DE Gaines Adams had two of the Bucs' three sacks of Dallas QB Brad Johnson on Sunday in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys entered Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the league's third-ranked offense, averaging 393.1 yards and 27 points per game.
Their performance against the Bucs in Week Eight was slightly less impressive – just 172 net yards and 13 points.
Despite those numbers, it was the Cowboys who walked away from Texas Stadium with a hard-fought victory, even if the Bucs defense played well enough to win on most afternoons.
It all started up front with Gaines Adams and the Tampa Bay pass rush. The Bucs' defensive line had been applying decent pressure in recent weeks but had been unable to tally even a single sack over the previous three games.
On Sunday, the defensive line was finally able to get to the quarterback, sacking Brad Johnson three times. Adams tallied two of those takedowns, with the third going to defensive tackle Ryan Sims, and the pressure the Bucs were able to apply limited Johnson and his stellar crew of passing targets to just 102 net yards passing, well below their 265.9 yards-per-game average coming in.
"The mentality of the day was just do what we do, just to get out there and pass rush," Adams said. "We've been getting pressure, we just haven't been getting the sacks. Fortunately, we got some sacks today. They came at key times, but we've just got to keep moving forward."
Head Coach Jon Gruden preaches to his defensive linemen that pressure, pressure and more pressure is the key to success on defense. As true as that may be, sealing the deal with sacks is what turns a good play on defense into a potentially great one.
"The sack just brings more momentum to the game," Adams said. "Getting pressure is all the same, but the sack, I guess you would say just finishes the deal. But you can't worry about that – we've just got to keep on moving forward. We've been getting pressure, we've just got to keep doing it."
Adams' two-sack performance was the second multi-sack day of his 2008 campaign and the third of his career. Adams now leads the Bucs with four sacks on the year.
Unfortunately for the Bucs' rising young second-year star, his performance comes with a bitter taste in the mouth due to the outcome of the game.
In fact, you could easily say it was one drive in particular that did the most damage to the Bucs' defense, preventing Adams from fully celebrating his day. With the Bucs leading 6-3 with 2:23 left in the half, the Cowboys took over at their own 41-yard line. Three plays later, Adams' first sack of the day put the Cowboys in a third-and-12 situation at the Bucs' 49.
On the next play, Johnson dumped a screen pass to running back Marion Barber that would have easily been stopped well short of a first down, but cornerback Ronde Barber was flagged for a horse-collar tackle, giving Dallas 15 yards and a fresh set of downs.
The Cowboys ended up driving 33 more yards to take the lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to wide receiver Roy Williams moments before halftime, but pass interference, illegal contact and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties along the way by the Bucs contributed to the Cowboys' scoring march.
In all, the Cowboys gained 31 yards on their only touchdown drive of the day; the Bucs gave them 28 more on the four penalties.
"[That drive] was huge," Adams said. "There isn't anything we can do about that but just play ball. We're not blaming anybody but ourselves on that. We've just got to look forward to next week. We've got to come out tomorrow ready to practice and get better."
On the afternoon, the Bucs limited the Cowboys to those 172 net yards, a three-for-15 conversion rate on third downs (20 percent) and just a 2.8 yards-per-play average. To see those kinds of numbers without watching the game, one would surely believe the Bucs came out victorious.
But seven penalties for 58 yards, four first downs for the Cowboys off Bucs penalties and the Tampa Bay offense failing to cross the goal line did the Bucs in.
In short, as well as Adams played individually, it was still a frustrating day.
"I'm not going to say [it was a] missed opportunity," Adams said. "I'm just going to say we've just got to capitalize on more things. Some games it happens like that. You can't win all the games. We've just got to come in and we've got to play. We can't worry about the officials making bad calls or anything like that. We've just got to play football."
And although the end result and the what-ifs surely stung the Bucs as they flew home to Tampa, Adams and the rest of his defensive teammates held their heads high.
"It frustrates you a lot, but we're a better defense than that," Adams said. "We know that, we've just got to come back this week prepared."