The Dallas Cowboys finally got the monkey off their backs, beating Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to advance in the NFL playoffs.
Brady was 7-0 all-time vs. Dallas coming into last night’s game, but the Cowboys put an emphatic end to that streak with a 31-14 win in Tampa Bay on Monday night. And as you can tell by the score, the Cowboys did so in dominant fashion.
It was a complete game from the offense and defense, but special teams had a rough night. These were the key components of Dallas’ first road playoff victory in 30 years:
The offense started shaky, finished strong
Dak Prescott has been criticized as much as any player in the NFL this season and early on, it looked like the criticism was going to continue. In the Cowboys first two offensive possessions, the unit went 3 and out with Dak going 0/3 passing. Of those opening six plays, just one went for positive yardage.
Prescott seemed to have some nerves to start the game, but those quickly went away. Following his 0/3 start passing, Dak rattled off 11 consecutive completions, which is a Cowboys playoff record.
After punting on the two drives to start the game, Dallas found the endzone on four-straight possessions.
Dak finished the game 25/33 passing (75%) for 305 yards and five total touchdowns. Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott combined for 128 rushing yards.
For the pass catchers, Dalton Schultz had a big game, snagging seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Schultz joined Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski as the only TEs with 90+ yards and multiple touchdowns in a postseason game in the last 10 seasons, according to StatMuse.
Everything was working for Dallas’ offense Monday night.
Defensive intensity was ramped up
To end the season, the Cowboys defense looked like a different group than the one that started the year. In the final four games of the regular season, Dallas allowed 28 points per game. What was once a strength of the team turned into a weakness.
But the defense returned to its old form vs. Tampa Bay. From start to finish, the unit was swarming to the ball and applying pressure to Brady.
The Buccaneers have been very pass-heavy all season, and that game plan held true vs. the Cowboys. Tampa Bay only ran the ball 12 times for 52 yards. Meanwhile, Brady went 35/66 passing (53%) for 351 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Micah Parsons commented early last week about turning it up a notch now that it’s playoff time, and he didn’t disappoint. Here’s Parsons’ stat line from the win:
- 3 tackles
- 2 tackles for loss
- 1 sack
- 2 QB hits
- 9 QB pressures (second-most by any player this year)
- 2 pass break-ups
The biggest play of the night came from Jayron Kearse. After Dallas broke the scoring in the game and led 6-0, Tampa Bay marched down the field to the Cowboys five yard line. On second and goal, Brady seemingly tried to throw the ball away through the back of the end zone, but Kearse made an athletic play and came down with a pick.
Had Tampa Bay found the end zone on that possession, it could’ve flipped the momentum in the home team’s favor. Instead, Kearse’s interception gave the Cowboys a shot in the arm.
The elephant in the room
On the whole, there’s little to nitpick about the Cowboys performance. But one glaring weakness was special teams.
Brett Maher went just 1/ 5 on extra points, missing more in this game than he did through the entire regular season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a kicker missed four extra points in one game was 1932.
Jerry Jones appeared on 105.3 The Fan this morning and said the team will monitor Maher’s performance as the week goes on, and time will tell if a new kicker needs to come in.
But the special teams woes didn’t stop there. After Tampa Bay scored late in the fourth quarter, an onside kick bounced off Noah Brown’s hands and was recovered by the Bucs.
While it was insignificant considering the Buccaneers 17-point deficit, those are things that shouldn’t happen in the playoffs. But it’s better to have that happen in a blowout than in a tightly contested matchup.