Talented quarterback. Great running game. Star No. 1 receiver. Top-five defense with a superstar pass rusher. All green checks for the Dallas Cowboys.
Because it’s the Cowboys, every slip turns into an exhausting examination of their flaws. If you take a break from that and look around at the rest of the NFL, you’ll realize every one of the eight remaining teams has flaws. The Cowboys surely have their issues. They also have as much upside as anyone.
Part of Monday night’s 31-14 blowout win for the Cowboys was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being just as bad in the playoffs as they were for the final few months of the regular season. Tom Brady looked like a 45-year-old whose biggest priority was not getting hit by Dallas’ great pass rush. The Buccaneers had nothing on offense. If that was Brady’s last game, it was a tough way for a legend to exit the NFL.
But don’t forget to credit the Cowboys for a dominant performance. People talked up the Buffalo Bills before the season, the Philadelphia Eagles early in the season, the San Francisco 49ers late in the season and never wanted to acknowledge that the Cowboys have all the ingredients for a championship run too. They have a great test next week in the divisional round against the red-hot San Francisco 49ers.
Cowboys take big 1st-half lead
The first half turned on a terrible interception by Brady. He hadn’t thrown an interception in the red zone since 2019. But the Cowboys forced him to hold it a beat too long, Brady didn’t want to get hit so he rushed an aimless throw into the end zone. Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse had an easy interception in the back of the end zone.
Dallas took advantage. The Cowboys went on an 80-play touchdown drive. On fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Prescott had a great fake handoff to Ezekiel Elliott, and he rolled to his left and walked into the end zone untouched. The game quickly went from the Buccaneers trailing 6-0 and on the verge of scoring to a 12-0 Dallas lead.
The Cowboys kept it going. The Buccaneers decided to punt on fourth-and-3, and the Cowboys cashed that in with another touchdown. Prescott hit Dalton Schultz for Schultz’s second touchdown of the night. Cowboys kicker Brett Maher missed his third extra point, the first time a kicker had ever done that in a playoff game, and Dallas had to settle for an 18-0 lead at halftime instead of a bigger lead.
But at halftime 18 points seemed like a lot for Tampa Bay to overcome, especially with how the Cowboys’ defense was playing.
Cowboys continue to pull away
The second half wasn’t much different. The Buccaneers went three-and-out. The Cowboys scored. Maher missed an extra point. The Cowboys seemed to have a fumble recovery right after that but the Bucs caught a break and it was overturned. It didn’t matter; Tampa Bay punted a few plays later.
Tampa Bay finally scored on the last play of the third quarter, when Brady hit Julio Jones in the end zone. Prescott answered. He led a drive downfield and then with the Cowboys not wanting to put Maher out for a field-goal attempt, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for an 18-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4. Maher made the extra point. Prescott was great, becoming the first Cowboys quarterback with 300 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game.
Other than preconceived notions and bias against a popular Cowboys team, there’s no reason to believe they can’t make a deep run in the playoffs. Prescott was phenomenal on Monday night, carving up the Buccaneers when he passed and making smart decisions on when to run. The Cowboys’ offensive line protected him well. The defense was remarkable. Brady often flipped the ball hopelessly incomplete to avoid taking a hit when he was pressured. And Brady was pressured a lot. Tampa Bay put up some stats in garbage time but that doesn’t take away from what Dallas did on defense.
Monday was the first playoff road win for the Cowboys since the 1992 NFC championship game at the 49ers. The next streak Dallas wants to break is making it to the NFC championship game for the first time since the 1995 season. The 49ers will be favored to win. Don’t count out the Cowboys yet.