“I think this is the best overall cast of weapons that Tom Brady has ever had as a complete group in his career.” – Drew Brees
“At the end of the day, this is the most talented team in the NFC. There’s really not a weakness to find throughout the roster.” – Chris Simms on the Buccaneers
“I just know that everything that I put into this game and everything that I put into this team and this organization, I was going to get in return.” – Dak Prescott to Maria Taylor on his Contract Negotiations
Matthew Stafford and Rams Welcome Fans to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles vs. Khalil Mack and Chicago Bears in Season Debut of Sunday Night Football on Sept. 12 – Coverage Begins with Football Night in America at 7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
STAMFORD, Conn. – Sept. 9, 2021 – NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2021 NFL season began tonight with a special edition of Football Night in America, leading into coverage of the 2021 NFL Kickoff game, as the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
The special on-site edition of FNIA featured host Mike Tirico and co-host Maria Taylor, Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy, Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees, former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, and NFL Insider Mike Florio, who contributed remotely from his home studio. Co-host Jac Collinsworth and two-time Super Bowl champion Rodney Harrison provided on-field analysis and reports. NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen hosted coverage from the pre-game concert featuring Ed Sheeran.
Pre-game coverage also included the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl LV banner raising and an excerpt from an interview between Taylor and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Click here to watch the entire interview.
Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter) and Terry McAulay (rules analyst) are calling tonight’s 2021 NFL Kickoff game.
Following are highlights from tonight’s special edition of Football Night in America on NBC:
ON 2021 NFL KICKOFF GAME
Tirico: “We are proud to welcome the newest member of our team – the most prolific passer in NFL history, Super Bowl champ, future Hall of Famer – we only have 90 minutes, that’s enough for now. Drew Brees, welcome to TV.”
Brees: “I’m not going to lie, I see the guys warming up behind me, I feel like I should be out here getting warmed up.”
Brees on the banner-raising opening night after winning a Super Bowl: “You feel invincible, almost feel like it’s Super Bowl night again and you’re basically just going out to win it again. You feel like no one can beat you.”
Brees: “I think this is the best overall cast of weapons that Tom Brady has ever had as a complete group in his career. And he said he is throwing the ball like he is 24 years old when he is 44.”
Simms: “At the end of the day, this is the most talented team in the NFC. There’s really not a weakness to find throughout the roster…(Buccaneers defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles found his sweet spot last year towards the end of the year…If they can repeat that once again, they’re going to be in the driver’s seat.”
Dungy: “The team believes in Tom Brady. I’ve got a lot of friends on this Buccaneers coaching staff – guys who’ve coached with me – they tell me they are light years ahead of where they were on offense last year. Their defense is great, they’re going to be playing with a lot more leads. I think they’re going to win a ton of games.”
Harrison: “I talked to Tom (Brady) two days ago and he said that everyone is a lot more comfortable in the second year in the system. He said this offense can be better, he can be better…And that’s scary.”
Tirico on Tom Brady’s impact on the Buccaneers: “19 months ago, there was no thought that we’d be celebrating the 2020 championship with Tampa Bay as the host, until that guy showed up and changed everything around this team. And everything around this city as well.”
Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski to Jac Collinsworth on how Tom Brady compares now to when he first met him: “He’s about the exact same physical ability-wise. Nothing’s dropped off. His ball is still a bullet, he still places it where he needs to place it. I would just say he’s a smarter player, just being around the game for so long, than when I first met him…It just makes him a better player.”
Simms on QB Dak Prescott: “He’s phenomenal. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the 10 best quarterbacks in football. But it’s been 10 months since he’s played…Dak’s mobility and fearlessness in the pocket is what makes him special…Can he stand in the pocket and not be affected by the people around him? … (The Cowboys) are asking a lot of him. They want him to carry the team, and I just think that’s a lot right here in Week 1.”
Simms on RB Ezekiel Elliott: “Big question mark. Not a good year last year. Is he going to bounce back (or) have we seen his best football?”
Prescott on his initial thoughts following his ankle injury last season: “What am I going to do in the next few months knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to be out on the field with the brotherhood of my teammates? I was going to miss out on so much of what makes me happy.”
Prescott on his contract negotiations with the Cowboys this offseason after his injury: “I’ve always believed in myself, and when you believe in something, it’s not gambling. I just know that everything that I put into this game and everything that I put into this team and this organization, I was going to get in return.”
Prescott on the Cowboys’ offensive weapons: “How do I make them all happy? We make enough touchdowns for each of them. That’s the great part about having all the weapons we have is there’s no ego within them. I know that when I pitch it out to Zeke (Elliott) or when I throw it on a screen to Amari (Cooper), the other 10 guys on the field are going to do everything they can to make sure that guy has success.”
ON AFC CONTENDERS
Dungy on if any team can top the Chiefs in the AFC: “I think the AFC is loaded. I look at Buffalo, they went in (to Kansas City), didn’t beat them but they played a good game. I look at Cleveland, they did the same thing. I actually saw Cleveland practice at the Hall of Fame and I tell you what, that is a special group. They impress me.”
Brees on the Chargers: “I love Justin Herbert and the maturation process last year to this year…They have a lot of weapons, good offensive line in front of him. I still think they’re a year away, but I really like the direction they’re headed.”
ON PATRIOTS ROOKIE QB MAC JONES
Simms: “Mac Jones is not your normal rookie. He is the most NFL-ready quarterback to come out of this past draft and he’s got a nuance about him that you usually see in a third- or fourth-year player…He earned this job. It was not just given to him…I know he’ll have a few rookie bumps here and there, but I think overall he’s going to have a really good year.”
ON TEXANS QB DESHAUN WATSON
Florio: “One of the best quarterbacks in the entire league. We’ve known for months he wants to be traded. The Texans are willing to trade him, but they want a lot in return. They’re going to pay him to not play while they wait for an offer they may get this year, next year. I’m told he’s content to sit out while that unfolds. Teams are hesitant because of 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions that led to 10 criminal complaints. A grand jury will happen in late October, early November. The trade deadline arrives November 2, so there is still a way a trade can happen.”
Sunday Night Football — America’s No. 1 primetime television show for an unprecedented 10 consecutive years — debuts this Sunday, Sept. 12, when fans visit the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles for the first time in the regular season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford makes his first start for the Rams against Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears, who welcome two new quarterbacks in Andy Dalton and first-round draft pick Justin Fields. Coverage begins with Football Night in America at 7 p.m. ET, leading into kickoff at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and Universo.
–FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA–