Cowboys Nation received an early Christmas present Sunday night as they defeated the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-20 behind Dan Bailey’s four field goals. This was a complete shift from last week’s loss to the Giants. The Offense found its legs with Ezekiel Elliott rushing for 159 yards and 1 touchdown and Dak Prescott doing his part to hush the critics with his outstanding performance going 32/36 for 279 and his own rushing touchdown. Dak looked to be having more fun throughout the game, even when he found the team down in the 3rd quarter. Prescott also did his best to silence the critic’s biggest issue with his performance completing several passes over 20 yards down the field to various receivers. The secondary’s outstanding performance from last week appeared to be lost this week. While the overall stats make the performance look like a job well done, the eye test looks completely different. The secondary continues to be exposed down field as Jameis Winston completed nearly a third of his passes for 18 yards or more.
Offensively, this was a thing of beauty. Dak looked poised and comfortable at home, using his legs when needed and spreading the ball around as the defense allowed. The result? Seven different receivers catching a pass with Dez Bryant hauling in 8 and Jason Witten 10. Dez’ strong hands made a return as well as everything that touched his hands seemed to stick. Throughout this season, that has not been the case; as Dez has had trouble hauling in catches. The offense was able spread the field and take what the defense gave them the entire night. The only blemish on the night was the continued lack of discipline collecting 8 penalties for 91 yards, one of which costed them a touchdown. As they move forward toward the playoffs, they cannot afford to make these mistakes and give points back to the opposition.
The defense had its moments and the defensive line looked fantastic. The Bucs rushed for only 52 yards and Winston was sacked 4 times, fumbled once and threw 3 interceptions. David Irving continued to be a force collecting 2 sacks and hitting Winston 5 times. While the defensive front continued to excel, the secondary continued to show its weakness. The absence of Morris Claiborne again was apparent as Winston was able to continually find his way down field. The Buccaneer offense wasn’t able to do much, but when it did, they made it count. As mentioned earlier, the stats weren’t impressive as Winston only completed 17 of 35 for 247 yards for a Passer Rating of 55.3, but when able, he found the open receiver down field. This is something that will need to improve as the opposition’s talent increases.
Overall, the team played well enough to end the longest win streak in the league and at least for now, the QB controversy is squashed. Dak is back on top and Ezekiel Elliott now holds the record for the most TDs ever by a Cowboys rookie. The Cowboys need to push on as a win this week against Detroit will clinch the NFC East and a first round bye.
Keys to the Game Scorecard:
- Avoid Turnovers: The Cowboys won the turnover battle 4-1. The only turnover came on a lost Jason Witten fumble
- Take what the Defense Gives You: Dak didn’t force anything. Rather, he fed the open receivers and ran himself when needed.
- Move the Chains: Dallas had 24 first downs to Tampa Bay’s 16 and held the ball for 13 more minutes.