The Cowboys won the toss to begin the 2021 season and elected to defer, putting the ball in the hands of the Bucs' offense to begin the game. Again, the Buccaneers would start slow, likely again playing mind games as they lured Dallas into a false sense of security going three and out.
A good punt from Bradley Pinion pinned the Cowboys at their own two-yard line but quarterback Dak Prescott threw a 28-yard pass to get out of danger quickly. Dallas would make it as far as the Bucs' 39-yard line before ultimately surrendering to a punt after a false start by 'the entire offensive line.' No, seriously. That's what the referee said.
The next series would meet more of the expectations the Bucs have of their high-powered offense as Brady drove 94 yards down the field, largely thanks to catches by Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and then ultimately Chris Godwin. The latter hauled in a five-yard catch in the end zone to put the Bucs on the board first, 7-0,with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
The Cowboys answered with a scoring drive of their own, going 75 yards in seven plays. It ended with a pass from Prescott to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for his first completion of the night right at the front corner of the end zone. It tied everything up with 1:35 left in the first.
The next drive for the Bucs yielded no points as they stalled at midfield, but the Bucs' defense returned the favor. It was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who stood Dallas running back Troy Pollard up at the line on third down, carrying Pollard with him until the whistle blew. The result was a Cowboys punt as they surrendered the ball with 12:54 left in the second.
The Bucs kicked in again on the next drive, which they would start at midfield thanks to a good return by Jaydon Mickens, despite the fact there was also a holding penalty called on them. Brady and company marched down the field quickly and the drive ended with a two-yard dart to Gronkowski in the front of the end zone to put the Bucs on top 14-7 with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Dallas went `62 yards in seven plays but stalled at the Tampa Bay 13. Kicker Greg Zuerlein then went for the field goal try but missed the 31-yarder, leaving the score 14-7.
Disaster struck for the Bucs on the next series when running back Ronald Jones fumbled the ball on the first play of the drive. Dallas took over at the Bucs' 27 and then would capitalize, getting in the end zone on a five-yard pass to Amari Cooper. They would have tied it up had in not been for a missed extra point. The Bucs clung to a one-point lead halfway through the second quarter.
The next series would also end in a turnover as Brady was intercepted off a tipped pass intended for running back Leonard Fournette. It was Dallas' Trevon Diggs who came up with the ball but this time Dallas would only get a field goal out of it. The Cowboys took their first lead of the game, 16-14, with 3:21 left before the half.
Then, seemingly fed up with the mistakes, the Bucs' offense needed just two plays to get down the field after starting at their own 43. It was a first-down pass to Chris Godwin followed by a 47-yard touchdown pass to Brown, who made the score 21-16 and the Dallas lead short-lived just before the two-minute warning.
From there, Dallas ended up attempting a 60-yard field goal that was no good. The Bucs wouldn't be able to score on their last drive of the first half, though. It left the score 21-16 going into the half.
Dallas came out of the half starting with the ball after deferring at the beginning of the game. They went down the field but the defense would stop them on third down and goal at the Tampa Bay three. It mitigated the damage, allowing the Bucs to hold their lead after Zuerlein was good from 21 yards, making the score 21-19 with 9:19 left in the third.
The Bucs' next series ended in a punt for the offense, going three and out with the added bonus of a questionable holding call on fourth down. The Cowboys took over at their own 25-yard line.
This time, it would be Dallas' turn to turn it over after the pass from Prescott bounced out of the hands of CeeDee Lamb… and into the hands of Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis. The offense took back over for the Bucs and it wouldn't be long before Brady found Gronkowski for the second time on the night for an 11-yard touchdown pass that increased the Bucs' lead to 28-19 halfway through the third quarter.
The Cowboys would answer on their next drive – and eat up some clock. Prescott found Cooper in the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown pass, capping off a 10-play, 75-yard trip down the field for Dallas. It cut the Bucs' lead to 28-26 with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay would unfortunately come up empty on their next drive but the Bucs' defense would return the favor as the two teams traded punts. Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense took back over with 10:54 to play, starting at their own 37-yard line.
From there, the Bucs went all the way down the field, getting to the 13-yard line before Brady fired to Godwin to get the Bucs inside the five. As Godwin was fighting to get into the end zone, he ended up losing the ball and Dallas recovered. The Bucs got the Cowboys into a third and 11 situation by the time the two-minute warning rolled around. They'd convert and get to the Bucs' 34-yard line. They'd get as far as the 30-yard line before being forced into a field goal attempt. This time, Zuerlein would convert the 48-yard kick and give Dallas a 29-28 lead with 1:24 left in the game.
The Bucs incurred a false start penalty on the drive which costed them their last timeout. A couple great catches, one by Gronk, one by Godwin got the Bucs to the Cowboys' 18. Three straight throwaways brought up fourth and 10 from the 14 and it was Ryan Succop who connected on the 36-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 31-29 lead with two seconds left in the game.
Dallas got the ball and immediately took a timeout with time to run one play. It wouldn't go anywhere and the Bucs would end the night with a win, 31-29.