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Takeaways from Bucs Victory at Dallas | Week 1 

Top highlights from Sunday’s regular season opener with the Dallas Cowboys

Takeaways Wk 1 Bucs Cowboys

In Sunday's marquee matchup at AT&T Stadium, several players emerged on the turf for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During the 60-minute competitive clash, the Bucs imposed their will. With a balanced offensive attack and a formidable defense, Tampa Bay tallied its first win of the regular season. From injury updates to top performances, here are the top takeaways from the Bucs' Week One showdown.

Injury Updates: Status of Chris Godwin and Donovan Smith

Left tackle Donovan Smith exited the game midway through the second quarter with an elbow injury. On Monday, Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed the specifics of the sustained injury. "He's got a hyperextended elbow," said Bowles. "It's a pain tolerance thing, so he's pretty sore right now. We'll monitor him during the week." The Bucs will take his situation day-by-day, with the hope of Smith playing Sunday against the division rival New Orleans Saints.

Two drives after Smith's injury and 19 plays into Sunday's meeting, wide receiver Chris Godwin limped to the sideline. After making a five-yard catch on a quick out route, Godwin exited the game with a hamstring injury and did not return. Bowles gave a sigh of relief from the podium on Monday, revealing the injury to be less significant than the staff originally believed. "It all depends on how the treatment goes and how he feels," Bowles described. "Hopefully we'll have him back sooner rather than later."

In his opening debut since suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee against the Saints in December's Week 15 loss, Godwin compiled a 24-yard gain off a screen on the Bucs' first offensive play of the game. He totaled three catches for 35 yards and although he did not make it out of the game unscathed as hoped, his surgically repaired knee is fine. The two injuries are unrelated, and the hamstring injury becomes another step in the comeback process.

Game Plan

On offense, Byron Leftwich dialed up a winning formula and adjusted as the game wore on. In the first half, the Bucs took advantage of the Cowboys' single-high safety look by getting receivers to the perimeter with out routes, comebacks and screens. Tampa Bay utilized the ground game in the second half to slow down the Cowboys' pass rush after Micah Parsons had several successful plays to the left side of the formation. The Bucs began loading the line on the left side with receiver stalk blocks, tight end chips and pulls by offensive linemen. In the game, 15 of Fournette's runs came to the left side of the formation, accounting for 111 yards – courtesy of Ko Kieft's lead blocking and the pin-and-pull technique featuring Shaq Mason. As the Cowboys' defense adjusted to stopping the run by loading the box, Mike Evans took advantage of one-on-one matchups.

On defense, the Buccaneers created an implementable front. On 64 offensive plays, Dallas did not cross midfield after the opening drive until the final minute of the third quarter. Through 60 minutes of football, the Cowboys had 12 first downs and only converted three of 15 third-down attempts. Bowles' crew took away the intermediate area of the field, not allowing the Cowboys to resort to a quick passing assault to mitigate pressure or to attack the perimeter. The unit consistently harassed Dak Prescott in the pocket to the tune of 4.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits and six passes defensed. Whether dropping into coverage and undercutting passes or bulldozing a running back in the backfield, the Bucs' defense swarmed under the prime-time lights.

Leonard Fournette's Stellar Outing

Playoff Lenny is now regular season Lenny. The Bucs' featured back, Leonard Fournette, gashed the Cowboys' defense on Sunday night, amassing 127 rushing yards on 21 attempts, averaging a sensational 6.0 yards-per-carry. No. 7 showcased his rare combination of size, power and speed. He quickly burst through holes and hit a second gear in the open field post-cut. With balance through tackles and the ability to take away angles from defenders in space with quickness, Fournette made an impression between the hash marks. He amassed the best performance of his tenure as a Buccaneer, setting the tone for 2022. Whether it was a backside pull from rookie tight end Ko Kieft or Shaq Mason paving the way, Fournette took advantage of the crease. He also created opportunities for his teammates. Julio Jones' 48-yard catch off a go route was a result of Fournette's merciless pancake block on Micah Parsons, giving Brady additional time to get the ball off. His overall play garnered praise from Bowles, who stated "They gave us some things up front and Lenny did a heck of a job running hard, physical, finding the holes. The offensive line did a great job blocking. It was a total team effort tonight."

Devin White Led Defensive Onslaught

Devin White showcased his sideline-to-sideline range and downhill burst on Sunday night. He led the defensive performance with 2.0 sacks, both flipping the field. In the third quarter, White took down Prescott on a third-down inside stunt, forcing a Cowboys' punt. The Buccaneers consistently forced the Cowboys' offense into unfavorable down-and-distance situations, allowing Bowles to unleash pass rushers on obvious passing downs. Then in the fourth quarter, White closed in with his 4.3 speed. He accelerated out of his stance and immediately bypassed Tony Pollard's attempted chip for a free run at Cooper Rush. His multi-sack performance energized the defense and set the standard. No. 45 is on pace for another breakout year in 2022.

Mike Evans Highlight Reel Play

In the third quarter, Mike Evans made a game-shifting play. After taking advantage of the one-on-one matchup as Fournette drew a defender in motion, Mike Evans brought the Bucs' offense to first-and-goal. It was only fitting that he capped off the drive the very next play. Brady hit Evans in the end zone on a back shoulder fade, extending the team's lead, 19-3. As Evans fell backward, he hauled in the acrobatic catch to the awe of onlookers. His highlight-worthy play helped seal the victory and sparked the team's resurgence.

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