The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to play catch-up in a big way if they hope to play the role of spoiler on Saturday night.
The Buccaneers went into halftime trailing the visiting Cowboys, 28-0, with the home team struggling on both sides of the ball at Raymond James Stadium. It was Tampa Bay's second prime-time nationally-televised game of the year after a Week Four Monday night win over Indianapolis, but it will take an enormous comeback to keep the Bucs' undefeated under the lights this year.
Dallas QB Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes, all on third down, and ran for a fourth score just before halftime to give the Cowboys their sizeable lead. Romo completed 18 of 22 passes for 189 yards and threw scoring passes to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson. RB Felix Jones ran 12 times for 67 yards as Dallas ran up a 279-55 edge in total yardage by the intermission.
The Bucs' offense started the game with a promising drive but lost the ball just past midfield on a fumble by QB Josh Freeman at the end of a good scramble. For the reminder of the first half, Freeman had little time to throw and finished with just two completions in four attempts for 14 yards. RB LeGarrette Blount ran eight times for 20 yards.
The Bucs won the toss and took the opening kickoff, with Preston Parker getting the ball back to the 19-yard line. Blount got the ball on the first two plays, going up the middle for three yards and to the left for two more to make it third-and-five. Freeman took a shotgun snap on the next play and chose to take it up the middle himself; by refusing to slide at the end of the play, he was able to power his way for 25 yards to the 49-yard line. Freeman kept it again on the next play and got another nice gain, but LB Anthony Spencer stripped him of the ball at the Dallas 44 and LB Bradie James recovered at that spot for the visiting team.
Dallas needed just one play to get into Buccaneer territory, as Romo threw a well-designed screen to Jones for a gain of 14. Romo then zipped a quick slant into the hands of Bryant on the next play, accounting for 16 more yards to the Bucs' 26. A pitch right to Jones got nine more, and he picked his way left on second down for a pickup of seven to make it first-and-goal at the 10. LB Geno Hayes forced Jones to fumble after a short catch on first down but the ball went out of bounds at the Tampa Bay eight. A run for no gain by Jones made it third-and-goal, with Hayes getting the stop at the line of scrimmage. On third-and-goal, the Bucs' coverage caused Romo to scramble around for an extended period, but he eventually broke free to the right and fired a touchdown pass just over the line to Austin. The play was reviewed as it wasn't clear whether Austin had control of the ball while he was in the end zone, but it was eventually upheld.
After a touchback, Blount got the ball to start the next drive and refused to go down in the middle of the field, bulling for seven yards to the 27. Another hard-nosed run got two more, but DE Marcus Spears burst right through the line on third-and-one to trip up Blount before he could get moving to the line on third down, and the Bucs had to punt after he ended up with no gain.
Starting at their own 31 after the Bucs' first punt, the Cowboys quickly fell into a third-and-10. Austin dropped a short first-down pass an d he Buc swarmed over Jones on a handoff out of the shotgun on second down. However, Romo escaped Michael Bennett's pressure on third down and found Witten for a gain of 28 to keep the drive alive. A 15-yard run by Sammy Morris got the ball tot eh Bucs' nine, and Romo once again converted a third-and-goal from the eight with a TD pass, this time to a wide-open Bryant in the back middle of the end zone.
The Bucs' next drive was another three-and-out. This time, a short pass to TE Luke Stocker and a four-yard run made it third-and-two. Freeman's attempt to convert the third down went awry when nobody broke open downfield, and he eventually had to throw it away. The Cowboys took over for their third possession at their own 23.
Dallas converted another third down early in the next drive, as Romo found Austin for eight yards when he needed five. However, the Bucs' defense got a stop moments later after LB Mason Foster stopped Jones for no gain on second-and-10 and pressure helped force an incompletion on third down. The Bucs' took over at their own 26 after the punt.
The first play went backward, as LB DeMarcus Ware shot around the back end and sacked Freeman for a loss of six before he could properly get set up. The next snap, the pressure came from the other side, as CB Orlando Scandrick blitzed in and dropped Freeman for another four-yard loss. On third-and-20, the Bucs settled for a screen to RB Kregg Lumpkin that only got half of the necessary yardage and the Bucs had to punt again.
Michael Koenen backed the Cowboys up to their own 11 with a 59-yard punt, but a tripping penalty on DT Roy Miller quickly made it first down at the 26. A Laurent Robinson catch on the right side was good for 11 more to the 37, and Jones then broke free up the middle for a 38-yard scamper all the way to the Bucs' 25. A hustling Ronde Barber kept the play from going the distance, but the drive still resulted in seven points when Romo scrambled right on third-and-five from the Bucs' nine and found Robinson along the back line for his third touchdown pass of the game.
The Bucs tried Blount on the first two plays of the next drive but got only two yards out of it. After a timeout, Freeman tried to dump the ball off to Lumpkin but it was incomplete and the Bucs had to punt again.
The Cowboys started again at their own 38 and mounted yet another long drive. Witten's sliding catch at the Bucs' 13 picked up 22 of the march's 62 yards, and Romo capped it with a touchdown run on fourth-and-goal from the one. LB Dekoda Watson stopped WR Kevin Ogletree on a third-down pass at the one-yard line but the Cowboys rushed up the line and allowed Romo to sneak it over for their fourth touchdown with just 20 seconds left in the half.