That. Was. Fun.
The NFL kicked off its 2021 season with an absolute thriller on Thursday Night Football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys combined for 60 points, 882 yards, and an astounding 54 first downs in a 31-29 nail-biter that saw the defending Super Bowl champions start the new year 1-0. Offense was aplenty, to say the least, and there were several standout performers on both sides of the ball.
Dak Prescott marked his return from a nasty ankle injury suffered in Week 5 of last season in admirable fashion. Tom Brady looked like, well, Tom Brady. Amari Cooper, Chris Godwin, Vita Vea, Trevon Diggs, Shaq Barrett, and CeeDee Lamb all made their presence felt on several occasions.
The real standout performer of the night? Antonio Brown, who looked like an elite wide receiver once again.
Brown didn’t just look excellent on Thursday, he looked like himself. His performance line of 5/121/1 made him the Buccaneers’ best receiver of the night. Dare I say it was shades of the 2013-18 Brown we all came to be in shock and awe of? Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown never looked like he stood a chance in coverage. It’s just one game, but Antonio Brown certainly looked like he’s ready to return to the form he was once famously known for, and that’s a scary thought for opposing defenses.
Putting it lightly, It’s been a tumultuous two and a half years for Brown. His “journey” up until this point has been well documented. There was the messy breakup with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then came his “stint” with the Las Vegas Raiders. I’m not even quite sure how to refer to whatever that was. Brown then landed in an ideal situation with the New England Patriots, but his multiple off-field issues and run-ins with the law forced the Patriots to cut ties with him after just one game.
After basically spending all of 2019 on the sidelines (and in the news for all the wrong reasons), Brown ended up playing in eight games for the Buccaneers in 2020, joining an offense that was starting to hum along by the time he joined the ranks. He finished the year with a Super Bowl ring, but his 45 catches and 483 yards during the regular season were hardly anything to be impressed by on the surface.
Never underestimate what a full offseason in the same offense can do for a player. Brown looked like an integral piece of the Buccaneers’ offense on Thursday night, as opposed to just another weapon. Brady looked for him on crucial downs time and time again and Brown delivered when called upon.
The Buccaneers have a lot of mouths to feed on offense. Mike Evans will have much better performances than he had on Thursday. Godwin will continue to perform at a high level, and Rob Gronkowski will keep finding the end zone with regularity. But if there’s one thing this offense proved on Thursday night, it’s that they can spread the ball around and get everyone involved. Brady threw for four touchdowns and completed passes to six different receivers. We have an inkling that more performances such as this one are on the way.
The Godwins, Evans’, and Gronkowskis of the world will keep doing what they do best, but they better be prepared to make room for Brown, because he certainly looks poised to take the league by storm once again.