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5 stars from the Cowboys’ 31-14 win vs. the Buccaneers

The Cowboys dominated Tom Brady and the Buccaneers thanks to these key players.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We knew it all along. Well, we say that now. Entering Monday night’s playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there was some unrest in Cowboys Nation. Contrary to where they wanted to be, the Dallas Cowboys weren’t playing their best football late in the regular season heading into the playoffs. That left fans and the pundits with plenty of questions about them.

Was Dak Prescott capable of limiting his turnovers and taking better care of the football? Where had the running game gone? How would ever find a way to beat the GOAT Tom Brady, let alone win a road playoff game this millennium? Happily, we’re all pleased to say many of those questions were answered to the delight of Cowboys fans worldwide.

Dak Prescott had an excellent performance and received the game ball. The defense was suffocating and made Tom Brady look every bit of 45 years old en route to a convincing 31-14 win at Raymond James Stadium. Here are the five stars who gave Prescott a helping hand in punching the Cowboys’ ticket to San Francisco next weekend.

Parsons rattles Brady

Micah Parsons was a huge force in shutting down the Tampa Bay passing attack. The last few weeks, Parsons hasn’t had the same game we’ve usually come to expect, but he was a menace on Monday night. The lion had had his sights on Tom Brady and hunted him mercilessly. Though it was somewhat expected facing a struggling Donovan Smith at left tackle, Parsons was relentless.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, Parsons pressured Brady nine times and sacked him once, while Brady completed just 25% of his passes when facing pressure from Parsons. Almost from the opening whistle, Parsons established the type of force he was going to be, knifing into the backfield for a tackle for loss on Rachaad White.

Parsons hobbled into the locker room with the help of his teammates at halftime with an apparent shin injury, but came out of the break with a vengeance. Even if he was limited, he was more than enough to overwhelm the Buccaneers’ offensive line and a visibly frustrated Tom Brady, who was inaccurate and skittish.

His dominating performance leads to a date with the 49ers and a pass rush showcase between him and fellow Defensive Player of the Year candidate Nick Bosa. Parsons had already said the postseason is where legends are made. The stage is set. These are the moments players that dream about.

Schultz shows out

When you talk about the ensemble of weapons at the disposal of the Dallas Cowboys offense, Dalton Schultz tends to slide down the list. It’s understandable in some ways. The Cowboys have plenty of talent on the roster and the emergence this season of CeeDee Lamb has made him the centerpiece of the passing attack. Heck, even the team has somewhat undervalued Schultz in not committing to a long-term deal with him last season and opting to franchise tag him.

However, time and time again, he demonstrates why the role he plays is so important, especially over the last few weeks. It’s vitally important for this offense to remain on schedule and play ahead of the chains. Schultz is that easy safety valve over the middle of the field. It’s even better when Prescott is finding him for large chunks of yards down the seam as he did versus Tampa Bay.

Schultz’s first touchdown of the night demonstrates his big catch radius and secure hands. Prescott dropped back on 2nd and 10 from the Buccaneers’ 22-yard line. He lookeed left before throwing a pass where only his receiver could get it and Schultz made a twisting leaping catch to give the Cowboys an early 6-0 lead.

His second score was perfect harmony between him and the quarterback. Prescott was flushed from the pocket to his left, and scanned the field before making a throw in the end zone. Schultz, aware of his quarterback leaving the pocket, uncovered from the secondary and grabs his second score of the night.

Schultz led the team in yards and receptions with seven catches for 95 yards to go along with his two touchdowns. Schultz has been on a bit of a hot streak as of late. He now has three touchdowns in his last three games. A great night for the sure-handed Schultz.

Big Mac

This is the type of game you envision when your team hires a coach with a Super Bowl victory under his belt. Mike McCarthy is every bit as integral to this convincing postseason win as his players on the field. We’ll also give an assist to Kellen Moore for his less predictable play-calling on first down and a balanced attack, but McCarthy put on a coaching clinic.

After taking an early lead, and then being stopped at the one-yard line on 3rd and goal, many coaches would have been content to take the three points for a two-score lead. Not McCarthy. The guts he displayed to put the ball in the offense’s hands and go up by a minimum of two touchdowns was bold.

That’s why he was chosen to lead this team that so desperately wants to alter its trajectory and make deep playoff runs. It’s a 180 from the prior regime and direct opposition to the coach across the other sideline, Todd Bowles, who is known to be a lot more conservative. We saw back in 2020 that this is who McCarthy is and why his faith in his players can be galvanizing. It’s hard to win playoff games, especially by such a big margin against a very decorated and veteran team.

Putting the ball in Prescott’s hands on the early 4th and goal, and then again to drive the stake through the hearts of the Buccaneers and Dallas doubters, was frigid as the ice in his veins. Once again, McCarthy was hired for his Super Bowl-winning pedigree and the inclination to take calculated risks. McCarthy promised before the game this team would be prepared to play and he made good on that promise. This team looks like they got their swagger back. McCarthy’s got the mojo. Now, let’s see if he can keep this team focused and bring that mojo back to the bay.

Gallup going up and getting it

As things get tight in the postseason, it’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck situation and everyone will need to produce for this team to advance further in the playoffs. Michael Gallup might be that X-factor the team needs for an extra shot in the arm as seeks to regain his old form. We did see some of the old Michael Gallup.

His leaping 15-yard yard reception kick-started the Dallas offense after two early three and outs. Plus, we saw Gallup make the tough, contested catches that were his trademark play style. This analysis of this play from Prescott to Gallup illustrated by Emmanuel Acho was emblematic of the renewed synergy between the quarterback and the receiver.

Being there for your QB and validating his trust in you to make the play speaks volumes to where this team could be headed as they seek to play their best ball at the most critical time. We also must mention his tight-rope touchdown. Gallup separated from the defender in the secondary and tip-toed his way along the back endzone to stay in bounds to make the tough grab on the touchdown reception.

If Gallup starts to get hot over the next few weeks, it’ll take a lot of pressure off of CeeDee Lamb in the passing game, and by extension, Dak Prescott. Hopefully, Gallup is feeling like his old self at just the right time.

Kearse comes up clutch

The Cowboys are very fortunate to have a player like Jayron Kearse and his diverse assortments of traits. Kearse has proven during his short time with the team that he is a very versatile player who can play in the box to stop the run. However, in this game, it was his ability to play the pass that made the difference.

His length and range impacted the throws for an already uncomfortable Tom Brady in the pocket. Take his interception for example. Brady met with pressure in his face and like he has been accustomed to doing, attempts to throw the ball away. There’s no doubt Brady thought he was throwing the ball out of the end zone and out of harm’s way, but Kearse’s range as a defender and his natural length helped him make the catch along the back of the end zone for the interception.

The was huge for a multitude of reasons. Not only was it Brady’s first red zone interception since 2019, but it kept the game at 6-0. You also must credit Kearse for the awareness to take a knee in the end zone and ensure the offense had plenty of room to operate. The Cowboys would score on the ensuing series to take a 12-0 lead.

Kearse nearly had another interception later in the game when Brady tried to fit an ill-advised pass over the 6’4” safety. Kearse did leave the game later with injury, but the hope is he will be ready for San Francisco. Expect him to have a major impact on the outcome of the game against the 49ers. Given the way the 49ers run the ball, he’ll be tasked with helping in support to clog the rushing lanes. It also got lost in the aftermath of their loss to the 49ers last year but Kearse did a very nice job in man coverage against George Kittle.

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