Blowout of Buccaneers Was Just What Doctor Ordered for Cowboys, Prescott

It’s fair to say the Cowboys and Dak Prescott were reeling coming into Monday’s wild-card game against the Buccaneers. This was the opponent Dallas needed, Eric Mangini says, and the Cowboys and their quarterback righted the ship in a big way with a 31-14 victory.


What We Learned: Takeaways from Cowboys’ Wild Card Win over Buccaneers

How ’bout them Cowboys?

Dallas went to Tampa Bay and dominated in every phase to round up a convincing 31-14 wild-card victory over a listless Buccaneers team.

Dak Prescott had a hand in all five Cowboys touchdowns, playing a virtually flawless game, while his quarterback counterpart, Tom Brady, had a night to forget. The loss marked only the fourth one-and-done for Brady in the 20 years he’s gone to the playoffs, and the 17-point margin was the second-largest postseason defeat of his career.

The victory sends the fifth-seeded Cowboys to San Francisco on Sunday, when they will play the No. 2 seed 49ers in a Divisional Round game. It was Dallas’ first road playoff victory in nine tries extending back to 1993.

Here are five key takeaways from the game:

1. Dak Is Back

One of the Cowboys’ biggest question marks entering the playoffs was what was wrong with Dak Prescott? The quarterback had 15 touchdown passes but 11 interceptions during Dallas’ final seven regular-season games. His 15 interceptions (in just 12 games) during the season tied the Texans’ Davis Mills for the NFL lead.

Then there was the dismal regular-season finish against the Commanders, in which Prescott went 14-of-37 in a loss that cost the Cowboys the NFC East title.

“Going into the game, it was a toss-up for me because of how poorly Dak Prescott had been playing the last game of the season, where they limp into the playoffs, the volume of interceptions that he’s thrown, and just the general inconsistency that you’ve seen from the team,” said analyst Eric Mangini of The 33rd Team.

After a 0-for-3 start Monday night, Prescott caught fire and completed his next 11 passes and 15 of his final 17 before halftime. Two of those completions went to tight end Dalton Schultz for touchdowns, and Prescott sandwiched those around his bootleg TD run on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1. He gained 20 of Dallas’ 65 first-half yards on the ground.

Prescott didn’t slow down after halftime, finishing 25-for-33 for 305 yards for a Cowboys playoff-record four TD passes. He found receivers Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb for two more scoring strikes. In all, the Cowboys amassed 425 yards, including 128 on the ground.

“He looked in control, he looked poised,” Mangini said. “He actually looked aggressive as a quarterback and completely confident, not only with his ability, but confident with the moment. You couldn’t guarantee that or even really expect that based off of everything he’s shown … with the picks. It’s 40 percent more picks (in 12 games) than his worst season, which was a 16-game season.”

Schultz and backup Jake Ferguson exposed Tampa Bay’s inability to cover tight ends, combining for nine catches for 129 yards.

The Cowboys scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives, covering 80, 80, 91, and 86 yards, during a span from midway through the first quarter until late in the third.

2. Maher Misses and Misses and …

Brett Maher carved his name in the NFL record books in the first half and cemented it there in the second half, but not for reasons he or the Cowboys were celebrating. The fourth-year kicker set a playoff record for missed extra points by sending all three of his first-half tries wide of the goal posts (first two right, third one left).

The whammy continued in the third quarter when he hit the top of the right upright after Dallas scored a touchdown for a fourth consecutive drive. His fourth missed extra point set an NFL record for any game in league history.

“It’s a huge concern now,” Mangini said. “When you miss four kicks in a game, it’s hard to go into the next game where you go home if you lose, not knowing whether or not you can hit an extra point. The problem is who do you go and get that you have that much more confidence in than the guy who has been so reliable throughout the course of the season.

“Do you carry an extra kicker on the roster in the next game, in case he has the yips like he did in this game? It’s a problem, and thankfully for them it wasn’t an issue in this game. If you’re sitting in that next game against San Francisco, and the game comes down to a kick to win it, or if you miss an extra point to lose the game, you’re going to be sick.”

Absolutely nothing in Maher’s history suggested this was coming. He went 50-for-53 during the regular season (94.3 percent) and before Monday night had made more than 96 percent of his career attempts (129 of 135 career attempts, including 5-for-5 in his only playoff appearance in 2018). What’s more, he is the only kicker in NFL history who has made four field goals of 60 yards or longer.

The good news? He crushed his fifth try with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter to make it 31-6.

3. What’s Next for Brady, Bucs?

Brady is an unrestricted free agent. Will he want to continue playing in Tampa Bay? Somewhere else? At all? That will be one of the NFL’s biggest offseason storylines.

“It’s hard for me to imagine he’s going to be back in Tampa Bay,” Mangini said. “It just seems like it’s probably time for both parties to move on. It’s probably time for Tampa Bay to look for a long-term solution, and it’s probably time to look for a team that’s a little bit better equipped for where he’s at at this point in his career.”

Brady was non-committal about the future, saying simply “I’m going home and get a good night’s sleep … (and take things) one day at a time.”

Brady ended his press conference by thanking the Bucs, the media, and Bucs fans.

Former Bucs star Ronde Barber, a 33rd Team analyst, said Brady has earned the right to decide where – and if – he wants to play next season, but he wonders if it isn’t time for a chance in Tampa.

“I’m not sure they should keep Tom,” Barber said. “I think this team is at a point where they’re going to let him make the decision, obviously, it’s Tom Brady, he can make the decision. But this team is probably looking to evolve a little bit away from what they have once been.

“So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s somewhat of a mutual parting if he’s not here in the 2023 season.”

What other changes might be in story for the Bucs? The roster has plenty of aging parts.

How about the coaching staff? Todd Bowles’ first playoff game as a head coach was one to forget, and it came on the heels of an 8-9 regular season. Then there is the Byron Leftwich-coordinated offense, which finished No. 25 in scoring and didn’t sustain any consistency on the ground most of the season. On Monday, the Bucs ran the ball just 12 times, while Brady threw it 66 times for 351 yards.

“I would guess Todd Bowles is back in 2023,” Barber said. “I think they gave a lot of autonomy to him with the staff that was already here with Bruce Arians over the past couple years. But I bet you they give Todd another opportunity.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they made some adjustments to their staff. They’ve had some issues across the board, but I know in the middle of the season they had the faith in Todd to bring them through what were some struggles earlier in the year.”

It’s a good bet there will be changes in Tampa Bay. The question is how many?

4. Quinn’s Revenge

The Cowboys entered the game with the NFL’s No. 5 scoring defense (20.1 points per game). The Dan Quinn-directed group had a strong start Monday, holding the Bucs and Brady to 120 total yards, including just 24 on the ground, in a scoreless first half.

That stood in contrast to the Bucs’ output during the teams’ Week 1 meeting, when Tampa Bay rushed for 152 yards, including 127 by Leonard Fournette, among its 347-yard output. On Monday, the Bucs had 52 yards on the ground, and the bulk of Brady’s 351 passing yards came after the outcome was no longer in doubt.

The Cowboys also coaxed Brady into a rare red-zone interception on the second play of the second quarter. The ageless quarterback and seven-time Super Bowl champion threw his first pick inside the opponent’s 20 since 2019 — a span of 409 passes — when Jayron Kearse picked him off in the back of the end zone.

Brady, who directed the Patriots to the largest comeback victory in Super Bowl history against Quinn’s Falcons in 2017, was under siege and off-target much of the first three quarters. The Cowboys’ pass rush extinguished any chance of another Brady miracle late in the fourth quarter, when they sacked him on third down in the red zone and nearly got him again on a play that ended with an incompletion.

Quinn is a hot name in the current coaching cycle, and his defense enhanced his resume.

5. Another Scary Monday Night Injury

Near the end of the game, Bucs receiver Russell Gage suffered an injury that required the game to be halted for several minutes, before he was placed on a backboard and taken away on a cart.

Gage, who was coming off a back injury, was thrown a pass on second down from the Dallas 19-yard line but was hit in back and neck area by Donovan Wilson. He tried to get up off the field after the incompletion but couldn’t.

Bowles said Gage suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital to be checked out for a neck injury and observed. Bowles added that Gage had movement in his extremities.

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NFL Wild Card Betting: Odds, Spreads, Picks, Predictions for Cowboys vs. Buccaneers

Cowboys (12-5) at Buccaneers (8-9)

Opening Spread: Buccaneers +3

Opening Game Total: 45

Opening Team Totals: Buccaneers (21) Cowboys (24)

Weather: Outdoors, no current concerns

The Line Report

  • This line opened as Buccaneers +3
  • This line has moved to Buccaneers +2.5
  • This total opened at 45-points
  • This total has moved to 45.5-points

Notable Injuries

Buccaneers: Questionable: LG Nick Leverett, C Robert Hainsey, DT Vita Vea.

Cowboys: Questionable: RT Tyron Smith, Edge DeMarcus Lawrence.

Buccaneers Offense vs. Cowboys Defense

I have the Buccaneers’ offensive line tiered as a fringe top-10 group. I have the Cowboys defensive front tiered as a top-five group. Micah Parsons is a unique matchup issue for any opponent, but from a macro sense, I’m treating this trench matchup as a relative draw.

Betting Notes Per TruMedia

  • The Buccaneers are 4-12-1 against the spread this season
  • Tampa Bay is 6-11 on overs this season
  • Tom Brady is 188-133-12 against the spread in his career
  • Brady is 172-159-2 on overs in his career
  • Todd Bowles is 36-43-5 against the spread in his NFL head coaching career
  • Bowles is 41-43 on overs in his NFL head coaching career

Buccaneers Offense

  • Tampa Bay scores 18.4 points per game, which is 25th in the league
  • The Buccaneers are sixth in the league in yards passing per game and 32nd in yards rushing
  • Tampa Bay passes on 68% of plays and runs on 32% of plays, per Sports Info Solutions
  • Per The Edge, when skipping the regular season finale, Leonard Fournette has 54 carries and 32 targets during the previous five contests
  • Over that same five-game period, Rachaad White has 51 carries and 24 targets
  • Mike Evans has 77 receptions for 1,124 yards receiving and six touchdowns with a 19.7% target share and a 37.8% air yards share
  • Chris Godwin has 104 receptions for 1,024 yards receiving and three touchdowns with a 21.8% target share and a 17.7% air yards share
  • Russell Gage has breached 50 yards receiving three times this season, but two of those outputs came in the last four games
  • Julio Jones has breached 50 yards receiving two times this season
  • Cade Otton has taken over as the Buccaneers’ primary tight end
  • Per TruMedia, Evans has played 669 snaps on the perimeter and 212 in the slot
  • Godwin has played 279 snaps on the perimeter and 541 in the slot
  • Gage has played 320 snaps on the perimeter and 179 in the slot
  • Jones has played 238 snaps on the perimeter and 88 in the slot

Cowboys Defense

  • Dallas has allowed 20.1 points per game, which is fifth in the league
  • The Cowboys are third in the league in sacks, first in forced fumbles and seventh in interceptions
  • Per The Edge, Dallas has allowed the 10th-most yards rushing per game and the 25th-most yards receiving per game to running backs
  • The Cowboys have given up the 10th-most yards receiving per game to wide receivers
  • Dallas gave up the third-most PPR points per game to perimeter receivers this year
  • The Cowboys allowed the fifth-fewest yards receiving per game to tight ends this season

Cowboys Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

I have the Cowboys’ offensive line tiered as a top-five unit. I have the Buccaneers’ injury-reduced defensive front as a league-average unit. The Cowboys’ offensive line has a moderate advantage in the trenches in this contest. That advantage will grow if Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea misses this contest.


Betting Notes Per TruMedia

  • The Cowboys are 10-7 against the spread this season
  • Dallas is 9-8 on overs this season
  • Dak Prescott is 54-40-3 against the spread in his career
  • Prescott is 48-49 on overs in his career
  • Mike McCarthy is 140-109-5 against the spread in his NFL head coaching career
  • McCarthy is 139-113-2 on overs in his NFL head coaching career

Cowboys Offense

  • Dallas scores 27.5 points per game, which is fourth in the league
  • The Cowboys are 18th in the league in yards passing per game and ninth in yards rushing
  • Dallas passes on 54% of plays and runs on 46% of plays, per Sports Info Solutions
  • Per The Edge, Tony Pollard finished the season 16th in the league in yards rushing with 1,007 and 12th among running backs in yards receiving with 371
  • Ezekiel Elliot finished the season 22nd in yards rushing with 876 and seventh in rushing touchdowns with 12
  • CeeDee Lamb finished the season fifth in receptions (107), sixth in yards receiving (1,359), sixth in receiving touchdowns (nine), seventh in target share (28.7%) and 17th in air yards share (34.9%)
  • Michael Gallup has breached 50 yards receiving once in his 14 games this season
  • Noah Brown has 10 yards receiving or fewer in each of his last three games
  • Dalton Schultz has nine targets or more in three of his last five games
  • Per TruMedia, Lamb has played 450 snaps on the perimeter and 512 in the slot
  • Gallup has played 663 snaps on the perimeter and 47 in the slot
  • Brown has played 432 snaps on the perimeter and 353 in the slot
  • Schultz has played 501 snaps as an inline tight end, 62 on the perimeter and 209 in the slot

Buccaneers Defense

  • Tampa Bay allowed 21.1 points per game, which is 13th in the league
  • The Buccaneers are ninth in the league in sacks, 10th in forced fumbles and 24th in interceptions
  • Per The Edge, Tampa Bay allowed the 18th-most yards rushing per game and the fourth-fewest yards receiving per game to running backs
  • The Buccaneers gave up the 17th-most yards receiving per game to wide receivers this year
  • Tampa Bay gave up the fourth-most PPR points per game to slot receivers this year
  • The Buccaneers allowed the 13th-most yards receiving per game to tight ends this season
  • Tampa Bay has allowed the fifth-most PPR points per game to tight ends lined up in the slot


This Is What You’re Betting On

The Buccaneers beat the Cowboys 19-3 on opening day in Dallas. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, the Cowboys went 6-2 through their last eight games. The Buccaneers went 4-4 in their final eight games.

If You’re Betting on the Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have been a bottom-10 offense this season, while only reaching 30 points in one contest this year. Your first consideration as a Buccaneers’ bettor is Brady’s offense has the raw materials to be an above-average group, but they haven’t been for the majority of the season.

If the same offense that scored 30 points on the Panthers a few weeks ago shows up, the Cowboys are in trouble. However, we have to treat that more as an outlier than an expectation we can bet on given what Tampa Bay has done this season.

A major boon for the Buccaneers is their entire starting secondary is off the injury report. To put that in perspective, I genuinely can’t remember the last time this group was at full strength. The Buccaneers’ pass rush is not the same without Shaquil Barrett, but overall Tampa Bay’s defense is in better shape right now than they’ve been in weeks and weeks.

Your biggest concern as a Buccaneers’ bettor is Dallas being in an obvious correction spot after absolutely bombing against Sam Howell’s Commanders last week. Your second is Brady’s offense continuing to underwhelm against a talented Cowboys defense that hasn’t been playing its best football of late.

If You’re Betting on the Cowboys

If the Cowboys lose this game, it will not surprise me in the slightest if Jerry Jones fired Mike McCarthy and threw the kitchen sink at Sean Payton next week. The pressure is on the Cowboys in this contest.

Prescott is one of my absolute favorite quarterbacks to bet on or against. When the Cowboys play a team they have a significant talent advantage against, Prescott consistently creams those teams. In a big game, against a difficult opponent, more times than not, Prescott underwhelms.

Much like Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, Prescott is an above-average quarterback that is good, but not quite great. I’d argue Prescott is having his most disappointing season yet. Now, he has to out-duel the great one, Brady, in a playoff game on the road. It would make sense if the Cowboys tried to lean on their run game early in this contest.

The Cowboys have had a premium defense that generates a ton of turnovers while having one of the better pass rushes in the league for two seasons now. That said, the Cowboys’ defense has recently struggled against the Texans and the Commanders. The Eagles and Jaguars combined for 74 points against Dallas in mid-December. The Buccaneers’ offense has struggled this season, but they have enough talent to exceed expectations if the Cowboys’ defense continues to play at its current level.

Your biggest concern as a Cowboys bettor is Prescott’s offense underwhelming in another big spot. Your second biggest concern is the Cowboys’ defense struggling coming into a matchup with Brady.

Score Prediction: Buccaneers 24 Cowboys 20

Ryan’s Recent Betting Record:

ATS 2021: 49-31

ATS 2022: 48-32

Props 2022: 57-40

WATCH: Wild-Card Betting Preview


Cowboys’ Parsons Can Wreck Any Game Plan, Even Tom Brady’s

Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer discuss Micah Parsons and the impact he can have on a football game for the Cowboys, who have positioned him more on the line recently. Parsons will have his hands full with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Monday, but expect Parsons to make his presence felt.

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