ARLINGTON, Texas – After a week of criticism following a poor performance at Seattle, the Cowboys' special teams shook off their prior struggles and stepped up against Tampa Bay.
While it seemed like everything that could go wrong did against the Seahawks, the special teams made a number of very positive plays against the Buccaneers. The coverage unit recovered a muffed punt by Tampa Bay's Jordan Shipley, Dan Bailey was solid once again, making all three of his field goal attempts, and the "hands team" was able to seal the victory when James Hanna recovered Tampa's onside kick.
But perhaps the most exciting of the special teams' plays was a 44- yard punt return by Dez Bryant that led to a Cowboys' field goal. After the game, owner Jerry Jones talked about how exciting it was to finally see Bryant get the opportunity to make something happen with his return abilities.
"Very nice," said Jones. "We've been wanting him to find that straight line past that first wave and he did that. When he's got that running room, he's hard to defend on punt returns."
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis claimed that there is still room for improvement in terms of punt returning, but that it was nice to see Bryant taking advantage of the situation.
"We've just got to keep working on that phase of it," DeCamillis said. "Unfortunately, we got some balls down the middle that we should have probably capitalized on earlier today, but I thought he did a good job."
The one phase of the special teams that has not been questioned all season is the kicking ability of Bailey, who has been excellent with his field goals. DeCamillis said, though, that field goals are not Bailey's only strength; he has also been great with kickoffs.
"Danny's done a good job," DeCamillis said. "He gave us three touchbacks today. And then on the one we got them at the 12-yard line. So he's done a great job in kickoffs and hopefully we can continue to excel in that area."
DeCamillis talked about the overall performance of the special teams against Tampa compared to the loss in Seattle.
"I thought the kids really played hard. I thought they prepared well. And I thought they prepared well for Seattle. On the other side, they did a heck of a job making plays on us last week, but the kids bounced back today."
DeCamillis also made a point that people can be too fickle when judging special teams. He explained that one disappointing performance should not characterize a season.
"A lot of times, what you don't recognize is the other team gets paid, too," DeCamillis said. "They're out there trying to make plays on us and they made plays on us last week. … We're going to keep working at it and keep getting better."
Special teams expert and team captain Danny McCray confirmed his coach's statement. As a guy who has made his name as a special team player, he understands that the good will typically be overshadowed by the bad.
"*Most *of the time, when special teams do something good, it's not really recognized," McCray said. "You can kick it and tackle people inside the 20, then people will be like 'Yeah, whatever, the defense is coming out.' But when you get punts blocked, it's like 'Oh, special teams sucked.'"
Fortunately, the Cowboys' special teams unit is a close-knit group full of players trying to prove themselves. McCray explains that they have the same mentality whether they are being praised or criticized. "For us, it's always kind of that underdog mentality," McCray said. "After last week, it was, 'We need to show them who we really are.' As a team, last week – offense, defense and special teams – it was kind of behind the 8-ball, so we came out this week and wanted to show something different. And we came out and made some plays and it was exciting."