Asking a pieced-together offensive line to protect the NFL’s oldest player feels like a recipe for disaster.
Instead of considering another retirement, quarterback Tom Brady said he expects “great things” from his blockers as his Tampa Bay Buccaneers open the season Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
“I expect them to go out there and they got a lot of pride, they wanna work hard,” the 45-year-old QB said. “They wanna do the right thing. They’re well-coached.”
The Buccaneers lost center Ryan Jensen to a knee injury in training camp, while left guard Ali Marpet unexpectedly retired and right guard Alex Cappa signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.
Shaq Mason, Brady’s former teammate with the Patriots, is the new right guard. Rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke is at left guard and 2021 third-rounder Robert Hainsey will be making his first NFL start at center, while right tackle Tristan Wirfs and left tackle Donovan Smith return from last season.
Wirfs (abdomen) was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice along with safety Logan Ryan (hamstring) and running back Giovani Bernard (ankle) — but all returned a full practice on Friday. However, wide receivers Chris Godwin (knee) and Russell Gage (hamstring) were declared questionable on Friday and cornerback Zyon McCollum (hamstring) out for Sunday’s game.
Brady, who is entering his 23rd season, said he hopes all the negative press about his offensive line will motivate the unit.
“I hope they take it to heart all the things that people have said about them, which is not always the most flattering things,” Brady said. “But they gotta go out there and they gotta, again, like all of us, we gotta go out there and earn it and prove people right or prove them wrong.”
Brady is 6-0 in his career against Cowboys, including the Thursday night season opener last year in Tampa. He led the Bucs to a 31-29 win and went on to lead the NFL with a career-high 5,316 yards and 43 touchdown passes.
Tampa Bay was a 2.5-point favorite at several sportsbooks Sunday morning. That includes BetMGM, where the Bucs had drawn 58 percent of the spread bets and 60 percent of the handle, and BetRivers, where they were also the more popular choice with 52 percent of the handle while the Cowboys had been backed by 52 percent of the bets.
The line was 2.0 points at DraftKings, where Tampa Bay was being supported by 66 percent of the spread bets and 63 percent of the handle.
Last season’s meeting was an air war as Brady finished 32 of 50 for 379 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, while Dallas’ Dak Prescott completed 42 of 58 throws for 403 yards with three scores and one interception. Ryan Succop capped Brady’s game-winning drive by hitting a 36-yard field goal with two seconds left.
Entering his seventh season, Prescott said he savors the challenge of another prime-time clash against an all-time great.
“It’s awesome,” Prescott said. “You definitely have to embrace it — a guy whose resume speaks for itself. Shows up at his age and is still better than most to do this — the greatest to do this, honestly. In the moment to play him, to understand what that team’s gonna bring with him as the leader and him on the other side, (I’m) just ready for that matchup.”
That has contributed to a 50.5-point Over/Under at both BetMGM and BetRivers. The market opened at 52.5 points at BetMGM but shifted with the Under drawing lopsided action with 66 percent of the bets and 72 percent of the money.
The Under was also being backed by 66 percent of the money at BetRivers due to some large wagers as the total bets placed on the market have been almost evenly split.
DraftKings was offering the Over/Under at 50 points, with the Under drawing 85 percent of the handle.
Prescott finished last season with 4,449 passing yards and a franchise-record 37 touchdown passes.
Prescott’s offensive line has also come under some scrutiny due to a torn hamstring sustained by eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. Rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith moved to left tackle after spending most of training camp at left guard. Dallas signed a 40-year-old insurance policy, nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters, to the practice squad.
Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis (hamstring) returned to a full practice on Friday, but wide receiver Michael Gallup (knee) was ruled out for Sunday’s game. The Cowboys also added safety Jayron Kearse to Friday’s injury report after he sat out practice because of a neck ailment.
Prescott dealt with ankle discomfort on Thursday but was a full practice participant on Friday.
–Field Level Media