TAMPA, Fla. – What a difference a week makes. Make that, eight days.
A week ago Sunday the Cowboys offensive line was maligned for its play in that 26-6 loss to Washington in the final game of the season. Those guys were out of sorts, having to play an entirely different combination with center Tyler Biadasz out with a high ankle sprain.
So here came that O-Line Shuffle, never a good thing in Game 17 of the season. Left guard Connor McGovern went from left guard to center. Left tackle, and rookie by the way, Tyler Smith went from left tackle to left guard. And 18-year veteran Jason Peters went from backup left tackle to starting for the first time this season at 40 years old.
The results were rough. The Cowboys had trouble running the football. The Commanders put immense pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott. He never comfortable in the pocket, playing one of the worst games of his career, or as he called it, well, starts with an "S" and rhymes with "pity."
But Monday night here at Raymond James Stadium, before 69,145 folks and a national TV audience, these guys made amends. Big-time amends in the Cowboys 31-14 mauling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in a game that really was never close after the Cowboys got off to a 24-0 lead, and there was no chance in the final game of the NFL'S Super Wild Card Weekend they were going to let happen what did with huge leads against Green Bay and Jacksonville, eventually losing in overtime both times.
Credit this offensive line for the Cowboys matching the most points they have scored in a playoff game since the 2009 season, a 34-14 first-round throttling of the Philadelphia Eagles. They don't give us statistics to portray how well an offensive line plays. But these will do:
- The Cowboys ran for 128 yards against a Buccaneers defense stacking the front, and just enough to keep their linebackers from dropping into help coverage against the pass.
- See the Cowboys tight ends Dalton Schultz and Jake Ferguson, eight catches for 129 yards. Add to the running game Prescott faking a handoff up the middle to Zeke and rolling untouched for a one-yard touchdown.
- See Dak throwing the ball. He was absolutely fantastic, completing 25 of 33 passes for 305 yards, four touchdowns NO interceptions and a 143.3 QB rating. He was sacked just once. He was hit/pressured just five times by a pressurizing defense. Only two passes were batted down.
"Yeah, can't say enough about those guys," Dak said. "So much credit to them."
Well, let's say a little more. Biadasz was back at center. Great, but the Cowboys still did a little shuffling. They started the game as they left off in Washington. Tyler Smith remained at left guard. Peters remained at left tackle. And in a throwback to last year, McGovern manned the fullback role.
"Early in the week they came to me and asked if I was willing to go back to fullback," McGovern said. "So, in the past two weeks I've played center, fullback and guard."
Oh yeah, guard again. See, with 1:54 left in the first half Peters suffered a hip injury, and likely one keeping him out the rest of the way in the playoffs. Connor then scrapped the fullback deal. Sean McKeon can do that. You move to left guard.
And hey rook, Tyler Smith, now you go back to left tackle. No problem coach, and six plays later, Dak nails Schultz for an 11-yard TD pass, his second of the game and the Cowboys led 18-0 at halftime.
"At least we've had so many combinations, we'll be ready to go," McGovern said.
So, if you scoring at home, within a two-week span McGovern went from left guard to center to fullback to left guard. And Tyler Smith went from left tackle to left guard to left tackle, and as Troy Aikman said on the Monday Night Football broadcast, Tyler should be a candidate for some sort of rookie of the year award, especially considering he spent his entire training camp playing left guard and then when Tyron Smith went down had to move to left tackle, then back to left guard this past week and again on Monday here then back to left tackle.
A rookie now, a first-round pick far too many panned the Cowboys for selecting him.
"Tyler is in his first year . . . just balling out, dong exactly what is asked of him," Dak said.
And give those guys switching out a hand. They had a whole lot to do with the Cowboys piling up 425 yards of offense, 26 first downs and back to converting 53.8 percent of their first downs.
"I feel comfortable behind those guys, they're able to get the run game going, just a special group," QB1 says of his guys. "Obviously, it just shows the trust they have in each other and the communication that they're able to have to switch out and not miss a beat. As
"Aviante Collins' hat says, 'Linemen lead the way.'
"We're going to continue to follow those guys and stay at it."
Yep, they will lead all the way to Santa Clara, Calif.,
for a playoff rematch with the Niners, 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Levi Stadium.
Just shuffling along their way.