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NFL Kickoff: A Packed Stadium, Two Anthems, And Another Victory For Tom Brady
TAMPA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 09: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium on September 09, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Ehrmann/Getty Images

There was quite a bit for NFL fans to process on Thursday night. After months of waiting, arguing over whether the NFL’s COVID protocols were going too far, we finally got back to football. 

Well, eventually. 

The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the season at home against the Dallas Cowboys, coming off a 6-10 season. The return of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott — holding a much-deserved 4-year, $160 million contract — was the focus for many, as was the return of all 22 starters from the Bucs Super Bowl roster. 

Before kickoff, we were greeted by the familiar tones of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Michaels acknowledged the packed house in Tampa — the official attendance at Raymond James Stadium was 65,566 — which was a major change from the 2020 season that saw little to no fans in all NFL stadiums due to the pandemic. 

The massive crowd comes just days after the college football season kicked off in front of packed stadiums over the weekend. The sheer number of people at games around the country — and the questions over whether vaccines were required to enter the venues — had the Left up in arms. 

Tuesday morning, Fauci joined Jim Sciutto on CNN’s “New Day” and said he didn’t “think it’s smart” for stadiums to be filled with fans. 

“Outdoors is always better than indoors, but even when you have such a congregate setting of people close together – first, you should be vaccinated,” Fauci said of the college football crowds. “And when you do have congregate settings, particularly indoors, you should be wearing a mask.”

To kick off the NFL season, a video of Alicia Keys singing “Lift Every Voice And Sing” was played in the stadium with the help of the Florida A&M Concert Choir. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played shortly after. 

“Tonight, the NFL as it did last year will present ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ also known as the black national anthem,” NBC’s Mike Tirico said during the broadcast Thursday. “And it will happen at several league events during the year — the NFL continuing the attention around social justice causes.”

According to a report by Front Office Sports, “The NFL also plans to make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ — often referred to as the Black national anthem — a prominent part of all big league events.”

And then, there was football. Glorious football. 

At 44-years of age, we’ve run out of words to describe the great Tom Brady. The Cowboys had very few answers for Tampa Bay’s offense all night long as the Bucs showed what a full offseason can do for their chemistry. 

While Prescott looked like he hasn’t skipped a beat since his gruesome ankle injury during week five of the 2020 season, Brady looked like he was 25-years-old, and the defending champions moved to 1-0 with a 31-29 victory on a 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with two seconds left to play. 

“The margin of error is thin in the NFL,” Brady said. “One or two plays, it’s always that’s the way the game goes. Fortunately, we found a way to win. I’m really happy Ryan and the field goal team made that really clutch kick there at the end. That was great to see. … But as a team, we all know we’ve got to get back to work.”

Brady was 32-50 on the night, throwing for 379 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted twice, but one was on a dropped screen pass to running back Leonard Fournette, and the other was on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. 

He connected with longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski for two touchdowns, and much-maligned receiver Antonio Brown had five catches for 121 yards. If it wasn’t for Tampa’s four turnovers, it’s likely the game would not have gone down to the wire. Bucs receiver Chris Godwin fumbled at the Dallas two-yard line late in the fourth quarter, allowing Dallas to get into field goal range to take the lead. 

The Cowboys’ offense was one-dimensional all night long, never able to get star running back Ezekiel Elliott involved in the game plan. Elliott had just 11 carries for 33 yards on the night. But the return of Prescott was the story for Dallas. 

Coming off the dislocation and fracture of his right ankle, Prescott looked more than worthy of his new contract. 

He threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns while completing 42 of 58 passes. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb both went over 100 yards receiving on the night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Brady’s performance. 

“I enjoyed every moment of that game,” Prescott said. “Honestly, this whole trip, there’s been multiple moments that I’ve taken in and just missed the bus ride, missed the warm-ups, missed the fans, missed so much about this game that brings me so much joy. Being down in a game two points and knowing you’re going to have an opportunity to go back out there and play. Just that resiliency — missed that. Missed that feeling that sparks up in me and the fire that it had. There wasn’t a part of this game or moment I took for granted.”

The first full slate of NFL games kicks off this Sunday, September 12. 

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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