The Dallas Cowboys thoroughly thumped the deflated, defeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday night, behind the continued dominance of quarterback Tony Romo and an inspired defense. Things got a bit hairy in the second half, due to an inexcusable offensive miscue and the Cowboys choosing to rest both DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff for lingering injury issues. However, leading by 16 midway through the fourth quarter, they were able to finally stop Tampa Bay on a fourth and 12 when Josh Freeman threw high and incomplete. This game started as a feel-good "Romo is Elite" contest, but this team's history wouldn't allow an easy victory. Regardless, a 16 point road win is rare in the NFL, and Dallas was able to provide that, moving their record to 8-6.
The mood turned a bit somber however when stud rookie tackle Tyron Smith injured either his left shoulder or pectoral in garbage time. He was seen using his left arm once he was on the sideline however. For the game, the offensive line had some quality plays and a couple miscues; which seems to be status quo for this unit in 2011.
Quarterback Tony Romo was magical throughout the first half, finding each of his top three receivers for early scores. Many of his completions included his patented escape-from-pressure completions. Then, once the defense forced it's fourth consecutive three and out with three minutes remaining, Romo led a scoring drive down the field that culminated with a one-yard quarterback sneak for a 28-0 halftime lead. At the break, Romo was a scintilating 18/22 for 189 yards to go with those three scores; a 142.0 QB Rating.
The final touchdown was Romo's first rushing score since Week Two of the 2009 season, and gave the Cowboys 20 minutes time of possession out of the 30 possible. Dallas out-gained the Bucs 279 yards to 55 in the first half. Tampa had a chance, opening the game with possession and gaining 20+ yards on a Josh Freeman third-down scramble. He'd scramble again on the next play, but Anthony Spencer stripped the ball from behind to start the onslaught.
In the first half, Dallas did what they were supposed to against an opponent that looked the part of a squad that had quit on its head coach. Tampa Bay most likely received a "save-my-job" halftime speech from head coach Raheem Morris, who rumors have it was close to being relieved during the week.
The start of the second half put a bit of a scare into Cowboys fans. A holding call on Tyron Smith put the team into first and 20. Unable to gain much yardage, the team found itself in third and 19. Jason Garrett decided not to go conservative and opted for a pass, but Adrian Clayborn beat Doug Free as he tried to push him wide and past Romo. Clayborn looped around and stripped the ball loose; where it was subsequently scooped up and ran into the end zone for a quick score.
To say some nervous fans were experiencing deja vu would be an understatement. The Cowboys would appear to right the ship though, behind the patient and powerful running of both Felix Jones and newly signed Sammy Morris. Felix, who would record his second consecutive 100-yard game (4.9 ypc) received 25 touches on the game as he takes over the lead back role for DeMarco Murray. Dan Bailey would add three points to stretch the lead back to 24 points, 31-7.
However Tampa Bay marched down the field on the next possession, making key conversions on crossing patterns into Sean Lee's area. The second, a pass to Dez Briscoe went in for the score, and when the two-point conversion to Kellen Winslow was complete, the struggling Bucs had closed the gap to 31-15.
The real key to the drive? The Cowboys resting Ware and Ratliff.
Ware did record his 16th sack of the season in the first half. Although the Bucs did appear to get their offense in a little higher gear, the Dallas defense only allowed one scoring drive for the half without their two best defenders. This was with Sean Lissemore (1 sack), Victor Butler and little used Alex Albright getting plenty of snaps. The Cowboys offense was satisfied with running time off the clock, knowing the Bucs probably didn't have the firepower that the Giants, and Lions had displayed against them with big leads in previous losses. They didn't.
After a fourth and 12 incompletion from the Bucs 18 with less than two minutes to go, Dallas was able to secure a first down and break out the victory formation to run out the clock. They'll now have eight days to prepare for the dangerous Philadelphia Eagles, and two huge division games to make it into the playoffs as NFC East champions.
The run that quarterback Tony Romo has been on is turning pretty surreal. He entered Week 14 with the fourth-best DYAR according to Football Outsiders. That advanced metric measures how much better a player is performing than if you put an average replacement into the same situations throughout the year; only trailing Rodgers, Brady and Brees and ahead of Eli Manning. He ended the game with a 133.9 QB rating. In his last seven games, he has thrown for 18 touchdowns to only two interceptions and with the win is 5-2 in those contests. After the game, Romo was interviewed by NFL Network and had the following to say:
"I think as you go through a full season you kind of get the understanding that you're gonna go through the adversity, you're gonna go through the good times. It's just part of an NFL season. There's only so many teams that are gonna go out and do what the Packers do. So, you have to understand that your gonna win your share and lose your share. Now we've had a lot of close games this year. We've had I'd guess 10 games that come down to the final possession... We know that sometimes the games are gonna come down to that. We just have to figure out ways to continue to get better and do the little things to win. Smoetimes it's a kick, sometimes it's a stop, sometimes it's a throw and catch.So we just have to get those little things and that's what can separate you in the long run."