ARLINGTON, Texas. – The Cowboys faced one of the hottest teams in the league, but showed why they're still the team to beat in the NFC, getting to 12-2 with a hard-fought win over the Bucs.
On Friday, the staff writers gave their gut feeling for Sunday's game. Check out the instant reactions from the staff of DallasCowboys.com.
David Helman:Well, that might be as close as I've ever come to nailing a prediction. The Cowboys rode a phenomenal night from Ezekiel Elliott and four Dan Bailey field goals to a 26-20 win against Tampa – just like I said they would. But bragging aside, there's obviously a lot I missed here. I never could have imagined that Dak Prescott would be so good. Even as great as he's been this season, who would have guessed he'd complete 89 percent of his passes and rush for a touchdown. I also didn't give this defense enough credit. I said Mike Evans would go for 120, and he was held to just 59 on the day. How about the pass rush? Even without DeMarcus Lawrence, they sacked Jameis Winston an absurd four times and helped force four takeaways. Honestly, if not for some costly penalties from the Cowboys, this could have been a very easy win. That'll be something to work on moving forward, but it's hard to feel bad about stopping an opponent's five-game winning streak and climbing to 12-2 in the process.
Nick Eatman: I was somewhat close to some of these picks, but then again, I missed most of them. Getting the win was the biggest one of all and obviously Dak did bounce back with a big game. He didn't get two touchdowns but he ran one in and led the offense down the field when they needed to. It wasn't his fault his blockers were called too many times for holding. I liked the way Dak responded and this team needed to rally around him, which they did. Byron Jones did get a pick, although it was a end-of-half gift. Lucky Whitehead and Benson Mayowa didn't come through with my picks, although Mayowa had some nice plays behind the line of scrimmage. Overall, I had the Cowboys winning this game, but it wasn't as easy as I predicted. Either way, this is a 12-2 team on the verge of clinching the NFC East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Rob Phillips: My two keys to the game for the Cowboys were the defense containing Bucs receiver Mike Evans (4 catches, 59 yards) and the offense improving on third down (5-of-12) after going 2-of-24 in the last two games. The Cowboys clearly wanted to establish the run early, and Ezekiel Elliott's performance (career-best 159 yards) established some balance for Dak Prescott, who looked much more comfortable in and outside the pocket. Penalties still affected down and distance, but Prescott made plays with his arm and his feet. Really good rebound game for the offense. Tampa Bay's tempo affected the defense at times, but the defensive line was as active as they've been all season, and Orlando Scandrick and Jeff Heath delivered two big interceptions. The Cowboys got another true team win Sunday in which all three phases of the team contributed.
Bryan Broaddus: I thought it would be one of those nights where Ezekiel Elliott was going to get the ball 35 times and work to wear down this Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive front. They're a lighter defense than what Dallas has faced the previous two week and I thought the offense would have took advantage of that. Elliott carried the ball 23 times for 159 yards and a touchdown which is an outstanding night in itself. The Cowboys did run the ball 32 times as a team and were physical in doing so. It was exactly what they needed to do in the victory.
For the initial gut feeling predictions of the staff writers posted on Friday, click here.