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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Julio Jones Makes His Mark in Buccaneers Debut

Seven-time Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones made several critical plays in his first game as a Buccaneer, helping the team to overcome several injuries in a 19-3 victory in Dallas


Late in the first half of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 19-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the home team downed a punt at the Buccaneers' 10-yard line with less than two minutes to play. Given that Tampa Bay and Dallas were grinding out a rugged, field goal-only 9-3 game at the time, a conservative drive and a punt to kill the clock would not have been a surprise.

On the first play of that drive, Tom Brady threw a swing pass to Chris Godwin, who plucked the ball off the turf and turned upfield for a gain of five. On the play, Godwin tweaked a hamstring putting an end to his first game since last December, when he sustained a torn ACL. At the same time, Mike Evans was on the sideline, too, with an unspecified ailment. All the more reason to go the conservative route.

However, this is also the same team that signed Julio Jones just before the start of training camp. That Julio Jones, the one who from 2011-20 in Atlanta led all players with 12,896 receiving yards and made it to seven Pro Bowls. The Buccaneers were preemptively building depth at a position that had been plagued by injuries late the season before. That depth came in handy right away in 2021.

Three plays after Godwin's short catch and immediately after he had converted a third-and-four with a hard pass over the middle to tight end Cam Brate, Brady threw a high arcing pass deep down the right sideline, intended for Jones. The veteran receiver maintained a step on Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown and at the last minute dived for the ball, hauling it on and landing painfully at the Dallas 29 for a 48-yard gain. It would prove to be Tampa Bay's biggest play of a day dominated by defense.

Head Coach Todd Bowles was not surprised.

"I think he was impressive in the game but I saw it every day in practice," said Bowles. "He came in, he works hard, he's still got a lot of juice left in him and he plays good football, not only catching the ball but route-running and blocking as well. We were very pleased with him, especially when Chris got nicked up. Some guys got nicked up in there and he stepped up."

Jones didn't just get his shot when Godwin and Evans (temporarily) were sidelined. He was featured in the offense early, with an eight-yard catch in Dallas territory on the Bucs' second drive and an end-around early in the second quarter that converted a third down. He later had another 12-yard run that started another field goal drive in the first half. Jones would finish just behind Evans with 69 yards on three catches, with a total of 86 yards from scrimmage. On a somewhat challenging night for the Bucs' passing attack, Jones looked like he could serve as a central cog.

"Julio can play," said Bowles. "We keep saying it all along. He got in shape, he got healthy, he's a warrior. He's one of those guys that's going to come out and compete every week. We're happy we got him."

As Week Two of their highly-anticipated 2022 season arrives, the Buccaneers will be awaiting word on the severity of Godwin's injury, and whether or not Evans also has an injury to overcome. Either way, they were thrilled to have Julio Jones at their disposal in Sunday's season opener and they will be ready to lean on him in the weeks to come if necessary.

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