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Alas, Defense Delivers In Huge Victory

giving up only a 41-yard field goal, allowing Tampa Bay to pull within 13-9 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. Why the Cowboys, who gave up three touchdowns to the St. Louis Rams in one quarter last Sunday, played an entire game without giving up a touchdown for only the second time in the last 35. 

  Scandrick didn't even understand why anyone would ask him this question about so many "young guys," since eight games into the season - and him, maybe one - he disdains the rookie tag, pointing out he's been playing in the slot since the season opener on sub-packages. 

  "All these people want to make a big story on the young guys playing," Scandrick said in his self-confident manner of the youngsters in the secondary. "I've been playing." 

  Yeah, but not at corner, like he did in standard defense with Henry out. And look, Ball hasn't been playing either, only active for the fourth time this season, the other three solely for special teams. And sure as heck, all four of you pups hadn't been in there. 

  "Well, I think I grew up a lot," said Jenkins, the first-round pick who started his second consecutive game and began making more aggressive plays on the ball.  And then there was Ball, who played not only corner for the first time this season, but had to do so against the likes of Clayton and Hilliard and Bryant, the former Cowboys second-round draft choice who had five catches in the first half, but not another two until that final drive of the game. 

  "I looked into his eyes and said, 'Are you ready to go?'" Stewart said of his talk just before sending Ball in on the nickel. "Ball said, 'I'm ready to go.'  "They'll play if we ask them to." 

  Sure, they'll play all right if you ask them to, but the Cowboys were asking this defense laced with so much inexperience not only to play, but to win the game.  

  They sure weren't going to on offense with Brad Johnson directing that one-touchdown, 172-yard attack that went three-and-out on the first three possessions of the game and averaged an unheard of 2.8 yards per pass play. 

  But when the Cowboys went up 10-6 on their only touchdown with one second left in the first half, sending Tampa Bay to the locker room trailing at halftime for the first time this season, you just had the feeling that while they certainly wanted more points out of their offense, they weren't going to ask the offense to win the game. 

  Instead, please, just don't lose it. And Johnson and Co. complied, relying on the hard-charging Marion Barber (71 yards rushing) and not turning the ball over once for the first time this season and the first time since Game 2 of the 2007 season, a total of 22 games. 

  So you ask, what was the difference? Why did the Cowboys hold the brutish Bucs to just 48 yards rushing, the fewest they have given up this year and in the past 35 games? Why did they not allow the Bucs to progress any further than their 18-yard line (three times)? 

  Now the trendy theory will be Phillips took over the team's defensive play calling, but really Phillips and Stewart operated little differently than they have in the past when Phillips had the right of first refusal of anything Stewart had done in games, just as last year. 

  But to me, it sure seemed the Cowboys were more aggressive, playing a smidge more man, although still were giving receivers a comfy cushion at times, and it sure seemed they blitzed Hamlin more, although Stewart maintains I had that impression because Hamlin actually flashed into the backfield a couple of times. 

  And there will be those who insist the Cowboys played with more emotion, even desperate emotion, realizing the consequences of losing this game. But when you are making plays and are successful, it's much easier to be geeked up. 

  No, to me, the Cowboys played clean. Very few assignment mistakes, save the slip up on that 35-yard, third-down completion to tight end Alex Smith. They stopped the Bucs running game in its tracks, turning two running backs, Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn (bad back), averaging 4.8 yards a carry into non-factors, the two averaging 2.4 this day. 

  And because of

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