NFL

Cowboys at Buccaneers score: Dallas offense explodes en route to win, Tampa Bay falls flat

Cowboys at Buccaneers score: Dallas offense explodes en route to win, Tampa Bay falls flat

The Dallas Cowboys are moving on to the divisional round after a convincing win at Raymond James Stadium where they shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end Super Wild Card Weekend, 31-14.

Both offenses were slow out of the gate as they each recorded consecutive three and outs to start the game. Dallas came alive on its third possession of the afternoon, traveling 80 yards in seven plays as Dak Prescott connected with Dalton Schultz for the game’s first touchdown. That seemed to open the floodgates as Tampa Bay began moving the ball and drove all the way to the Cowboys’ five-yard line. However, that’s when Tom Brady hit Jayron Kearse in the end zone. That was one of the Bucs’ only successful possessions of the night and the only scoring opportunity when the game was still in reach. From there, Dallas scored three touchdowns on consecutive drives to help build a 24-point lead.

Even when Tampa Bay found the end zone late in the third quarter with a 30-yard Brady touchdown pass to Julio Jones, the Cowboys responded with a nine-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to go up 31-6. That eliminates the slight possibility that Brady can pull off another miraculous comeback from the helmet.

Prescott finished with a great stat line. He was 25 of 33 for 305 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran the score 24 yards on the ground. Schultz was the target on the night, catching seven of his eight targets for a team-high 95 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Brady was 35 of 66 for 351 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

To learn more about how this game was developed, check out our sections below.

Why the Cowboys won

For a minute, it looked like Dallas would follow through on their Week 18 loss against Washington. Their first possession lasted about 10 seconds before the ball was punted away, followed by another three-and-out on the next drive. During that stretch, Dak Prescott couldn’t complete a pass. And then the switch flipped.

The Cowboys’ offense came alive, and thanks to Prescott’s arm, he ripped off 11 straight completions, which was a new franchise playoff record. In that run, he made consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives. The first ended with a touchdown to Dalton Schultz and Prescott, then he started himself on a fancy fourth-and-goal play by Mike McCarthy. On that 11-completion streak, Prescott threw for 135 yards and a touchdown, and added that rushing score.

Prescott didn’t slow down after that either, throwing another touchdown before halftime and then another immediately after, making it four straight touchdowns to help give Dallas a 24-0 lead. Those drives weren’t layups either, as they went 80, 80, 91 and 86 yards, cutting this Tampa Bay defense up and down the field. That margin was more than enough to keep a solid distance in front of the Bucs. Even when they finally got into the end zone, Dallas made sure to snuff out the spark they had as they quickly responded with a 66-yard touchdown drive to go up 31-6.

After that slow start on the opening two drives, Dallas’ offense was also strong in critical situations, converting seven of 11 third-down situations and two fourth-down tries. They were also successful on all four trips into the red zone, with the defense keeping the Bucs out of the end zone on two of the three trips.

As it is especially linked to Prescott, it is worth noting that he did not throw a single interception in this game. That was a problem for him during the regular season, when he was tied for most interceptions in the league despite missing five games due to injury. If he continues to keep the ball away from the opposition, Dallas will continue to be dangerous.

The only real negative aspect of this game for the Cowboys was on special teams with kicker Brett Maher. he missed four extra point attempts.

Why the Buccaneers lost

The big question about the Buccaneers entering these playoffs was whether they were a real postseason threat or just a consolation winner in a scary division. From what we saw Monday night, Tampa Bay didn’t have a legitimate playoff contender by any stretch of the imagination.

The offense was incredibly flat and Tom Brady struggled to find any connection with his pass catchers, specifically Mike Evans, early on. As the Cowboys raced out to a 24-0 lead, the Bucs offense punted five times (three three-and-outs), had an interception at the end and was unable to score before time expired in the first half. By the time they got on the scoreboard, the game was out of reach, and those hoping for a comeback were only doing so because of the quarterback’s resume and what the current product was showing us on the field.

As has been the case all season, the running game was nonexistent for Tampa Bay, which naturally affects how the defense plays against the pass. Even before the Bucs gave up the run to throw themselves back into this matchup, they weren’t getting much out of the backfield, which had 24 yards on seven carries in the first half.

While the offense continued to have plenty of problems, the defense didn’t quite answer the buzzer either. They couldn’t get off the field as Dallas cut them for long, crushing drives, and they were especially broken in key areas of the field. The entire defense rounded on Dak Prescott’s keeper, no one followed him as he rolled to his left and easily got in for the break. One of the biggest breakout moments in this loss came after Tampa Bay finally got into the end zone thanks to Brady’s 30-yard touchdown run to Julio Jones. Dallas moved quickly down the field and got to the Buccaneers 18-yard line before deciding to go for it on fourth down. On that play, it was a complete coverage breakdown that left Tampa with CeeDee Lamb at the 25 for a touchdown.

This is Tom Brady’s fourth career lone playoff trip. Now, all eyes will be on the quarterback and what he will do next. While there will be plenty of time to analyze all of this, this was a game — and a season — to forget for TB12.

Turning point

As with most games, there were a few key moments in this game. Brady’s catch into the end zone was, in itself, a burst of speed that blew the tires of the Bucs’ offense. It was his first red-zone interception since joining Tampa Bay and the longest streak in NFL history (407 attempts) to throw a pick in the now-red zone.

By sandwiching that turnover between the Cowboys’ two touchdowns, it compounded the mistake even more.

While that swing was at quarterback, there was also a Todd Bowles decision in the first half that’s worth second-guessing. On the possession after that drive, the Bucs found themselves down 12 but found some rhythm on offense. After starting at their own 25-yard line, they moved the ball to midfield and faced a fourth-and-3 situation where Bowles elected to send the punting drive. Given that the offense was starting to show signs of life and where they were on the field, it should have been time to keep the unit on the field and move forward.

Instead, they gave the ball back, and Dallas drove 91 yards down the field for an 18-point lead. In a playoff game like this one, a bit of aggression, especially when your team started to build momentum, would have been a wise move for Bowles, rather than playing conservatively.

the game

Prescott’s second touchdown of the night was arguably the most impressive. With the initial reads bottled up and the pressure up the middle, he was forced out to his left and was shooting to the side before bending his body to make a balanced shot that went into the arms of Schulz. That capped a 91-yard touchdown drive before halftime that gave Dallas all the cushion they needed to secure the win.

Prescott’s four touchdown passes in this game tied the Cowboys for the playoffs, joining Troy Aikman and legend Roger Staubach. Prescott also had the highest passer rating (143.3) in a game (at least 20 attempts) in Cowboys playoff history.

What’s next

From now on, the Cowboys will prepare for their divisional matchup with the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium next Sunday at 6:30 PM ET. As for the Buccaneers, they are about to enter what will be a transformative offseason as Brady, who is set to hit free agency, decides on his next move.





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