If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fancy themselves as the best team in the NFL, then the Dallas Cowboys aren't too far behind.
In a game in which the Cowboys had their chances to take control of the game, their offense stalled too many times, and Tampa Bay took advantage, overcoming four turnovers and a lot of early-season mistakes in a 31-29 opening-night victory, after Ryan Succop nailed a 36-yard field goal with two seconds left.
As the Bucs were driving down the field late in the fourth quarter, leading 28-26 with a chance to put the game away, Chris Godwin fumbled the ball after a first-down reception near the Dallas goal line, Tampa Bay's fourth turnover of the night.
Starting at their own 10 yard line, Dallas had a huge challenge to go up against the Bucs' hobbled defense with 4:52 left. They managed to get to the Bucs' 31, and Greg Zuerlein nailed a 48-yarder to give Dallas its first lead of the night, 29-28.
But Tom Brady had 1:24 and a time out left, starting at their own 25 after a touchback. And after a five-yard false start penalty, the Bucs decided to use their last time out instead of a 10-second runoff with 55 seconds left. And with 18-seconds left, Tom Brady and Godwin, making up for his fumble, connected on a 24-yard pass play to put the ball at the Cowboys 18, setting up the winning score.
The way the Cowboys attacked the Buccaneers defense most of the night has given the rest of the league a blueprint on how the Bucs can be conquered this season. However, the Bucs' main weapon, Tom Brady, likely will keep them in every game this year.
Perhaps the Buccaneers biggest weakness heading into the season, their secondary, took some hits as starting nickel back Sean Murphy-Bunting left the game early with an elbow injury, and on the first play of the second half, safety Mike Edwards, in for the injured Jordan Whitehead, also suffered an injury, and missed the rest of the game..
Cowboys' quarterback Dak Prescott looked like he hadn't missed any time, taking advantage of the Buccaneers' depleted secondary, completing 42 of 58 passes for 403 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. If Prescott looks this good against an alleged top defense, the rest of the league needs to keep an eye on Dallas this season.
The Bucs held a 21-16 lead at halftime, with Brady throwing three scores, one each to Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, the latter scoring again in the third quarter on an 11-yard pass from Brady to give the Bucs a 28-19 lead. Brady finished 32 of 50 for 379 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Dallas' first-half points came on touchdown passes from Prescott to CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, but on Cooper's score, Zuerlein missed the extra point. Zuerlein also missed a chip-shot 31-yard attempt earlier in the second quarter and a 60-yarder before the end of the half.
Cooper had a huge game, leading the Cowboys receivers with 13 catches for 139 yards and two scores, but in the end it was not enough.
The Bucs stay in Tampa and get a nice 10-day break before hosting the Atlanta Falcons at 4:05 on September 19th.