On 2nd Thought

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On 2nd Thought: Unsung Hero, Milestones & More

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In one fell swoop, the Dallas Cowboys went from playing arguably the worst game of their season to one of their best, and not a moment too soon as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked to extend Brady's record against the organization to 8-0.

Instead, the future Hall of Famer could walk into retirement (TBD) with his final game being a 31-14 shellacking at the hands of the Cowboys, who will now advance to the NFC Divisional Round to face the high-powered San Francisco 49ers.

But before we turn the page to see what needs to be done to shock the world yet again in the coming days, let's talk about how they did it on Monday evening, when most of the world predicted the opposite would occur.

The Verdikt (Patrik) — Now that's how you play playoff football. And from now on when you play playoff football, that's how you do it, Dallas Cowboys. There were some bad boys on the field when the grand finale of NFL Super Wild Card Weekend got underway on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, but it wasn't who you thought it'd be.

The echoes of Tom Brady's undefeated 7-0 record rang loudly in the ears of the Cowboys defense all week long heading into the matchup, and they took that personally — to a level that would make Michael Jordan blush.

The defense was visceral, hungry, brutal and, most importantly, disciplined as it consistently resided in Brady's personal space upfront and disrupted his receivers' timing on the back end; the two groups consistently playing off one another.

Their dominance gave Dak Prescott and the offense time to get things rolling after a slow start on their first two drives of the game, and roll is exactly what they did — Prescott hanging five touchdowns on Tampa — in a 31-14 victory that was nowhere near as close as the score would have you believe.

The scheme on offense and defense was perfect. The coaching was perfect and masterfully aggressive when it needed to be. The execution by the players was spot on, save for the obvious concern on Brett Maher, on a night that saw the Cowboys retire any and all doubt regarding their ability to step up in the postseason; and possibly retiring Brady as well.

Unsung Hero (Patrik) – Honorable mention here goes to Israel Mukuamu, who hadn't been tasked with much playing time this season and almost never at cornerback, a position he played well in his collegiate days. To drop Mukuamu in, at CB, and see him impact a postseason game against Brady is nothing short of remarkable, and he deserves some roses here.

That said, I've got a rich, luscious bouquet of nature's finest for Leighton Vander Esch who, time and again, continues to prove his doubters wrong. Vander Esch returned on Monday night from injury and was a man possessed, as usual, logging a team-high nine combined tackles to help shut down the Bucs rushing (and screen) attack and nearly picking off Brady twice in the process.

Cue the wolf howl.

Milestone Moment (Nick) — Take your pick with some of these Dak stats. With another rushing TD, Prescott became the first player in NFL history to record a rushing score and passing score in four straight games.

He also set the Cowboys record with 11 straight completions in a postseason game. He's also the first QB in team history to record five total touchdowns (4 passing, 1 rushing) in a playoff game.

Stat of the Game (Nick) — The time of possession was very impressive for the Cowboys, who controlled the clock for 34:34 to just 25:26 for the Bucs. But the only way you keep the ball is by being efficient and the Cowboys were extremely impressive in the Red Zone, converting on all four trips with four touchdowns. Their other touchdown was a 22-yard score, just outside the red zone.

Kustodian's Kloset (Patrik) — This will come as a surprise to no one who watched the regular season, but Brett Maher is better than what he put on film in Tampa and he needs to shake off the worst outing of his NFL career to ensure it's not an issue in San Francisco. Maher had the dubious honor of setting the league's postseason record for most point after attempts missed in a single postseason game (3) before adding another, finally getting off of his slide by making one late in the game.

It's been a resurgent season for Maher, but whatever he ate for breakfast on Monday morning needs to be stricken from the menu going forward.

By the way, just so you know, the Cowboys had only two penalties (15 total yards).

Huzzah.

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