It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay came back to beat Dallas, 31-29, on a last-second field goal from Ryan Succop. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady threw four touchdowns, but the offense turned the ball over four times. Tampa Bay’s defense didn’t play well, but the Bucs’ special teams were outstanding as the defending Super Bowl champs start the year 1-0.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1: Brady, Succop Are A Powerful 1-2 Punch For Bucs
Tampa Bay used the powerful and potent 1-2 punch of quarterback Tom Brady and kicker Ryan Succop to come back and finish off the feisty Dallas Cowboys, 31-29, in a thrilling 2021 season opener.
After Greg Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal gave the Cowboys their first lead of the night, 29-28 with 1:24 left, Tom Brady continued to be Tom Brady and Ryan Succop continued to be Ryan Succop for the defending Super Bowl champions. That means Brady putting Tampa Bay in position to win games in the fourth quarter, and Succop coming through with kicks in the clutch.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It wasn’t a pretty game for the Bucs with four turnovers on offense and a defense that got shredded by Dak Prescott for 401 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll get to the Bucs defense in a minute. They have issues that need to be fixed ASAP.
But right now let’s revel in the awesomeness that is Brady and Succop in Tampa Bay.
That combo beats Jameis Winston and Matt Gay, doesn’t it?
Thank you, Jason Licht.
It also beats Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chandler Catanzaro. And it beats Josh McCown and Pat Murray. It beats Mike Glennon and Rian Lindell. And it beats Josh Freeman and Connor Barth.
You get the idea.
The Bucs have now won nine straight games dating back to last season. They had to come back from a 17-point deficit at Atlanta last year during that stretch, and a 17-point rally was needed to prevail at home against the Los Angeles Chargers early in the 2020 season.
After years of failed game-winning drives by multiple sub-par quarterbacks and several soul-crushing missed field goals in the fourth quarter, Brady and Succop have helped Tampa Bay to do two things: believe it can win and actually claim the victory.
“I learned a long time ago that you don’t learn anything more from losing than you do from almost losing. We have a lot to learn,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “Loved the finish, our guys are winners. They’re going to finish and they’re going to win, but we can play better and not put ourselves in that situation.”
Arians is right. It’s always better to learn from wins than losses. After 13 seasons filled with plenty of heartbreaking losses, especially in close games where an interception or an errant field goal sealed defeat, these Bucs have learned how to win.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: USA Today
That’s what having the greatest quarterback of all time and a kicker who broke the Bucs’ all-time franchise record for points in a season (136) on the roster means. Brady accounted for 43 touchdowns last season, while Succop converted over 90 percent of his field goals and extra points in a Super Bowl season.
I learned my lesson about doubting Tampa Bay last year on December 20 at Atlanta. Trailing 17-0 at halftime, Brady and the Bucs came storming back, scoring all 31 points in the second half.
Ten of those points came in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Succop nailed a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 24-24, and Brady connected with Antonio Brown for a 46-yard touchdown to allow Tampa Bay to take its first lead of the game, 31-27, with six minutes left. Succop’s clutch extra point forced the Falcons to have to score a touchdown to win.
“There was no doubt that we were going to win the game,” Arians said. “With [Brady], it’s who going to make plays? Guys up front did a hell of a job protecting and guys went and got open.”
So seconds after Zuerlein nailed that 48-yarder I messaged the Pewter Report group chat and told my colleagues “Succop’s gonna win this game” at 11:42 p.m. ET. Exactly 10 minutes later I texted again with “TOLD YA” seconds after Succop’s 36-yard game-winning kick.
“Yeah, it was special,” Succop said. “You know, last year we didn’t have too many – we had some fans, but it wasn’t like tonight. Season opener, fans were great. We have awesome fans here in Tampa and that’s something I’m really thankful for. To get to do this in front of them, on opening night, it was really special. Something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Brady won six Super Bowls in New England – and not in blowout fashion. In fact the 10-point edge in a 13-3 win over the Rams in 2018 was the largest margin of victory in any of the team’s Super Bowl victories. Oftentimes it was a late field goal by Adam Vinatieri or Stephen Gostowski that crowned the Patriots as champions.
Bucs WR Chris Godwin and K Ryan Succop – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Brady’s lone blowout Super Bowl win didn’t happen until he came to Tampa Bay last year and teamed up with Succop.
“Yeah, I was pretty certain we were going to have a chance,” Succop said. “You know obviously he’s the greatest quarterback of all time. The greatest player of all time. He’s so calm, so collected. You know, his poise, I think it permeates everybody and everybody goes out and plays better because of him. You know, credit to our offense. Our coaches put us in a great position. Went right down the field, great two-minute drill and, you know, we were able to have a small part at the end of it. It was really cool.”
“Never a doubt with Ryan,” Arians said after the win. “Never a doubt.”
STATEMENT 2: Bucs Defense Almost Dug Its Own Grave
The good news for Tampa Bay’s defense is that it played maybe the most potent offense it will see all season in Dallas – and still won. The bad news is that the Matthew Stafford-led Los Angles Rams offense may be right there with the Cowboys – or even better – in three weeks. We’ll see.
Allowing Dak Prescott to throw for 401 yards and three touchdowns in a narrow, 31-29 victory, was not in Todd Bowles’ game plan. Tampa Bay’s secondary looked more the 2019 squad than the “Grave Diggers” unit from a year ago. Bowles wisely used a healthy mix of Cover 2 with two deep safeties to try to prevent the dangerous trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup from getting behind the defense and doing damage down the field.
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The problem is that Dallas usually kept Ezekiel Elliott or a tight end in to help pass protect and pick up blitzing Buccaneers. The Cowboys won in that department, holding Tampa Bay’s front four or five to just one sack by Shaquil Barrett. Yes, Prescott was heavily pressured, including a game-high four QB pressures from nose tackle Vita Vea, who was collapsing the pocket all night.
But Prescott’s arm talent and escapability showed why I recognize that sacks are more important than pressures unless pressures lead directly to interceptions. Pressures have their place in analytics if they negatively affect the QB.
Yet several of Prescott’s passes were still completed even when pressured. The Bucs defense was close, but not close enough to Prescott for most of the night.
Not enough sacks and not tight enough coverage, especially from cornerback Jamel Dean, who really struggled in the season opener. Dean was targeted nine times and gave up five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus, which gave the third-year cornerback a 50.2 grade for the game. The Auburn product was flagged three times, including two penalties on one play – a facemask call and a pass interference.
“Dean had a rough night,” Arians said. “He’s a hell of a player so he’ll bounce back. He made some big plays down the stretch, too.”
Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting had an even rougher night. PFF reported that Murphy-Bunting was targeted eight times and surrendered five catches for 77 yards, including a touchdown to Lamb. To add injury to insult, Murphy-Bunting landed awkwardly on his right arm on the TD catch, dislocating his elbow. Murphy-Bunting was the worst-graded Buccaneer defender by PFF with a 25.7 grade. And he only had 13 coverage snaps!
Murphy-Bunting’s replacement, Ross Cockrell, was barely better, allowing six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. With Murphy-Bunting likely out several weeks, Cockrell will step in and he’ll need to step up.
Bucs S Andrew Adams – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It wasn’t all bad in Tampa Bay’s secondary, which was without starting safety Jordan Whitehead. Cornerback Carlton Davis III came up with a huge interception off a deflected pass to help set up a Bucs touchdown. That was the lone Tampa Bay takeaway on the evening, in addition to his three pass breakups.
Reserve safety Andrew Adams also made a touchdown-saving play with an open-field tackle on Elliott on an option play on third down near the goal line in the second half. That tackle forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal.
Bowles and his unit will have to regroup as the defense did not pick up from where it left off in Super Bowl LV, shutting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs out of the end zone. They’ll have an extra day of practice next week due to the Thursday night game and they’ll need it. Dean and Cockrell are going to need to improve quickly with Matt Ryan and Stafford up as the Bucs’ next opponents – or the Grave Diggers will risk getting buried themselves.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Is Fournette Now The Starting Running Back?
Yes. It’s crazy how Ronald Jones II was named the starting running back after the preseason and fumbles on his fourth carry and immediately gets benched. Yet backup Leonard Fournette has a catchable screen pass bounce right off his hands and into Trevon Diggs’ waiting arms for an interception, and Fournette stays in the game and takes over as the lead back. Fournette finished with nine carries for 32 yards (3.6 avg.) and five catches for 27 yards (5.4 avg.), including a leaping snag of a desperate throw from Brady on third down to move the sticks.
Meanwhile RoJo had just 14 yards on four carries and didn’t see the field past the second quarter despite the Bucs not trailing until the final minute and a half. Jones isn’t benched. He’ll see action next week against Atlanta. But it’s clear the coaches trust Fournette more and have a higher degree of confidence in him running and catching the ball. It’s clear because Fournette wasn’t penalized for his turnover. Fournette is now the lead back in Tampa Bay.
QUESTION 2: Who Was The Unsung Hero In Tampa Bay’s Win?
Punter Bradley Pinion.
Sorry, make that “special teams weapon” Bradley Pinion.
Return specialist Jaydon Mickens deserves a hat tip for his 10.5-yard punt return average and his 30.7-yard kick return average. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and head coach Bruce Arians deserve credit for promoting Mickens from the practice squad and starting him ahead of rookie Jaelon Darden, a fourth-round pick who made the 53-man roster. Darden was inactive on Thursday night.
Bucs P Bradley Pinion – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tampa Bay’s offensive line also deserves mention as the unit did not give up a sack and allowed Brady to throw for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns. That doesn’t happen without great pass protection.
But back to Pinion, who was simply outstanding. He averaged 49.3 yards per punt with a 45.8-yard net average. Three of Pinion’s punts were downed inside the 20, and his 65-yard blast on his first punt tied the longest of his seven-year career. All six of his kickoffs were touchbacks, and all five of Pinion’s holds for Succop were perfect.
“Special teams were outstanding” Arians said. “I thought special teams won the game for us today. Mick (Jaydon Mickens) did a hell of a job. Kickers did a great job.”
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Score 30 Points Or More Against The Falcons
Tampa Bay’s magic number is 30. The Bucs are now 8-0 in their last eight games because they’ve scored at least 30 points in each of those contests with the team’s 31-29 victory over the Cowboys. Tampa Bay scored 31 points in a 31-27 win at Atlanta last December. Then the Bucs beat the Falcons, 44-17, two weeks later at Raymond James Stadium.
Even if the Bucs defense is a work in progress right now, Brady and Co. can put up points a-plenty and still win games – even while losing the turnover margin 4:1. Look for Tampa Bay to win its franchise-record 10th straight game dating back to last year and move to 2-0 on the season with a home win over Atlanta. While scoring 30 points or more, of course.
PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay’s Defense Records Four Sacks Against Atlanta
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan a total of four times in two games last year. Next week when Atlanta comes to town, a frustrated Tampa Bay defense takes out its frustrations on the veteran QB. Barrett had the Bucs’ lone sack in the season opener, but the flood gates will open up next Sunday for Bowles’ unit.
Atlanta does have some weak links along the offensive line, notably right tackle Kaleb McGary and left guard Jalen Mayfield, who surrendered two sacks in the preseason. McGary and right guard Chris Lindstrom each gave up four sacks last year. Look for Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and linebacker Devin White to corral Ryan on September 18.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.