The Dallas Cowboys are alive and well!
After a nerve-wracking week trying to figure out what type of football team they are, the Cowboys reminded us that they are capable of playing great football in a 31-14 trouncing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It started out a little sketchy as both teams couldn’t move the ball in their first two possessions. Then, things started to happen, and those things were really good. Here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys' big wild card win over the Bucs on Monday night.
1. THE BRADY CURSE IS OVER!
Spanning nearly 20 years and across two different teams, the Cowboys had never been able to defeat the great Tom Brady. Entering this game, Dallas had lost all seven contests against the future Hall of Fame quarterback. But that is no more. The Cowboys finally got the better of him and the timing couldn’t be any better as they got the Brady monkey off their back in an all-important playoff game. With Brady’s future in limbo, this likely was the Cowboys' final chance.
2. NAVY SCHMAVY!
Speaking of curses, the Cowboys had never won a playoff game wearing their blue jerseys. The last time they won a playoff game wearing any type of dark jersey was way back in the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams during the 1978 season, but that was a different color blue. Since incorporating the navy blues back in 1981, the Cowboys had never won a playoff game donning those “cursed” jerseys. That streak is also over.
And while we’re at it, let’s dismiss the notion that the Cowboys can’t win on grass.
3. A CAREER GAME FROM DAK
It’s been a rollercoaster season for Dak Prescott. He got hurt in the opener, then returned and immediately sparked the offense. But down the stretch, it’s been a little rough as he’s been on an interception binge, culminating in a dreadful regular-season finale against Washington last week.
But none of that matters now. What we saw from Prescott on Monday night was nothing short of fantastic. He finished the game completing over 75% of his passes for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a touchdown run. His decision-making was spot on and his ball placement was near perfect. He had one of the best games of his career and the timing couldn’t be better.
4. KREATIVE KELLEN
While Prescott was shooting fish in a barrel, we have to credit the Cowboys' offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for putting all the fish in the barrel. The play-calling was outstanding as he had so many different things going on. By utilizing Connor McGovern as an extra blocker in both the running game and in pass protection, he made things a lot easier on Dak. Bootlegs and misdirections gave way to huge gains from the Cowboys' tight ends as both Dalton Schultz and Jake Ferguson had plays of 25+ yards.
Similar to Dak, it’s been weird down the stretch as there have been so many unpleasant things on offense, but with a flick of a switch, these guys are firing on all cylinders again.
5. O-LINE DELIVERS
None of the offensive goodness would be possible if it wasn’t for the great play of the Cowboys' offensive line. Like they do in what seems like every game, they had to adjust when one of the starters got hurt. Veteran Jason Peters exited the game with an injury, causing Tyler Smith to go back to left tackle and McGovern to fill in at left guard. The running game was a grind, but they did have their first 5.0+ yards per carry rusher (Tony Pollard) in over five weeks (Week 13 against Indianapolis). And Prescott had all kinds of time, only being sacked one time in this game. It was great to see this unit come through with a big game.
6. FOOT ON THE GAS
My favorite sequence came in the second quarter. The Cowboys were on the verge of having the Bucs take the lead when Jayron Kearse picked off Brady in the end zone. Then, the Cowboys drove 80 yards to score a touchdown and extend their lead, but they did so by going for it on fourth down at the Tampa Bay one-yard line. While that aggressiveness was satisfying, what happened next was even better. After a Bucs punt, the Cowboys quickly drove 91 yards in just over three minutes to add their third-straight touchdown and put them in control of the game heading into halftime. It would have been easy to play more conservatively there, but that’s not what the Cowboys did. They kept their foot on the gas and were rewarded handsomely for it.
7. MAHER MADNESS
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in this one as the Cowboys might have themselves a kicking problem. Brett Maher, who has been incredible all season, up and decided he can’t make extra points. The veteran kicker missed not one, not two, not three, but four straight extra points in this game. And if you tack on the extra point he missed last week against Washington, that makes five straight. That’s a little concerning.
Maher did make his last PAT attempt as it was right down the middle. We can’t help wondering if the Cowboys need to act quickly and find a new kicker or if they will continue to roll with Maher. The Cowboys were lucky in this one that points weren’t hard to come by, but not having a reliable kicker going forward could end up being quite costly.
8. KEEP KNOCKING THEM DOWN
The Cowboys' defense had active hands as they were all over Brady’s passes. Whether it was at the line of scrimmage or closing in on a receiver, the length of their defenders came up huge in this one. Micah Parsons batted down a pass on the play right before the Brady pick. Carlos Watkins had a passed knocked down too. The safeties alone batted down seven passes, including two nice pass breakups from an unlikely contributor, Isreal Mukuama. In all, the defense had a dozen deflected passes in this game.
9. GETTING ALL THE BREAKS
For years, the Cowboys have always been on the wrong end of weird stuff that had a huge impact on them getting bounced from a playoff game. From a poorly constructed catch rule to a referee too far away to touch the ball when they needed a quick spike, the Cowboys never seemed to be able to catch a break.
Against the Bucs, things were going in their favor. They got a roughing the passer penalty called and a holding penalty against Mukuamu was missed. They were also fortunate that a Bucs defender deflected the ball on the touchdown catch from Michael Gallup as that allowed the catch to stand since Gallup re-established himself in bounds. These weren’t major game-changers, but if you’re going on a big playoff run, you’re going to need a lot of things to go in your favor.
10. DEJA VU?
Next week, the divisional round of the NFC playoffs will feature three NFC East teams and the San Francisco 49ers. There is something a little bit familiar about this arrangement because if memory serves, the last time this happened was in the playoffs during the 1992 season. That year, the teams were SF, Dallas, Philly, and Washington. The Cowboys ultimately ended up going on the road to play the 49ers and then eventually winning their first Super Bowl of the ‘90s. That was also the last time the Cowboys won a road playoff game.