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

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

The Dallas Cowboys advance to the Divisional Round after a convincing win at Raymond James Stadium where they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to wrap up the Super Wild Card weekend, 31-14.

Both offenses were slow coming off, each recording three straight outs to start the game. Dallas then came alive on its third possession of the night, rushing for 80 yards on seven plays as Dak Prescott connected with Dalton Schultz for the game’s first touchdown. That seemed to open the floodgates as Tampa Bay started moving the ball around and getting to the Cowboys’ five-yard line. However, that’s when Tom Brady threw an interception in the end zone to Jayron Kearse. It was one of the Bucs’ few successful possessions of the night and their only chance to score while the game was still within reach. From there, Dallas scored three touchdowns on consecutive drives to help establish a 24-point lead.

Even when Tampa Bay finally found the end zone late in the third quarter with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Julio Jones, the Cowboys responded with a nine-play, 66-yard touchdown to move up 31-6. It really eliminates any slight notion that Brady could pull off another miraculous comeback from his helmet.

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

For a more detailed breakdown of how this game played out, check out our takeaways below.

Why the Cowboys won

For a minute, it looked like Dallas was going to roll out a sequel to the Week 18 miss they had against Washington. Their first possession lasted about 10 seconds before returning the ball, and they had another three-and-out on the next drive. During that streak, Dak Prescott was unable to complete a pass. And then the switch was flipped.

The Cowboys offense came alive, and it was thanks to Prescott’s arm snatching 11 consecutive passes, which was a new franchise playoff record. During that run, he made consecutive 80-yard touchdowns. The first ended with a touchdown off Dalton Schultz and Prescott, then ran it into himself on a shrewd fourth play and goal call from Mike McCarthy. During that 11-pass streak, Prescott threw for 135 yards and a touchdown, while adding that score on the ground.

Prescott also didn’t slow down after that, throwing another touchdown before halftime and another just after, making it four straight touchdowns to help Dallas go on a 24-0 run. Those scoring drives weren’t layups either as they went 80, 80, 91 and 86 yards, cutting that Tampa Bay defense up and down the field. That lead proved to be more than enough to keep a good distance ahead of the Bucs. Even when they finally entered the end zone, Dallas made sure to snuff out any spark they had as they responded quickly with a 66-yard touchdown to go up 31-6.

After that slow start on the first two downs, the Dallas offense was also strong in critical situations, converting seven of its 11 third downs and both fourth downs. They were also successful on all four moves into the red zone, while the defense held the Bucs out of the end zone on two of their three moves.

As for Prescott specifically, it’s also worth noting that he didn’t throw any interceptions in that game. This had been a problem for him throughout the regular season, tied for most steals in the league despite missing five games due to injury. If he can continue to keep the ball away from the opposition, Dallas will continue to be dangerous.

The only real negative aspect of this game on the Cowboys side came from special teams with kicker Brett Maher, who missed four extra point attempts.

Why the Buccaneers lost

The big question surrounding the Buccaneers entering this playoff was whether or not they were a real playoff threat or a mere consolation winner of an abysmal division. From what we saw Monday night, Tampa Bay didn’t look like a legitimate playoff contender by any stretch of the imagination.

The offense was extremely flat and Tom Brady seemed to struggle to find any kind of rapport with his pass catchers – especially Mike Evans – early on. As the Cowboys took a 24-0 lead, the Bucs offense threw five times (three threes and outs), had one interception in the end zone and couldn’t score before time ran out in the first half. By the time they actually got on the scoreboard, the game was already out of reach and those holding out hope for a comeback were doing so simply because of the quarterback’s resume rather than what the product current on the ground showed us that they were.

As has been the case throughout the season, the running game was non-existent for Tampa Bay, which naturally impacts how defenses play against the pass. Even before the Bucs gave up the run to try and get back into this game, they weren’t getting much out of a backfielder who rushed for 24 yards on seven carries in the first half.

Although the offense continued to have its fair share of problems, the defense didn’t respond exactly to the bell either. They couldn’t leave the field as Dallas cut them out for long, crushing drives, and especially crumbled in key areas of the field. The entire defense bit on Dak Prescott’s touchdown run as no one followed him as he rolled to his left and easily walked for a touchdown. One of the most grueling moments of that loss came after Tampa Bay finally got into the end zone thanks to a 30-yard touchdown from Brady to Julio Jones. Dallas moved upfield quickly and reached the Buccaneers 18-yard line before deciding to go for it on fourth down. On that play, there was a complete coverage breakdown that left CeeDee Lamb wide open for the touchdown that put Tampa at 25 points.

This is the fourth trip to the playoffs for Tom Brady in his career. Now all eyes will be on the quarterback and what he does next. While there will be plenty of time to dissect all of this, it was a game – and a season – to forget for TB12.

Turning

As is the case with most games, there were a handful of key swings in this game. Brady’s end zone interception was understandably a huge speed bump that blew the tires of the Bucs attack. It was his first red-zone interception since joining Tampa Bay and had the longest streak in NFL history (407 attempts) now throwing a red-zone pick.

With that turnover sandwiched between two Cowboys touchdowns, it further exacerbated the error.

While that swing was on the quarterback, there was also a first-half Todd Bowles decision worth questioning. On possession following this interception, the Bucs found themselves led by 12 but finding rhythm offensively. After starting at their own 25-yard line, they brought the ball into midfield and faced a fourth-and-3 situation, where Bowles elected to send the punt unit. Given that the attack had started to show signs of life and where they were on the field, this should have been a time to keep the unit in the field and go.

Instead, they returned the ball and Dallas went 91 yards down the field and went up 18 points. In a playoff setting like this game, a bit of aggression, especially when your team started to gain momentum, would have been Bowles’ wise move rather than playing it conservatively.

Game of the game

Prescott’s second passing touchdown of the night was arguably his most impressive. With his initial readings bottled up and the pressure down the middle, he was forced out to his left and rolled towards the sideline before contorting himself to make an off-balance throw that rammed straight into Schulz’s arms. That wrapped up a 91-yard touchdown just before halftime that gave Dallas all the cushion they needed to secure the win.

Prescott’s four passing touchdowns in that game tied the Cowboys’ playoffs as he joined legends Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. Prescott also had the highest passer rating (143.3) in a game in Cowboys playoff history (min. 20 attempts).

And after

From there, the Cowboys will prepare for their Divisional Round game with the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium next Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET. As for the Buccaneers, they are about to enter what is set to be a transformative offseason as Brady, who is set to become a free agent, decides on his next move.

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