Tom Brady has had plenty of great games. Sunday night wasn't one of them.
But Brady has also been a part of a lot of wins — 278 of them including the playoffs heading into his age-45 season — and he did enough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win yet again.
The Buccaneers played an ugly, winning game against the Dallas Cowboys. There have been, and probably will be, many games in which Brady carries the team to a win. On Sunday night, the running game and defense led the way in the 19-3 victory. All wins count the same.
The biggest news came after the game when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced Dak Prescott needs surgery on his (right) throwing hand and will miss several weeks. Prescott was injured in the fourth quarter after being hit on the hand.
The Buccaneers also lost left tackle Donovan Smith (arm) and receiver Chris Godwin (hamstring) to injuries. That was in addition to preseason losses on the offensive line, and the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. It's not exactly like the Bucs' cupboard is bare — they still have big names like Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Leonard Fournette and right tackle Tristan Wirfs — but it was still a challenge. The Buccaneers got only one touchdown Sunday night.
It was good for Brady that the Bucs didn't need a ton of offense to win. Because Tampa didn't generate much of it.
Bucs, Cowboys struggle to move the ball
Last season, the Cowboys and Buccaneers played a thriller in Week 1. Tampa Bay hit a field goal in the final seconds for a 31-29 win. It was a fantastic way to start the season.
Nothing about Sunday night was fantastic.
Both teams struggled to block and move the ball. There were no touchdowns in the first half. Of the five field goals before halftime, the Bucs had four of them. At least Tampa Bay hit a few plays. Dallas' offense had nothing going on.
The Cowboys' already-thin line lost another starter when guard Connor McGovern injured his ankle in the first half. The combination of all the Cowboys' losses along the line affected their ability to move the ball. The Buccaneers defense played very well, with the pass rush leading the way. An interception by safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was another turning point in the game.
With 3:23 left in the third quarter, Evans caught back-to-back passes from Brady including a one-handed grab on a fade route against Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs for a touchdown. That gave the Buccaneers a 19-3 lead and that seemed insurmountable for the Cowboys, given how their offense had looked.
The only thing that would help was a Brady mistake, and he made one early in the fourth quarter.
Bucs rely on running game
The Cowboys were scuffling on offense, but got an interception near midfield. Safety Donovan Wilson showed blitz on Brady's right side, then slid to the other side of the line at the snap. It's hard to fool Brady but the Cowboys got him with that play. Wilson grabbed the short interception and Dallas was in business. Then the offense went three-and-out and punted, squandering a great opportunity to get back in the game. The Buccaneers didn't score again but the Cowboys had a lot of issues against Tampa Bay's defense, and then the Cowboys' night got worse when Prescott left with his right hand injury in the fourth quarter.
Brady wasn't terrible, but he wasn't great. He threw for 212 yards. What kept Tampa Bay going on offense was a nice night from Leonard Fournette, who had his most rushing yards as a member of the Bucs with 127. He limped off in the fourth quarter and rookie Rachaad White closed the game out at running back.
Brady had a weird offseason, with a 40-day retirement and then an 11-game vacation during training camp. The Buccaneers took on some injuries before the season and again Sunday, leading to skepticism over whether Tampa Bay could be a contender again. The Bucs didn't pass that test Sunday, but at least they're 1-0 as they figure things out.