After failing to do so last week, the Cowboys clinched the NFC East for the third time in the last five years after gutting out a 27-20 victory against the Buccaneers. It wasn’t always pretty at times, but Dallas came away with the victory and their playoff berth is now set in stone. Here are the five plays that were most impactful in the game.
Randy Gregory’s big effort forces a fumble, which Jaylon Smith takes to the house
Down 7-3 after giving up a touchdown run to Dak Prescott, the Buccaneers offense was moving the ball and hoping to retake the lead. They got to the Dallas 34 before facing a third and five. As Jameis Winston took the snap and looked for a receiver, pressure from the Hot Boyz forced him to scramble.
That’s when Randy Gregory snuck up behind Winston and knocked the ball out of his hands. Jaylon Smith quickly scooped up the ball and his speed did the rest as the linebacker out ran everybody for a 69-yard touchdown return. As impressive as Smith’s run was, pay close attention to the quick get off that Gregory had at the snap, followed by his focused effort to chase down Winston even after the quarterback left the pocket.
Randy Gregory delivers the hit and Jaylon Smith takes it to the house! #TBvsDAL pic.twitter.com/ZzgtUvy0Oo— Adam Collins ✭ (@AdamCollinsCN) December 23, 2018
Maliek Collins sacks Winston, sets up Cowboys for a field goal
The Cowboys held a 14-6 lead at this point and the Buccaneers were facing a third and fifteen at their own 10-yard line after a penalty moved them backwards. Tampa Bay was hoping to move the ball down the field and get a score to make it a closer game with just over two minutes left in the half, but as Winston took the shotgun snap, not much was open. At minimum, they were hoping to get some yards to help their punter.
That’s when Maliek Collins came up the middle and brought Winston to the ground at the Tampa Bay two-yard line. The Cowboys called a timeout and got the ball back at the Tampa Bay 46 with still over two minutes to go. They ended up going three and out, but Brett Maher hit a 59-yard field goal to make it a 17-6 lead, all due to the sack that forced the Buccaneers to punt from their own endzone.
Randy Gregory recovers a fumble to set the Cowboys up for a touchdown
Late in the third quarter, the Buccaneers had the ball at their own 23-yard line. They had just busted off a huge 33-yard run that got called back because of a holding penalty. Down 20-13, they needed a long touchdown drive to tie up the game. Instead, the Buccaneers ran an end around play to their receiver and the handoff was botched, resulting in a fumble.
Randy Gregory was right there and reached down to scoop it up, but the ball slipped out of his hands. He kept at it though, and eventually recovered the ball and took it to the Tampa Bay two-yard line. Dak and the rest of the offense took the field in excellent position and two plays later, they scored a touchdown.
Delay of game on the defense keeps the Bucs drive alive
You knew this was going to be on here. Down 27-13, the Buccaneers had moved the ball up to the Dallas 16 in an effort to start a comeback. The drive hit a hiccup as it reached a fourth and one, and the offense lined up to go for it. Prior to the snap, DeMarcus Lawrence shifted gaps on the line without crossing into the neutral zone, and it looked as if one of the Buccaneers may have flinched. Then the play clock expired, and the referees shocked the NFL world by calling a delay of game against Lawrence.
Delay of game on Lawrence for this????? These refs are absolutely terrible. #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/OQm3pNpFJF— 8-6 (@TheMTMTL) December 23, 2018
If the Buccaneers had been called for a false start or a delay of game, it would have been a fourth and six for them. Instead, Tampa Bay was given an automatic first down in one of the more head scratching moments of what’s been a strange NFL season.
Antwaun Woods stops Winston on fourth down, puts game out of reach
Earlier this week we talked about the impact Antwaun Woods has been having this year, and on Sunday he lived up to the hype. After the defensive delay of game penalty, Tampa Bay found themselves inside the ten-yard line. The drive fizzled out and brought up a fourth and one at the Dallas two. A delay of game penalty, this time on the offense, pushed it back to the Dallas seven-yard line, but as the Buccaneers were down two touchdowns and there were eight minutes left in the game, Tampa Bay had to go for it.
Winston took the shotgun snap and surveyed the field, but there was nobody open. He decided to tuck it and run up the middle, and it looked as if he may be able to get into the endzone from there. But Woods tracked him down from behind and grabbed his legs. As Winston fell down, he tried to reach out for the first down line but came up just short. Woods’ clutch stop on fourth down gave the ball back to the Cowboys offense and allowed them to run some more time off the clock, effectively putting the game out of reach.