The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as defending Super Bowl champions, get the privilege of kicking off the entire 2021 NFL season on Thursday night, and they'll do it on the very same field they won Super Bowl LV in February. Coming to Raymond James Stadium to share in the annual "Kickoff Game" spotlight are the Dallas Cowboys, who are hoping to see Dak Prescott lift them back into playoff contention after a lost 2020 campaign.
The Buccaneers made history on February 7 when they became the first team in NFL history to win (or even play in) a Super Bowl in their own home stadium. That championship will be celebrated in front of a sold out crowd on Thursday night but Bruce Arians and his crew are eager to turn the page and focus solely on 2021. As Arians has said repeatedly since February, and as his players have echoed on myriad occasions, this is a new Buccaneers team and last year's Lombardi Trophy doesn't do anything to help Tampa Bay win in 2021.
Arians' message about putting in the work is a good one and has been well-received, but there actually is quite a bit about the current team that is familiar. General Manager Jason Licht managed to navigate through a free agency minefield to keep the champions' entire core intact, including every 2020 starter and virtually every key reserve. Where this continuity is likely to have its greatest effect is on the Tom Brady offense, as the legendary quarterback will start his second season in Tampa with a much better grasp of the offense and a greater connection with his talented group of pass-catchers. The Buccaneers are hoping to start the season on the same kind of roll they were on over the last two months of 2020.
Tampa Bay's defense was arguably riding even higher at the end of last season, particularly in a memorable Super Bowl performance that saw the Bucs hold Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs without a touchdown. That defense has a rising star at the middle of it in third-year inside linebacker Devin White plus an exciting new piece for the edge rush rotation in rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. The Bucs will need to get pressure from their front seven on Thursday night to help a young, rising secondary against Prescott and a Dallas offense that rivals Tampa Bay's in terms of top-level talent.
Prescott was on a record-setting pace for passing yards last season before he suffered terrible ankle injury in the Cowboys' fifth game. Because the injury was so severe, Prescott has been under the microscope all offseason in regard to whether he would be ready to go at the start of this season. A shoulder injury that kept him out for much of training camp didn't help, but Prescott is reportedly all set for Thursday night. He'll have a lot of help with the likes of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz.
The Dallas defense, meanwhile, will get a serious season-opening test as it tries to rebound from a very tough 2020 season. The Cowboys have put in a lot of work to retool that defense in the offseason, most notably with the selection of dynamic Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round of the draft, but they also have some early-season injury concerns. Rookie cornerback Kelvin Joseph, a second-round pick and possible starter, and starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore were two of six players Dallas put on injured reserve after the roster cutdown to 53 players.
The Buccaneers and Cowboys have actually met in Week One two times before, with Tampa Bay winning in Dallas in 2001 and the Cowboys getting revenge in Tampa in 2009. Neither game was quite like this one, however. In fact, the Buccaneers have never played in a game quite like this one. When they won Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season, they were sent to Philadelphia the next year for a Monday Night Football showcase in Week One. The Kickoff Game tradition began shortly after that and now the Buccaneers will take part in it for the first time. The title defense officially begins on Thursday night.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
Thursday, September 9, 8:20 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618)
Television: NBC (Local WFLA Channel 8)
TV Broadcast Team: Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinswoth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Cowboys lead the all-time series with Tampa Bay 13-4, 15-4 if one includes the postseason, and it basically has been as lopsided as that sounds. However, the Buccaneers may now be in position to chip away at that Dallas lead, just like they did two decades ago.
Basically, there was no Bucs-Cowboys rivalry during the first decade-and-a-half of the former club's existence. From 1966-85, Dallas made the playoffs 18 times in 20 seasons and played in five Super Bowls. Midway through that run, the Buccaneers were born as a 1976 expansion team and they got their first crack at the Cowboys in 1977. The quarterback matchup was Roger Staubach against Gary Huff, and Dallas won easily, 23-7. The two teams would meet only seven more times over the next two-plus decades, with the Cowboys taking each contest. It didn't help that seven of those eight games were played in Texas; the Bucs are 1-10 on the road against the Cowboys all-time but a respectable 3-3 at home.
The expansion Buccaneers did make a rather impressive rise to playoff contention in just four years, even advancing to the NFC Championship Game in 1979. That John McKay-Lee Roy Selmon-Doug Williams squad also qualified for the playoffs in 1981 and 1982; the problem was that each of those postseason runs began – and ended – with a trip to Dallas.
The series turned around, at least for a short stretch when the Buccaneers turned things around as a franchise in the latter half of the '90s. The Bucs and Cowboys didn't meet for nearly that entire decade then finally got together again in 2000. The Bucs, coming off a season in which they advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in 22 years, won that meeting handily, 27-7, sparked by Warrick Dunn's 70-yard touchdown run less than five minutes into the game.
The Bucs beat the Cowboys twice more during their first Super Bowl era, 10-6 in Dallas to kick off the 2001 season and 16-0 in Tampa in 2003. The latter of those two games came with the defending Super Bowl XXXVII champions in the middle of an up-and-down title defense season. The defense took over, allowing just nine first downs and 178 yards of offense and getting key interceptions from Jermaine Phillips and Ronde Barber.
After that run, Dallas reestablished control of the head-to-head series, winning seven of the last eight, most recently a tight 27-20 contest near the end of the 2018 season. Two years before that the Buccaneers also went to Dallas late in the season, this time with both teams in playoff contention. Dallas dealt the Bucs' playoff hopes a serious blow with a 26-20 win most famous for running back Ezekiel Elliott's leap into a giant Salvation Army bucket behind the end zone.
Tampa Bay's most recent win in the series came in 2015, and it was another defense-driven decision. The Buccaneers held Dallas to 216 total yards but couldn't pull away thanks to a pair of interceptions thrown by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston also had a nearly disastrous goal-line fumble erased by a Dallas penalty, after which he ran in the winning touchdown on a bootleg for a 10-6 Bucs lead. Safety Bradley McDougald then sealed the game with an interception.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 1 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
- Cowboys Defensive Backs Coach Al Harris, who played cornerback for 14 years in the NFL, first entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 1997. He spent his rookie campaign on Tampa Bay's practice squad and was then waived by Tampa Bay the following preseason.
- Dallas punter Bryan Anger served in the same role for the Buccaneers for three seasons, from 2016-18. He holds the Buccaneers' single-season records for gross punting average (45.9), net punting average (42.7) and punts inside the 20 (37), all set in 2016.
- Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles was the Cowboys' defensive backs coach from 2005-07.
- Tampa Bay Specialists Coach Chris Boniol was a kicker for the Cowboys for three seasons (1994-96) and also began his coaching career in Dallas as an assistant special teams coach from 2010-13. Boniol helped Dallas win Super Bowl XXX, connecting on 27 of his 28 field goal tries during that 1995 season.
- Buccaneers Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers first moved from the college coaching ranks into the NFL in 2003 with the Cowboys, starting out as the team's defensive tackles coach. After two seasons in that role he spent three more as the Cowboys' defensive line coach.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- Tampa Bay:
- Head Coach Bruce Arians
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
- Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
- Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
- Head Coach Mike McCarthy
- Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore
- Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn
- Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- RB Giovani Bernard (FA)
- LB K.J. Britt (fifth-round draft pick)
- S Chris Cooper (FA)
- WR Jaelon Darden (fourth-round draft pick)
- CB Dee Delaney (FA)
- OL Robert Hainsey (third-round draft pick)
- QB Kyle Trask (second-round draft pick)
- OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (first-round draft pick)
- P Bryan Anger (UFA)
- DE Tarell Basham (UFA)
- QB Will Grier (W-CAR)
- S Jayron Kearse (FA)
- S Malik Hooker (FA)
- CB Kelvin Joseph (second-round draft pick)
- S Damontae Kazee (UFA)
- LS Jacob McQuaide (UFA)
- LB Keanu Neal (UFA)
- DT Osa Odighizuwa (third-round draft pick)
- LB Micah Parsons (first-round draft pick)
- DT Brent Urban (UFA)
- DT Carlos Watkins (UFA)
ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE
- While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
- Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
- After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
- The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
- Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.
- When Mike McCarthy took over as the Cowboys' head coach in 2020 he hired Mike Nolan away from the Saints to be his defensive coordinator. Dallas then allowed the fifth-most points and the second-most rushing yards in the league and McCarthy chose to make a change after just one year. That also had something to do with Dan Quinn, the former coordinator of several great Seattle defenses, being available after being relieved of his duties as Atlanta's head coach. Two defensive coaches working under Quinn are new to Dallas, as well: Defensive Line Coach Aden Durde and Defensive Passing Game Coordinator/Secondary Coach Joe Whitt, Jr.
- The Cowboys saw a number of their longest-tenured players depart, some via retirement, in the offseason, including L.P. Ladouceur, who had been the team's long-snapper since 2005. Also gone are Chris Jones, the Dallas punter from 2011-20, linebacker Sean Lee (2009-20) and defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford (2012-20). Lee and Crawford chose to retire.
- As noted, the Cowboys have Dak Prescott back under center, but this time he'll be playing without the uncertainty of his long-term future in Dallas. Prescott and the Cowboys agreed on a four-year $160 million contract in March, shortly after the quarterback had received the franchise tag for a second straight year.
Tom & Dak – The top storyline in the Buccaneers' 2020 season opener at New Orleans was the confluence of the two most prolific passers in NFL history, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. This year's opener includes another extremely intriguing QB matchup, though not for the same reason. Brady obviously has nothing left to prove (though he will likely chase down Brees' all-time yardage record within a month), and yet his motivation never seems to wane. As he attempts to add to his incredible seven Super Bowl rings, Brady begins his second season in Tampa with a much greater command of Bruce Arians' offense, which is a scary thought for opposing defenses given how prolific the Bucs were down the stretch in 2020. Can he get off to the fast start that the Bucs' offense as a whole didn't have last year? Meanwhile, Prescott is one of the league's young stars at the quarterback position and Dallas knows as it, as they demonstrated with the big new contract in March. Prescott is no longer playing to secure that big deal but instead to prove it was the right move by the franchise. He was putting up enormous numbers before his ankle injury last season; the question for him is whether or not he's fully back to his peak self after nearly a year of rehab plus a shoulder injury in training camp.
Who Has the Real Big Three? – There's a reason we didn't include the receiving weapons that Brady and Prescott have in their respective arsenals, and that's because they deserve a write-up of their very own. If one were searching for the best wideout trio in the NFL right now, it would be wise to head to Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night because the two best candidate groups will likely be there. On the home sideline you have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. On the opposite sideline you have Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. As Bruce Arians said on Sunday when asked about that Dallas pass-catching trio: "I think that threesome might be the best [in the NFL]. I'll argue that ours might be, too." Tampa Bay's threesome has the weightier career statistics, particularly when factoring in Brown's dominance from 2013-18, but Cooper has been very prolific since coming to Dallas in a 2018 trade and Lamb, a first-round pick last year, is just getting started. Dallas used three-receiver sets on 71% of their plays last year, among the highest percentages in the NFL. The Bucs were close to 50% but might up that number in 2021 with Brown in the mix from the start and feeling spry after offseason knee surgery. Each trio consists of players who offer very different receiving profiles; collectively, they are each very hard to stop.
The Crowd and the Lights – A year ago, Tampa Bay played its home opener in front of an empty Raymond James Stadium due to that pandemic. While COVID continues to affect society in general and the NFL in particular, stadiums will be full again in 2021 and that is going to provide a very different atmosphere this fall for the defending champions. Every game has already sold out, something the Buccaneers haven't experience since 2009. And Tampa Bay is scheduled for five prime-time affairs, beginning this week in the Kickoff Game spotlight. The most recent game that counted for the Buccaneers was played on the sport's biggest stage, so even the young players on the team are used to being the center of attention. Still, they know the whole league will be watching on Thursday night and they want to get off to a strong start in their pursuit of a second consecutive championship.
Coming Around the Corner – Tampa Bay's defense collected 48 sacks in 2020, which was good for a tie for fourth in the NFL. Just like the Buccaneers' offense, however, the pass rush peaked at the end of the season, with five sacks in the NFC Championship in Green Bay and a record amount of harassment of Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl. The outside linebacker duo of Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for six sacks and 10 quarterback hits on those final two games and will try to carry that momentum into 2021. After managing a knee injury for all of 2020, Pierre-Paul is moving more freely this year and could return to double-digit sacks. Barrett, meanwhile, has spoken repeatedly about the depth of his motivation and the loftiness of his goals after signing a lucrative multi-year contract in March. Even more encouragingly, those two have been joined by electric rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, the Buccaneers' first-round pick in the 2021 draft. Tryon-Shoyinka quickly gathered a buzz in training camp with his pass-rushing prowess and was able to transfer that into the preseason games with a pair of sacks (one of which was erased by a penalty). The Buccaneers' single-season record for sacks is 55, set in 2000, but the current group could be coming for that mark. They'll try to start the season off on a good note against a Dallas offensive line that could be missing two starters in Zack Martin and La'el Collins.
Cowboy Rebounds? – Dallas failed to win the NFC East in 2020, even though a dead-even record would have been enough to take the crown. The Cowboys finished 6-10, a game back of Washington and the team's first losing record since 2015. The team's greatest offensive strengths – Prescott, a powerful offensive line and running back Zeke Elliott – were held back by injuries, and without that elite line Elliott finished with career lows in rushing yards (979) and yards per carry (4.0). Meanwhile, the Dallas defense, which had ranked in the top half of the league in both points and yards in each of the four previous seasons dropped to 28th and 23rd in those categories, respectively in 2020. There is little doubt that the Cowboys have one of the more talented rosters in the NFL, and they could quickly jump back into playoff contention if they get strong rebounds from Prescott, Elliott and the O-Line, and if a defense with a lot of new faces can improve under new coordinator Dan Quinn. The defending Super Bowl champions may have drawn a 6-10 team for their prime-time season opener but there's a chance that Dallas could prove to be one of the most challenging opponents on the Bucs' 2021 schedule.
1. Cowboys G Connor McGovern vs. Buccaneers DL Ndamukong Suh
On Sunday, Dallas put six-time Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin on the reserve/COVID-19 list, making it highly unlikely he will play against the Buccaneers on Thursday night. On Monday, the Buccaneers took powerful defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh off the COVID list, meaning he will be eligible to play in the Kickoff Game. And that's how we end up with a critical matchup in the middle of the trenches between Suh and Connor McGovern, who is expected to step in at right guard in Martin's absence. Fortunately for the Cowboys, McGovern did get a chance to start eight games at that spot last season thanks to all the turmoil with the team's offensive line. A third-round pick out of Penn State who missed his 2019 rookie season due to a torn pec, McGovern was described as a "bright spot" for the Cowboys at the end of last season but he was not slated to start in 2021 before Martin's misfortune. The 6-5, 308-pound blocker has good size and is powerful in the run game but he'll have to be at the top of his pass-protection game against Suh and the Bucs loaded defensive front. Not only has Suh been one of the key factors in Tampa Bay's back-to-back finishes atop the NFL's run defense rankings but he also had 6.0 sacks last year, his highest total since 2015, and 19 QB hits to rank second on the team. Suh still draws double teams on a frequent basis but that will be more difficult for opposing teams to do with Vita Vea fully healthy and back in action. For the Cowboys, McGovern is capable of lessening the sting of losing one of their best offensive players for the opener, but he will have his hands full against Suh, whose 79 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons ranks fifth among all interior defensive linemen (NFL Next Gen Stats).
2. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin vs. Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis
As noted above, the Buccaneers and Cowboys each have reasonable claims to the best trios of starting wideouts in the NFL in 2021, so every cornerback on the field Thursday night will be seriously tested. This particular matchup could go a long way to determining how well the Buccaneers operate out of their 11 personnel, with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown all on the field. Godwin generally moves into the slot in that grouping, which will make him the responsibility of Jourdain Lewis, the Cowboys' nickel cornerback. The challenge for Lewis, a former third-round pick going into his third year, is that it's very hard to predict what Godwin is going to do, not to mention match him when he does it. Since the start of the 2019 season, Godwin has been able to gain 150 or more yards on nine different routes (post, hitch, etc.), the only NFL player who can say that. Godwin is bigger and more physical than a lot of the NFL's top slot receivers but he's got the short-area quickness to create quick separation, too. The Cowboys clearly value what Lewis can do, though, as they signed him to a new long-term deal this offseason while letting fellow corners Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods walk. Lewis has a physical style of play that can match that of Godwin but he's also adept at making plays on the ball. Lewis is also a good blitzer out of the slot and Godwin often plays a critical role in the team's run-blocking schemes, so both players may impact Thursday's game even when they aren't going head to head.
3. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
It's hard to say which of the Cowboys' top three receivers – Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup – is the most dangerous, so the Buccaneers may not choose to shadow one of them in particular with shutdown corner Carlton Davis. Still Davis and Cooper are sure to become very familiar with each other on Thursday night. With Lamb the team's primary operator out of the slot, Cooper will more often be on the outside, and when he's split right he'll be in Davis's crosshairs. Over the last two seasons, more than half of Cooper's routes have been either a hitch or a go, so Davis's route recognition and change-of-direction skills will be key. Cooper arrived in Dallas via a midseason trade in 2018 and in the two-and-a-half seasons since has piled up 224 catches for 3,028 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging roughly 76 yards per game. With Prescott healthy for the first four games of last season, Cooper caught 37 passes for 401 yards, putting him on a 1,600-yard pace. Davis led the Buccaneers last season in both interceptions (four) and passes defensed (18), and over the past two seasons he has an NFL-leading 37 pass break-ups. He is also entering his fourth season on a growing wave of confidence, saying earlier this week that if you watch the tape and check the numbers he is "second to none" among NFL cornerbacks.
4. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Last year, Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs saw his very first live NFL action in the Superdome against Saints star defensive end Cameron Jordan. That was a daunting task for the untested rookie but one he was equal to as he began a remarkable debut season in which he was only credited with allowing one sack. Obviously, that incredible 2020 showing gives both Wirfs and the Buccaneers confidence that he can handle another tough opening-day assignment in the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence is one of the NFL's best run-stopping defensive ends, so part of this matchup will be seeing which big man can move the other one in the direction he wants to move him. Lawrence hasn't had overwhelming sack numbers the past two seasons (11.5 combined in 2019-20) but he hit double digits in both 2017 and 2018 and made the Pro Bowl both times. He remains a significant pass-rushing threat, but Wirfs is so agile and quick-footed on the right edge of the line that it won't be easy for Lawrence to get past him to Tom Brady. The Cowboy star does rush from both sides of the line but more commonly goes up against the right tackle. Dallas does not have a lot of proven pass rushers in their current defensive front, so it will probably be up to Lawrence to disrupt Brady's timing. It won't be easy against the Bucs' second-year budding star.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- RB Giovani Bernard (ankle) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Antonio Brown (knee) – MON: FP; TUES: DNP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Chris Godwin (quad) - MON: NL; TUES: LP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) - MON: NL; TUES: LP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) - MON: NL; TUES: DNP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (not injury related) - MON: NL; TUES: DNP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Jordan Whitehead (hamstring) – MON: DNP; TUES: DNP; WEDS: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DE Tarell Basham (ankle) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- T La'el Collins (neck) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DE Chauncey Golston (hamstring) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB C.J. Goodwin (hamstring) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- LS Jake McQuaide (foot) - MON: NL; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- T Ty Nsekhe (foot) – MON: LP; TUES: LP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- QB Dak Prescott (right shoulder) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Donovan Wilson (groin) – MON: FP; TUES: FP; WEDS: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
Evening: Partly cloudy, possible thunderstorms later, evening low of 77, 40% chance of rain, 82% humidity, winds out of the W at 9 mph.
Head referee: Shawn Hochuli (8th season, 4th as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-7.5)
· Over/Under: 50.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS (2020 final totals)
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 136
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 13
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,633
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 102.2
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 978
Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 70
Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 1,006
Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 9.5
Tackles: LB Devin White, 140
Points Scored: K Greg Zuerlein, 135
Touchdowns: RB Ezekiel Elliott, 8
Passing Yards: QB Andy Dalton, 2,170
Passer Rating: QB Dak Prescott, 99.6
Rushing Yards: RB Ezekiel Elliott, 979
Receptions: WR Amari Cooper, 92
Receiving Yards: WR Amari Cooper, 1,114
Interceptions: CB Trevon Diggs, 3
Sacks: DE DeMarcus Lawrence, 6.5
Tackles: LB Jaylon Smith, 154
TEAM STAT RANKINGS (2020 end of season)
Scoring Offense: 3rd (30.8 ppg)
Total Offense: 7th (384.1 ypg)
Passing Offense: 2nd (289.1 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 28th (94.9 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 5th (22.1)
Third-Down Pct.: 11th (43.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd (3.51%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 7th (68.9%)
Scoring Defense: 8th (22.2 ppg)
Total Defense: 6th (327.1 ypg)
Passing Defense: 21st (246.6 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 1st (80.6 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (19.9)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 14th (40.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 7th (7.78%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 20th (62.8%)
Turnover Margin: 6th (+8)
Scoring Offense: 17th (24.7 ppg)
Total Offense: 14th (371.8 ypg)
Passing Offense: 8th (260.1 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 17th (111.8 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 7th (23.2)
Third-Down Pct.: 109h (40.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 20th (6.89%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-29th (50.0%)
Scoring Defense: 28th (29.6 ppg)
Total Defense: 23rd (386.4 ypg)
Passing Defense: 11th (227.6 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 31st (158.8 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 21st (22.4)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 26th (46.9%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 19th (6.04%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 17th (61.8%)
Turnover Margin: t-21st (-3)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Tom Brady heads into his 22nd NFL season with 99 300-yard passing games in his career. One more on Thursday night against Dallas would allow him to join Drew Brees (123) as the only players in NFL history to hit triple-digits in that category.
- As he guns for 300 yards, Brady might also find his favorite touchdown target, Rob Gronkowski, one more time. If those two do hook up for their 85th combined touchdown pass in the regular season they will catch the former 49er duo of Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Young and Rice also connected on 85 regular-season touchdowns.
- Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett have very quickly climbed the Buccaneers' all-time sacks, with both already cracking the top ten. Pierre-Paul ranks eighth with 30.5 sacks and needs three more to pass Brad Culpepper (33.0) for seventh. Barrett is 10th with 27.5 sacks and needs one to pass Ronde Barber (28.0) for ninth.
- Tight end Cameron Brate has 29 receiving touchdowns in his career, which is the fourth most in franchise history. He could tie Kevin House for the third spot with two more.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on if there's an area where he's most proud of his team's growth: "No, I'm proud of that entire group, just the way that they've shown every single day since we've gotten back together at mini-camp. When you're on this defense versus this offense, when you don't have you're A game you're going to get embarrassed and vice versa. For a coach it's just throw the ball out there and let them play and see who gets embarrassed."
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul on opening the season as defending champs in front of a packed home crowd: "I think we're all excited. Just to come back and get our stadium back with our fans. The fans are going to be excited. I'm ready to get them pumped up. We're pumped up and we're ready to go. We had crowd noise today, very loud, [and] we had to be extra loud with our calls. I think we're ready to go."
- CB Carlton Davis on competing against such talented receivers as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown every day during training camp: "I've been saying it really since my rookie year that they've been getting me right every offseason and every camp. To be able to go against Mike, Chris, then we added A.B. – and all of the other receivers – we've just got so much diversity with our receivers as far as quick, big, possession, strong. Just going up against those guys was just great for me because they allowed me to work on my technique and just get some game-like plays and reps in during this time where your developing and you're trying to get back in the groove of the season. Those guys take no plays off. They're always the same. They're always trying to compete."
- WR Mike Evans on his connection with QB Tom Brady: "We're miles ahead of what we were last year. Not just me and his connection, but the whole team – the whole offense. It's really exciting and hopefully we can do something really special this year."
- CB Sean Murphy-Bunting on where he has improved his technique: "Obviously, coming into the NFL and playing nickel – never really played nickel before – so adjusting to all the drops and all the man-to-man things and the concepts. Obviously, you're given a little bit more space in the box. I think for me it was getting a grasp on the game itself and just understanding where my leverage was and understanding where my help was. Just getting better at that each and every play each and every year."