Cowboys 26, Buccaneers 20: Immediate Reactions

Dec 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is sacked in the fourth quarter by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Benson Mayowa (93) and David Irving (95) at AT&T Stadium. Dallas beat Tampa 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is sacked in the fourth quarter by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Benson Mayowa (93) and David Irving (95) at AT&T Stadium. Dallas beat Tampa 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Buccaneers (8-6) started slow, came roaring back in the third quarter, then faltered in the fourth to lose to the Cowboys (12-2) on Sunday Night Football. Here, we have immediate observations and reactions from Tampa Bay’s streak-snapping loss.

Final. 20. 48. 26. 123

A bad start and a slow finish doomed the Buccaneers on Sunday night, as they dropped their first game since the first week of November. The Cowboys were the better team, but the Bucs still let a winnable game get away.

Observations and Reactions- General

-Time of possession killed the Bucs. Dallas dominated the ball, holding it for 36:04. Tampa Bay’s defense had some trouble getting off the field, and there were times when the offense failed to sustain drives.

-Tampa Bay was manhandled in every way during the first half. Dallas was dominant, taking a 17-6 lead into the locker room.

-With that said, the Bucs did a great job of getting right back into it early in the second half. They took a 20-17 lead to the fourth, but that’s where things took another turn.

-Penalties weren’t a huge issue for Tampa Bay, as it committed just three for 35 yards.

-The biggest differences in the game were turnovers and the battle in the trenches. The Bucs turned the ball over four times to the Cowboys’ one. Dallas rolled through the Tampa Bay offensive line, while keeping the Bucs’ defensive line out of the backfield.

-Overall, it was encouraging to see Tampa Bay keep things interesting after a bad start. But, at this point in the year, there’s no point in taking moral victories.

Observations and Reactions- Offense

Jameis Winston was not good on Sunday night. He completed just 17 of his 35 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. In the first quarter, he also fumbled. He uncharacteristically lost his composure in the second quarter, getting flagged for a personal foul after headbutting a defender. It was disappointing to see him fail to step up on the big stage in a winnable game. If he would’ve been on, it could’ve made the difference for the Bucs.

Doug Martin had a couple of nice runs, but couldn’t do much of anything in the grand scheme of things. He managed just 42 yards on 16 carries. The run game as a whole was nonexistent, as the offense managed just 52 rushing yards.

Cameron Brate was a huge difference-maker in the third quarter. He made a couple of outstanding catches, including one on a 10-yard touchdown. Overall, he caught five passes for 73 yards and a score.

Mike Evans was underwhelming once again on Sunday, but he did suffer from Winston’s poor play. He caught four of his eight targets for 59 yards.

Adam Humphries made an impressive 42-yard touchdown catch to open up the second half, keeping focus after the ball was tipped by a Dallas defender near the goal line.

-The offensive line was a major problem. Gosder Cherilus had a bad night, as the Bucs sorely missed Demar Dotson. Dallas racked up four sacks and nine quarterback hits, making life very difficult for the Tampa Bay offense.

Observations and Reactions- Defense

-The Bucs didn’t have an answer for either of the Cowboys’ star rookies. Dak Prescott only had four incompletions all night, throwing for 279 yards on 32-of-36 passing. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

-However, Mike Smith’s unit still played well enough to keep the team in the game. It gave up 26 points, but 10 of those were off of turnovers. Dallas did put up 449 yards, but the Tampa Bay defense was on the field all night.

Kwon Alexander was spectacular in prime-time. That’s no surprise. He picked up 21 tackles (11 solo) and forced a fumble that gave Tampa Bay’s offense a chance to take the lead, though it was squandered.

-The pass rush wasn’t good enough for the Bucs against a strong offensive line. Prescott had all the time in the world to throw, which led to his completion percentage of 88.9.

-Tampa Bay had issues stopping both Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Bryant went for 82 yards on eight catches, while Witten caught 10 passes for 51 yards.

-Dallas had been struggling on third downs as of late, but finished Sunday night five-for-13.

Observations and Reactions- Special Teams

-Tampa Bay’s special teams made a major difference during the five-game winning streak, but couldn’t change much on Sunday night.

Roberto Aguayo finished the night two-for-two on field goals (25 and 34 yards) and made both of his extra points.

Bryan Anger was his usual self, averaging 42.8 yards per punt on four tries. He pinned one inside the Dallas 20.

Final Thoughts

Sunday night was certainly a disappointment for the Buccaneers. They had multiple opportunities to come back and win, but they blew all of them. The defense made stop after stop late in the game, but the offense couldn’t take advantage. Tampa Bay isn’t better than Dallas, but the game was still a winnable one. Dallas scored just nine points in the second half, but that’s all that was needed.

The Bucs did go toe-to-toe with the Cowboys, and that’s no easy task. Things aren’t over for them. They can’t hang their heads too low, as wins in their next two games could still get them in the playoffs. Dirk Koetter needs to get his players to put this one behind them, especially considering the fact that they take the field again on Saturday in New Orleans. Winning the final two games won’t be easy, but the task is manageable. The Bucs just can’t make the same mistakes they did on Sunday night. They were too careless with the football. They got no push from the offensive line. There just wasn’t enough for Tampa Bay to pull this one out. Now, the team sits a game back of Atlanta for first in the NFC South. Additionally, it is out of a wild card spot at the moment. The Bucs need to right the ship over the last two games to get themselves in the playoffs.

Next: Buccaneers Don't View Cowboys As Measuring Stick

Tampa Bay doesn’t have a lot of time to recover and prepare for the next one. The Bucs head to New Orleans next Saturday for a 4:25 matchup with the Saints (6-8).