Photos from Buccaneers vs. Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium.
Jameis Winston saw his interception-free streak come to an end on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, but fortunately his first turnovers since Week Four were followed by a critical second chance.
Several of them, actually.
Winston's one-yard touchdown run on a naked bootleg with 54 seconds to play gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a hard-fought 10-6 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. That came one snap as his attempted third-down dive over the goal line ended in a lost fumble, a potential turnover that was erased by a defensive-holding call on Dallas S Jeff Heath.
"I just saw an open hole; the offensive line was protecting great," said Winston of his first attempted TD run. "I just have to hold onto the football. But the good Lord gave me a second chance. [I was thinking,] 'Get this ball in the end zone with no turnovers. Just get the ball in the end zone.'"
Five minutes earlier, Heath had recorded his second interception of a tipped pass of the game, both inside the Dallas 10-yard line. That has snuffed what was Winston's first attempt at a go-ahead drive, but he got a second opportunity when the Buccaneers' defense came up big on the ensuing drive. CB Sterling Moore tipped away a third-and-one pass to Dez Bryant, forcing a punt that gave the Bucs possession near midfield for the game-winning drive.
Dallas had one last shot after Winston's run, aided by a personal foul call on CB Mike Jenkins on the ensuing kickoff return that started the drive at the Dallas 44 with 43 seconds to play. Three plays later, however, S Bradley McDougald intercepted a pass intended for Bryant in the end zone to seal the victory. It was McDougald's birthday on Sunday, but that game-clinching pick felt more like a gift for Winston and the rest of his teammates.
"The defense is just playing amazing right now," said Winston. "What they did was very important, and it was very amazing for us to get that great team win. Bradley coming down with that interception was just exciting for our sideline. We needed that win."
READ: STATS FROM BUCS-COWBOYS
Indeed, Tampa Bay's defense held Dallas to 216 total yards, 4.0 yards per play and 12 first downs, all season lows for Buccaneer opponents. The Cowboys came in with the NFL's eighth-ranked rushing attack and a lead runner in Darren McFadden who had averaged 111 yards the previous three weeks. Led by Lavonte David's 12 tackles, including a tone-setter at the line of scrimmage on the game's first, the Bucs limited McFadden to 32 yards and Dallas to 42 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Perhaps more importantly, the Buccaneers also kept a lid on star wide receiver Dez Bryant. Matt Cassel, in what was probably his last week filling in for the injured Tony Romo, targeted Bryant 12 times but got only five completions for 45 yards out of it. Cornerback Sterling Moore, the former Cowboy who moved into the starting lineup just last week, spent most of the afternoon matched up with Bryant and did an outstanding job preventing the big play.
"Sterling Moore did an excellent job on him," said McDougald. "We definitely were aware of where he was at all times. Guys just stepped up to the challenge and made plays when it was time to make plays.
McDougald and the Bucs' secondary also held up extremely well on third down. After allowing three conversions on Dallas' first five attempts, Tampa Bay allowed just one of the next eight to succeed. Many of those steps came at midfield or just on the edge of scoring territory. Dallas got field goals on two of its first three drives but never scored again. The Bucs' secondary had been receiving heavy criticism in recent weeks but came up with its best game of the season on Sunday.
"It feels good but, honestly, our secondary, we have enough guys who know what they're capable of, know what they can do," said McDougald. "We aren't really concerned about outside criticism or things that happen outside our locker room. We just show up to work each and every week and just try to get better and play consistent."
David added big plays in the backfield and the secondary. In addition to his 12 stops, the Bucs' defensive captain contributed a sack, a tackle for a loss and a pass defensed. His deflection in the third quarter nearly led to an interception by LB Kwon Alexander. The Bucs held Dallas to 85 yards in the second half, pitching a shutout after the intermission for the first time all year.
"That's what we were trying to do all day: Play consistent 'D,' win first and second down, and then once we get to third down win that and leave the offense with as [little] field as possible so they don't have to drive from the 10 and try to get it all the way down the field," said McDougald.
Of course, it took Winston and the Bucs' offense some time to get into a groove, as well. The Buccaneers picked up 174 of their 327 yards on their last three drives of the game (not including one final kneel-down after the McDougald interception). Winston was at his best, however, with the game on the line, and he finished with 264 yards on 22-of-39 passing. RB Doug Martin got a good chunk of yards early in the game but the Bucs largely struggled to run the ball for the final three quarters, finishing with 81 yards. It might have been an 'ugly' win, but Winston didn't mind. Now he wants to build on that one and get the Bucs back to .500 with consecutive victories for the first time in 2015. At 4-5 after Sunday's win, the Bucs head to Philadelphia in Week 11.
"It's always good to have a win, no matter how you get it," said Winston. "When you get a win, you have to enjoy it. We take the wins how we can get 'em. If we have to win every single game like that I will not care, as long as we get the win. The thing is, we have to focus and get better every single week. So we have to go back, focus, get on the chalkboards and work things out."
Dallas scored first thanks in part to good special teams play. Cole Beasley's 22-yard punt return was the first big field-position changer of the game, putting the ball at midfield. McFadden's running got the ball just across the Bucs' 20 but a sack by rookie LB Kwon Alexander forced Dallas to settle for a field goal. Dan Bailey, who has made approximately 91% of his kicks since entering the league in 2011, easily drove him the 42-yarder for three points.
The Bucs countered with their own field goal drive, mostly thanks to the shifty running of Martin. Martin ran six times for 38 yards to set up Barth's 52-yard field goal two plays into the second quarter. However, Dallas quickly set Bailey up again, getting a 53-yard field goal out of Jason Witten's 24-yard catch into Buc territory. A stop of McFadden for a loss of four on third-and-three forced the Cowboys to settle for three again.
LISTEN: POSTGAME AUDIO FROM COACH SMITH
Each team missed a long field goal in the second quarter, and the Buccaneers lost out on a chance to take the lead or at least tie the game when Winston's pass went through Brandon Myers' hands and was picked off by Heath near the goal line. After that, the game developed into a field position battle, and the Bucs started only two of their last 10 drives farther ahead than their own 20.
One of those two, however, was the game-winner in the fourth quarter. The Bucs battled for 60 minutes to stay in the game and then took advantage of an opportunity to win it. That's a big step forward for a team that has had trouble finishing off games the last two seasons.
"We definitely did," said McDougald. "That's one thing Coach Smith was talking about last week. We're going to come in this week with clear minds, get on the field and just finish, do whatever it takes to win."
Additional notes and in-game details:
- Before the end of the first quarter of Sunday's game, Doug Martin moved up two spots on Tampa Bay's all-time rushing yardage chart. Both moves occurred on Tampa Bay's second possession, as a seven-yard run moved him past Ricky Bell (3.057) and moments later an 18-yarder pushed him past Reggie Cobb (3,061). Martin had 63 rushing yards by the end of the day, giving him 3,110 on his career. Martin needs 253 more to surpass Michael Pittman (3,362) and move into the franchise's top five.
- WR Mike Evans led the Buccaneers with 126 yards on eight receptions, marking his second straight 100-yard game and his third in the last four weeks. Evans has four 100-yard games in 2015 and seven through his first 23 NFL contests.
- Connor Barth's 52-yard game-tying field goal in the second quarter marked the 13th time he's hit a field goal of 50 or more yards as a Buccaneer. That's the second-highest total of 50+-yard field goals in team history, behind the 15 hit by Martin Gramatica from 1999-2004.
- The Bucs' defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, with David setting the tone by knifing through the line on first down to stop McFadden for no game. The Cowboys threw a screen to McFadden on third-and-11 that nearly worked but the ball was spotted inches short of the 30-yard line and the Cowboys punted. Chris Jones' kick bounced out of bounds at the Bucs' 30.
- The Dallas defense countered with its own three-and-out, capped by a sack by DT Tyrone Crawford when Winston found no one open and had to scramble. Dallas got a leg up in the field position switch when Cole Beasley returned Jacob Schum's 43-yard punt 22 yards to the Cowboys' 48.
- Three McFadden runs moved the ball into Bucs territory and made it first down at the Bucs' 41. Cassel converted a third-and-six with an seven-yard strike to Witten. Dallas got the ball just into the Bucs' red zone on a five-yard run by McFadden but the home team held there, with Alexander's blitz and eight-yard sack of Cassel forcing a field goal. Bailey, the NFL's most accurate field goal kicker since 2011, banged him a 42-yarder for the game's first points.
- A rollout pass to FB Jorvorskie Lane and Martin's four-yard run up the middle moved the chains to start the Bucs' next drive, and Martin followed with runs of seven and 18 to get the ball into Dallas territory. The drive stalled at the 34 when CB Morris Claiborne dived to deflect a short third-down pass meant for Donteea Dye, but Barth came on to boot a 52-yard field goal that just cleared the crossbar to tie the game early in the second quarter.
The Cowboys started at their own 31 after a short kickoff and a good return by Lucky Whitehead, then got across midfield when Cassel hit Winston downfield on third-and-three for a gain of 24. Jones' big stop on third down kept the Cowboys from getting to the red zone but Bailey easily hit his 53-yard wind-aided field goal attempt.
Winston went deep in Evans' direction on the first play of the next drive and got 45 yards out of it when Claiborne was flagged for pass interference. The drive nearly stalled just outside field goal range but an illegal contact penalty on Byron Jones gave the Bucs a new first down at the Dallas 32. CB Brandon Carr then broke up a third-down pass intended for Evans downfield and Barth came on to try a 46-yard field goal. Unfortunately, Barth hooked it just outside the left upright and the Cowboys' maintained their slim lead.
A sharp throw by Cassel on a square-in by Bryant picked up 16 yards to the Bucs' 44. After picking up one more first down, the Cowboys stalled when Verner made a superb third-down tackle on Witten while still engaged with another Dallas blocker. Bailey came on to try a 48-yarder and, for the first time all year, missed.
The Bucs quickly fell into a third-and-10 on the ensuing possession but Winston's accurate sideline toss to Evans picked up 14 yards and moved the ball just across midfield. Winston went right back to Evans who made a great leaping catch over a defender for 23 yards down to the Dallas 26. Winston kept trying to push it downfield but his pass over the middle to Brandon Myers' went through the tight end's hands and was intercepted by Heath near the goal line.
Tampa Bay's defense got one more third-down stop after Dallas got the ball near midfield. The Bucs tried to get into scoring position in the final seconds of the half but ran out of time after getting to midfield. The Bucs also got the ball to start the second half but went three-and-out and had to punt. A play initially ruled a fumble by Winston was reviewed and overturned to an incomplete pass and Jacob Schum hit a perfectly angled punt for 49 yards to the Dallas 29, with return man Lucky Whitehead catching it as he hit the sideline.
A sack by William Gholston put the Cowboys into a quick hole but Cassel converted a third-and-nine with a 22-yard strike over the middle to TE Gavin Escobar. The Bucs held near midfield but missed out on a golden opportunity for a takeaway. A blitzing David tipped Cassel's third-down pass and sent it right to Alexander, but the rookie 'backer couldn't hold on to the pick. The resulting punt was fair caught at the Bucs' 14 and then moved back to the seven on a holding penalty.
Evans got 22 yards and nearly broke past the last line of defense on a quick slant two plays later, and a sliding catch of a sharp out pass by WR Adam Humphries picked up another first down at the Bucs' 41. Winston nearly converted another third down with a sharp pass down the right seam to Evans but the receiver couldn't hold on and the Bucs had to punt.
Dallas got back to midfield on a 17-yard deep in by Terrance Williams but the Bucs held there thanks to a hustle sack by David. David blitzed over left tackle and hit Cassel quickly but didn't get him on the ground. Cassel escaped the pocket but David got up from the ground and chased him down for a loss of three yards. The Cowboys did manage to down the ensuing punt at the Bucs' four-yard line.
The Bucs escaped that bad field position when Winston hit Myers for a gain of 12 on third-and-seven. Evans than hauled in a 16-yarder on the sideline and Humphries slid for a 19-yarder over the middle on the last play of the third quarter. The Bucs had a first down at the Dallas 45 to start the fourth period but couldn't move the chains again and had to punt. S Kimario McFadden downed Schum's punt at the Dallas seven.
The Cowboys moved away from their goal-line when DT Henry Melton was flagged for a late hit on Cassel on a second-down incompletion. However, a stop for no gain of McFadden by McDougald and a well-defended incompletion down the left sideline led to a punt. Bobby Rainey muffed the catch and was only able to get back to the Bucs' seven-yard line on his return.
Winston's 10-yard check-down pass to Martin got the Bucs a quick first down, and then a screen to Martin got 25 more thanks to three broken tackles down the left sideline. Two plays later, Winston threaded the needle on a seam pass to Evans and the receiver tacked on extra yardage to get 26 to the Dallas 39. Sims faked out a tackle on a sideline catch to get seven more and Martin took a delayed handoff up the middle for six more to the 26. However, two plays later Winston tried to zip a quick slant to Humphries and the receiver could only get one hand on a ball thrown behind him. Heath was once again waiting for the tipped ball, which he intercepted at the Dallas nine.