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After back-to-back heartbreaking losses, Tony Romo and the Cowboys weren’t going to leave this one to chance.
Four Romo touchdowns on the team’s first five drives easily propelled Dallas to a 31-15 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday night. The Dallas quarterback looked as focused as ever during one of his best performances on the year.
“I was just finding guys who were open and the guys do the rest,” said Romo. “I thought the offense played good as a whole.”
At 8-6 the Cowboys now control their own destiny in the NFC East. Wins over the Eagles and Giants over the last two weeks would earn them a postseason berth as division champions.
And while all is good and well for America’s team, things could not be any worse for the Buccaneers (the Bucs). The loss was Tampa Bay’s eighth in a row, dropping their record to 4-10 after an impressive 4-2 start. The losing streak has head coach Raheem Morris on the hot seat just one year removed from a 10-6 season.
The players openly acknowledged a sense of fear for Morris’ future before the kickoff. With playoff aspirations long gone, they admitted that their main motivation to finally win lay in protecting his job.
A 25 yard third down run by Josh Freeman on the game’s opening drive created the immediate positive atmosphere that the players have been searching for so desperately. However, that enthusiasm lasted for literally less than a minute.
With no one open, Freeman ran up the middle once again on the next play. As he went into his slide, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer chased him down from behind and punched the ball loose. Bradie James would recover Tampa Bay’s league-leading 32nd turnover for Dallas at their 44 line yard.
Romo would then lead a 7 play drive that ended with a scrambling 8 yard touchdown throw to Miles Austin to give the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead. Austin showed great fight as he out-wrestled Tampa safety Sean Jones for the ball all the way to the ground.
The Bucs offense was unable to rebound for the remainder of the first half. Not only were they shut out, but they also couldn’t attain a single first down following Freeman’s opening drive run.
While Tampa was completely inefficient offensively over the first 30 minutes, Dallas was the exact opposite. The Cowboys went into halftime with a 28-0 lead behind three Romo touchdown passes and one rushing score.
Romo’s second touchdown was an 8 yard throw to Dez Bryant that capped off a 10 play, 69 yard drive. He would then lead a 64 yard drive in the second quarter that ended with a 9 yard touchdown throw to Laurent Robinson. And with 20 seconds remaining in the half, Romo called his own number to finish off a 62 yard drive with a one yard touchdown run.
Romo looked nearly perfect during the first half. He completely cut up the Bucs defense, going 18-22 for 189 yards. With the luxury of a big lead, he took it rather easily in the second half. He was not responsible for any more touchdowns and his final line read 23-30 for 249 yards.
“I thought he just had a good feel for what we were doing against what they were doing,” said coach Jason Garrett. “I thought he got back quickly and got the ball out of his hands, and when he had to move and make plays, he was able to do that too. He made a lot of big plays and not many bad plays.”
Freeman’s night was a completely different story. He passed for only 14 yards in the first half and had a total of just 148 yards through the air going 17-27 with one touchdown toss.
Tampa Bay tried to get back into the game after opening the second half with a strip-sack of Romo that was recovered by linebacker Dekoda Watson and run back 4 yards for a touchdown. Following a Dallas field goal, the Bucs were able to make it a two possession game thanks to a touchdown catch by Dezmon Briscoe and a successful two point conversion to cut the lead to 31-15 with 23 seconds remaining in the third, but the Cowboys held the Bucs scoreless in the fourth and held on to win by the same score.
Tampa Bay will now look to end the losing streak in Carolina next week, while the Cowboys will continue their playoff push hosting Philadelphia.