The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a nailbiter to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, 26-20. The Bucs kept it close throughout, but some poor offensive line play, turnovers, and a failure to stop Ezekiel Elliott eventually did them in.
Jameis Winston had a poor day, completing just 17 of 35 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions (two of them on desperation plays), and losing a fumble. He was harassed all night by the Cowboys defensive line, especially in the fourth quarter when right tackle Gosder Cherilus appeared to be melting down.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys managed to run all over the Bucs defense, and Dak Prescott could dink and dunk his way to victory. The Cowboys quarterback bounced back from a medicore past couple of weeks, completing 32 of 39 passes for 279 passes. Ezekiel Elliott had all the room he needed behind a dominant-as-usual offensive line, rushing for 159 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.
The Buccaneers are now 8-6 and tied with the Green Bay Packers for the final Wild Card spot in the NFC Playoffs. They probably need to win the last two games to make it into the playoffs, and even that is no guarantee. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are 12-2 and set to clinch the number one seed in the NFC.
The game got off to a pretty slow start, with both teams notching a field goal in the first 15 minutes and four seconds. The resulting 3-3 score obscured a Cowboys offense that had been running all over the Bucs defense, but killed its chances with penalties and a missed 56-yard field goal.
That changed pretty quickly. A Jameis Winston fumble led to a short Ezekiel Elliott touchdown, and a somewhat longer Cowboys drive even gave them a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter. At that point, it looked like things were about to get ugly for the Bucs, with their previously dominant defense nowhere to be seen. They did get back a field goal before half time, though.
After half time, though, something got into the Bucs and they got their offense on track, and really on track, for the first time in the game — and arguably the first time in weeks.
That was the first of two straight touchdowns that gave the Bucs a 20-17 league, as the defense and offense finally got it together.
That worked, but it didn’t last. That’s when right tackle Gosder Cherilus started his meltdown and got the Cowboys back in it, first leading to a three-and-out and a subsequent field tying field goal, and then leading to a sack and a pick, by letting Jameis Winston get hit in the elbow during a throw.
The Bucs defense came back to save them, though. First by holding the Cowboys to a field goal and a 23-20 lead, and then by forcing a fumble and recovering the ball to give the Bucs offense another chance. One they immediately squandered, but at least that led to the Cowboys being pinned at their goal-line after a punt in opposing territory.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Cowboys turned that into another field goal after a length drive for a 26-20 lead. The Bucs had 2:58 and three timeouts to get a touchdown at that point. And, once again, Cherilus ruined any opportunity they had there.
The Bucs defense gave Jameis Winston one final opportunity, with 1:36 left and no timeouts, but it simply wasn’t enough.