarcus Lawrence and Gregory.  They can disrupt a ballgame. Our tackles are going to have to play a great game.  Our tight ends are going to have to do a heck of a job in the running game.

I predicted a Buccaneers victory but also that the Bucs would not cover the 8 1/2 point spread.  On both counts I was correct as Tampa Bay, on a 36 field goal by K Ryan Succop with two ticks left on the clock, grasped victory from the jaws of defeat with a 31-29 come from behind triumph.

Both teams notched first quarter touchdowns.  Tampa Bay struck first at 5:23 when QB Tom Brady (32-of-50 for 379 yards and 4 TD with 2 INT) found WR Chris Godwin with a 5 yard strike.  That culminated a nine play drive that traversed 94 yards in 4:09.  Succop converted the PAT to make it 7-0.

Dallas countered at 1:35 when QB Dak Prescott (42-of-58 for 403 yards and 3 TD with 1 INT) found WR CeeDee Lamb with a 20 yard bullet.  The drive took 3:48 to go 75 yards in seven plays.  K  Greg Zuerlein was true with the extra point to tie the contest at 7 all.

The Pewter Pirates retook the lead at 9:48 of second stanza.  Brady found TE Rob Gronkowski just over the goal line with a two yard aerial.  That scoring march ate up 2:53 while travelling 50 yards in six plays. Succop split the uprights to put the Bucs back on top at 14-7.

After Tampa Bay RB Ronald Jones fumbled, the Cowboys cut into the margin at 4:20 of the second period.  Prescott located WR Amari Cooper with a 5 yard missile.  That finished off a 27 yard drive that took 2:08 in five plays.  Zuerlein’s kick hit the left upright and caromed away leaving the Buccaneers with a slim 14-13 advantage.

Dallas immediately got the pigskin back on the Buccaneers first play from scrimmage.  A Brady pass went off the hands of RB Leonard Fournette and was intercepted by CB Trevon Diggs.  The Bucs defense stiffened and, after four plays that went for only four yards in 52 seconds, Zuerlein booted a 35 yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 16-14 lead at the 3:16 mark of the second period.

That lead was short lived.  After a 41 year return by WR Jaydon Mickens gave the home team good field position at their own 43 yard line, Tampa Bay wasted no time finding the end zone with 2:38 left before halftime.  Brady found Godwin for 10 yards and then hit a streaking WR Antonio Brown with a 47 yard bomb.  The drive took only 38 seconds to go 57 yards in two plays giving the Pewter Pirates a 21-16 advantage that they would take into halftime.

Mickens, who was a late elevation off the practice squad, replaced rookie WR Jaelon Darden, who was inactive for the contest, as the primary return specialist for the Bucs.  I asked HC Bruce Arians this question concerning that decision.

LH : Was there something you saw in Mickens, or something you didn’t see in Darden, that led you to make the change so late in the week?

BA : Jaelon’s done a heck of a job but I’m not going to let him fail as a rookie. He’s got such a great, great future. We wanted as much veteran presence on that field as we possibly could, knowing the situation and the intensity of the game. ‘Mick’s’ been there and done it. It’s nothing against Jaelon.  It’s just more a guy that’s been there and done it.

The Cowboys dented the scoreboard first in the third period.  Zuerlein drilled a 21 yard field goal at 9:15.  That concluded a 13 play drive that took 5:45 to go 72 yards that cut the Tampa Bay lead to 21-19.

The Bucs increased their margin at 6:23 of the third stanza.  After CB Carlton Davis picked off a deflected Prescott pass, the Buccaneers converted the turnover into points when Brady found Gronkowski for his second scoring grab.  This one was from 11 yards out and culminated in a four play drive that went 35 yards in 2:08.  Succop converted the extra point giving the Pewter Pirates a 28-19 lead.

Dallas answered right back with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.  Prescott again found Cooper with this score coming from 21 yards out.  That ended a 75 yard march that took 10 plays and 5:50.  Zuerlein was true with the PAT and that cut the Tampa Bay lead to 28-26.

The Cowboys retook the lead with 1:24 left in regulation.  After Godwin fumbled on the Dallas two yard line and it was returned by CB Jourdan Lewis to the Boys 10, Prescott engineered an 11 play drive that took 3:28 that traversed 60 yards to put Big D in field goal range.  Zuerlein, who had already mussed a field goal and a PAT, didn’t disappoint and gave the Cowboys a 29-28 advantage.

But, as we all know, you can’t leave #12 more than a minute on the clock with only needing a field goal to win and Brady did not disappoint.  The Pewter Pirates signal caller, as he has done for the 40th time in his career, engineered a 57 yard drive in 11 plays eating up 1:22 that put Succop in position to kick the game winning 36 yard field goal giving Tampa Bay a hard fought 31-29 come from behind triumph.

It wasn’t a pretty victory but it was a win.  Both teams looked out of gas in the fourth period and that can be expected being that the starters didn’t play into the second half of any preseason exhibition game.