TAMPA, Fla. – The Cowboys were able to win their first road game in 30 years and beat Tom Brady for the first time ever.
They had huge plays from Dak Prescott on offense, as well as huge plays from a defense that shut out the Buccaneers for nearly three quarters. Aside from the missed extra points by Brett Maher, the Cowboys completely dominated the game.
But especially in the postseason, these games always have plays that get overlooked, but still change the course of the game. Here are five that made a difference … with an extra play thrown in since it's the playoffs.
Roughing the passer extends early drive – On the Cowboys' third possession of the game, the offense was facing a third-and-5 near midfield, but the team got an automatic first down thanks to a roughing-the-passer call on Akiem Hicks. The Buccaneers defensive lineman's hand not only hit Dak Prescott in the face, but he then laid on him with his full body weight. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball into Bucs territory where the Cowboys scored three plays later on a touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz to grab a 6-0 lead.
Parsons' deflection on first down – The Buccaneers were driving early in the game and had a first down inside the Cowboys' 5-yard line. But on first down, Tom Brady threw a pass in the left flat that was read all the way by Micah Parsons, who nearly picked off the ball. On second down, the Cowboys were again in Brady's face, forcing him to pump the ball on his initial read. Then he tried to throw the ball away and was picked off by Jayron Kearse. But the first down deflection by Parsons, which not only saved a potential touchdown, seemed to get into Brady's head on the next play.
Pollard's run after holding penalty – While there were many key plays on this drive, including third-down catches by Tony Pollard and T.Y. Hilton, it was an 8-yard run by Pollard that proved to be the biggest play. After a holding call on Schultz pushed Dallas back to first-and-goal at the 14, Pollard took the next play on an 8-yard run back to the 6. From there, the Cowboys were able to punch it in three plays later. Without that run, the team probably settles for a field goal, and considering Maher missed his second extra point, there's no guarantee they even get the three. So Pollard's run helped them get back into scoring position.
Prescott scrambles on another scoring drive – With the Cowboys leading, 12-0, late in the first half, the offense faced a third-and-6 at their own 44-yard line. The Buccaneers had already called one timeout on the drive, hoping to get the ball back with a chance to score. So the fact that Prescott was able to scramble for 10 yards and get a first down was a huge momentum-changer. His run opened the playbook for the Cowboys, who scored their third touchdown of the half to take an 18-0 lead.
Penalty after the fumble, set them back – Leading 24-0, the Cowboys looked like they were about to get a backbreaking turnover when the officials ruled a fumble after a catch by Tampa Bay wideout Chris Godwin. While the replay officials eventually changed the call to a catch and down-by-contact, there was a personal foul penalty on the Buccaneers on the negated return, which was still enforced. Instead of getting a first down at the Cowboys' 29-yard line, the Bucs kept the ball but were pushed back to the 14. From there, Tampa Bay could manage only one more first down before being forced to punt. The penalty seemed to be a setback after the potential for some third-quarter life.
Bucs miss two-point conversion – As Dallas knows all too well, not converting after a touchdown can change momentum. The Cowboys saw that happen four times on missed extra points, but the Buccaneers not getting a two-point conversion on the final play of the third quarter was big for several reasons – mainly because the incompletion prevented the Buccaneers from trailing by two scores, and kept the deficit at 18 points. From there, the Cowboys calmly went down the field on their next possession and scored another touchdown.