TAMPA, Fla. — The “Tommy and Gronky” show with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski picked up right where it left off a mere seven months and two days ago: with two touchdowns, or “tuddies,” as they call them, matching their two “tuddies” from Super Bowl LV, in a riveting 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Kickoff Game Thursday night.
Brady’s third-quarter 11-yard strike to Gronkowski was the pair’s 100th touchdown connection together — the first time a quarterback and tight end have hooked up for 100 scores, putting them behind only Peyton Manning and Rodney Harrison (114) for most touchdown connections of all time.
But unlike in the Super Bowl, where the Buccaneers defense orchestrated a near-shutout of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay needed Brady and Gronkowski to carry them. The 44-year-old, starting his 300th career game, threw for 379 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, with Gronkowski accounting for 90 receiving yards and Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin both eclipsing 100 yards.
Brady also orchestrated an 11-play, 57-yard drive with 1:22 to go in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning field goal.
Shutting down Ezekiel Elliott and rendering the Cowboys one-dimensional — the Bucs’ defense’s goal all week — only meant quarterback Dak Prescott could showcase his trio of talented receivers in Michael Gallop, C.D. Lamb and Amari Cooper, throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Even in the absence of Cowboys center Zack Martin due to COVID-19, and with no preseason due to his recovery from ankle and shoulder injuries, Prescott carved up the Bucs’ defense, rendering many of their blitzes ineffective.
To make matters worse, the Bucs lost starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting in the first quarter to an elbow injury and the Cowboys chose to repeatedly pick on third cornerback Jamel Dean. The Bucs were also without starting strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who was held out of the game with a hamstring injury.
They made enough timely plays, despite the game nearly slipping away quite literally late in the fourth quarter when Godwin, spun his way towards the end zone and coughed up the ball at the 2-yard line. That set up a drive by Dallas that ended up with a 48-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein to give the Cowboys a 29-28 lead with 1:29 to go.
Tampa Bay’s win improved Super Bowl champions to 38-16-1 all-time in season openers.