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Bucs kick off season with Cowboys, first of record five prime-time games

Tom Brady returns to New England for a Week 4 game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) leads his team down the tunnel as players take to the field for warmups before a 2020 game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) leads his team down the tunnel as players take to the field for warmups before a 2020 game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 12
Updated May 13

TAMPA — Tom Brady will jog onto the field Sept. 9 and head to the north end zone at Raymond James Stadium, where he will let loose his ear-splitting, game-day primal scream of “Let’s goooooo!!!”

It will be the kickoff to the NFL’s 102nd season, and a nation will be watching the Super Bowl 55 champions begin the defense of their world title.

But there will be some other stars coming out of the visitors’ tunnel, and not just the ones on the helmets of the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed 11 games after suffering a compound fracture and the dislocation of his right ankle last season, will make his return for the Cowboys. He will be followed by offensive talents like running back Ezekiel Elliott and receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.

It’s Bucs-Cowboys, and America will be watching at 8:20 p.m. on NBC to see if the then-44-year-old Brady can kick around “America’s Team.”

But that’s just the appetizer for Bucs fans, who will be treated to watching their team on a club-record five prime-time nationally televised games.

Tampa Bay was scheduled for five prime-time games last season, but a game against the Raiders Oct. 25 in Las Vegas was moved from 8:20 p.m. to 4:05 due to COVID-19 concerns.

Perhaps no game on the 2021 schedule will be more compelling than the Week 4 game at New England, where Brady spent 20 seasons.

The prodigal son will return to Gillette Stadium Oct. 3 for a Sunday Night Football game against former head coach Bill Belichick.

However, the NFL schedule-makers didn’t do Brady and the Bucs any favors. That game comes after a Week 3 game against the Rams Sept. 26 in Los Angeles. It begins a stretch of three road games in four weeks.

The Bucs also appear in prime time Oct. 14 at Philadelphia in a Thursday night game (NFL Network/Amazon), host the Giants on Monday Night Football on Nov. 22 (ESPN) and play the Saints at Raymond James Stadium Dec. 19 on Sunday Night Football (NBC).

“It’s going to be exciting. (The Cowboys) have a football team that’s trying to redeem itself, and what better way to do that than playing against the Super Bowl champs on opening night, Thursday night?” Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said Wednesday while appearing on NFL Network’s schedule release show.

“I’m sure they’re going to bring everything they’ve got, and I’m positive we’re going to bring everything we’ve got, all 22 starters that we’ve got coming back are going to be out there hopefully, ready to go. It’s going to be a fun football game. It’s going to be very exciting. The whole world is going to be watching, and we’re going to see what we can do.”

The Bucs’ bye comes in Week 9 after games vs. Chicago (Oct. 24) and at New Orleans (Oct. 31).

Other marquee matchups include the Bucs hosting the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 12. Brady has beaten the Bills 32 times, more than any other team. But this isn’t your father’s Bills. Quarterback Josh Allen is one of the best in the NFL, and they won the Brady-less AFC East before falling to Kansas City in the conference championship game.

Four of the Bucs’ last six games come against NFC South opponents, including two games against Carolina in the final three weeks.

Those are sandwiched around one cold-weather game the Bucs may need to be concerned about, Jan. 2 at the New York Jets.

Not only will the Bucs get to kick off the NFL season, but fans will be treated to a concert in Tampa. The league is working with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission on a kickoff musical event and other activities surrounding the game, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday.

The Cowboys finished 6-10 in 2020 and haven’t won a playoff game since 1995 but nonetheless hold the title of “America’s Team.” Last season, they also owned one of the league’s worst defenses, allowing 29.6 points per game. But they hired former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn as their defensive coordinator.

It’s a comeback game for Prescott who, despite his injury, signed a four-year, $160 million contract.

“I’m excited to get back on the field,” Prescott told ESPN. “This game means more than the opponent and their rings.”

David knows the Bucs will be the hunted, and not the hunters, this season.

“I feel like everybody is going to be gunning for us,” he said. “All those years being the underdog, now we’re kind of like the top dog and everybody will be gunning for us. ... We’re going to be the team to beat, but we’re going to have to have the right mindset. I’ve had enough conversations with guys in the offseason to let them know what we did last year was last year.”

Bucs’ 2021 schedule

Preseason

Saturday, Aug. 14 Bengals 7:30

Saturday, Aug. 21 Titans 7:30

Saturday, Aug. 28 at Texans

Regular season

Thursday, Sept. 9 Dallas 8:20 NBC

Sunday, Sept. 19 Atlanta 4:05 Fox

Sunday, Sept 26 at Rams 4:25 Fox

Sunday, Oct. 3 at New England (Sunday Night Football) NBC

Sunday, Oct. 10 Miami 1 p.m. CBS

Thursday Oct. 14 at Philadelphia 8:20 Fox/NFL Network/Amazon

Sunday, Oct. 24 Chicago 4:25 CBS

Sunday, Oct. 31 at New Orleans 4:25 Fox

Week of Nov. 7 Bye

Sunday, Nov. 14 at Washington 1 p.m. Fox

Monday, Nov. 22 Giants (Monday Night Football) 8:15 ESPN

Sunday, Nov. 28 at Indianapolis 1 p.m. Fox

Sunday, Dec. 5 at Atlanta 1 pm. Fox

Sunday, Dec. 12 Buffalo 4:25 CBS

Sunday, Dec. 19 New Orleans (Sunday Night Football) 8:20 NBC

Sunday, Dec. 26 at Carolina 1 p.m. Fox

Sunday, Jan. 2 at Jets 1 p.m. Fox

Sunday, Jan. 9 Carolina 1 p.m. Fox

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