The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came of age last week with a big win against their division rival, the New Orleans Saints. It was a game where most people wondered if the young Bucs were ready to take the next step and beat a team that has dominated them over the years. They relied heavily on their defense that was able to limit the high scoring Saints and force them into turnovers in a game that surprisingly ended in a low-scoring battle. They took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter after running back Doug Martin shifted his way into the endzone on a goal line touchdown run. About a minute later, the defense got the ball back when linebacker Kwon Alexander dropped back into coverage and got his hand on a pass, deflected it in the air, and rookie Vernon Hargreaves slid underneath of it to make his first career interception. His pick set up fellow rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo for a 39 yard field goal, his second of the game. Late in the 2nd quarter, the defense held Drew Brees and the Saints out of the endzone with an impressive defensive stand, sacking Brees and forcing New Orleans to settle for a field goal. As a result, they held a 13-8 lead at the half. The Saints added a field goal at the end of the 3rd to make it a two point game. Although the offense continued to struggle in the second half, Winston was able to lead the offense downfield for Aguayo to make his third field goal of the day early in the 4th quarter to take a 16-11 lead. The defense forced Brees into another errant throw, and cornerback Brent Grimes came up with another interception for the D. They ended up punting the ball back, and their special teams unit made a great play to pin New Orleans inside the 1 yard line. Tampa had to defend their lead with less than two minutes left and felt the heat as the future hall of fame quarterback brought his offense to midfield. On a deciding 4th & 1, the Bucs’ defense put the nail in the Saints when safety Keith Tandy jumped in front of Brees’ throw in the middle of the field and snatched the ball away from the receiver.
The young Bucs take their confidence with them on the road this week and will have a chance to display their talents in Dallas on the national stage of Sunday Night Football against the Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys lost just their second game of the season last Sunday night against the only team that has managed to beat them this year – the New York Giants. It was a physical, low scoring affair full of turnovers and missed opportunities. The Cowboys looked sharp early on after Willie Beaman AKA Dak Prescott got the offense on the board with a play action fake that got Terrance Williams wide open in the secondary. Prescott hit him for a 31 yard touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead. Welp…that’s it. No seriously, those were the only points the Cowboys scored the en-tire game. Late in the first quarter, Dallas caught a break when Eli Manning lost the ball before he threw it, and DT Cedric Thornton pounced on the ball for the recovery. As the offense was at midfield for a 3rd & short, Prescott threw a slant to Dez Bryant who lost his footing as he broke into the route and the pass was picked off by New York. Midway through the second the Cowboys defense joined in on the turnover party when Benson Mayowa bullied his way into the backfield and leveled Eli Manning, forcing him to fumble the football and the Great White Hope Sean Lee recovered the ball at midfield. Dallas continued to feed Ezekiel Elliott (107 yards), but the offense overall was unable to turn his success into points. Kicker Dan Bailey missed a 55 yard field goal attempt before the half. Late in the 3rd quarter, Prescott attempted to take a shot downfield on 3rd down but threw it into double coverage and was picked off. Two plays later, the Odell Beckham Jr. nightmare came back to haunt the Cowboys again when Beckham caught a slant pass across the middle and outran errry-body in the Cowboys’ secondary to take a 10-7 lead. Midway through the 4th quarter the defense made another great play – this time via rookie cornerback Anthony Brown jumped a route and came down with an interception. Late in the 4th as the Cowboys were marching downfield attempting to win the game, Prescott threw to the trust handy of Dez Bryant who caught the football and tried to turn up field, but the ball popped right out of Dez’s possession and the Giants recovered.
Dallas did get the ball back with just over a minute and no timeouts, but couldn’t get the football past the shadow of their own goal line. The Cowboys will get another chance to clinch home field throughout the playoffs on yet another Sunday night game when Tampa Bay comes to town. They will need their defense to force turnover the way they did last week against Jameis Winston, who can be loose with the football at times (12 interceptions). Despite Ezekiel Elliott’s individual success last week, the Cowboys offense struggled overall and they will also have to find ways to get both Jason Witten and Dez Bryant more involved early so they are effective later in the game when they may be needed most. As much as the Bucs love to air it out and compete in shootouts, it may be in their best interests if this remains a low scoring game as the Cowboys appear to struggle when they can’t run-n-gun.