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Bucs’ ‘Grave Diggers’ show resilience on rough night

Depleted and exploited, Tampa Bay’s secondary helps salvage an opening-night win.
Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) is pushed down by Bucs free safety Jordan Whitehead (33) and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) as Lamb scores in the first quarter. Murphy-Bunting dislocated his elbow on the play.
Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) is pushed down by Bucs free safety Jordan Whitehead (33) and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) as Lamb scores in the first quarter. Murphy-Bunting dislocated his elbow on the play. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 10
Updated Sep. 10

TAMPA — The unit known for its brashness was banged up. A corps characterized by youth and hunger suddenly found itself decimated and disheveled.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was picking apart its psyche before a national audience. Resilience had to be summoned.

The “Grave Diggers” were forced to, well, dig.

Deep.

On an opening night when it was far from perfect, the Bucs’ secondary atoned with persistence. Dissected at various intervals by Prescott’s surgical perimeter passes (42-of-58, 403 yards), it brandished just enough fortitude to help the Bucs escape Raymond James Stadium with a 31-29 victory.

“A lot of heart,” coach Bruce Arians said. “A lot of heart.”

For a unit that entered the game down a starting safety (Jordan Whitehead) to injury, the adversity struck early and ruthlessly.

Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting’s right elbow appeared to pop out of joint on an inadvertent collision with safety Antoine Winfield on CeeDee Lamb’s first- quarter touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone.

“It was a dislocated elbow, but I think he’s going to be all right,” Arians said.

The pain was only beginning. Utilizing the perimeter at will, Prescott mostly flourished in his first live action, regular season or preseason, in 333 days after suffering a season-ending injury in October as the Bucs turned to essentially every defensive back in uniform.

Andrew Adams, signed to the practice squad only last week, was summoned, while corner-safety hybrid Ross Cockrell was forced into slot coverage.

Meantime, cornerback Jamel Dean’s grim night was lowlighted when Prescott scooped up a low shotgun snap, set his feet and found Amari Cooper in the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown against the third-year defender. Dean also was whistled for pass interference and face mask infractions on the same second-quarter play.

“Those guys battled,” Arians said. “Dean had a rough night, but Dean’s a hell of a player, so he’ll bounce back.”

Offsetting the bleak moments: a Carlton Davis interception on a pass that deflected off Lamb’s outstretched hands, resulting in the Bucs’ fourth touchdown and a 28-19 lead. Davis also had three passes defended. Adams, despite cramping, had a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss. Cockrell had five tackles.

“We’ve got a lot of high-character guys, a lot of resiliency,” receiver Chris Godwin said. “Adversity builds character, and I think that really showed.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampbay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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