DT Chris Hovan sacked Dallas QB Tony Romo early in the first quarter, but Romo got up to throw five touchdown passes
Like a holiday turkey that wasn't thawed properly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first Thanksgiving Day appearance started out juicy but turned cold in the middle. In the end, it wasn't a particularly appetizing meal for the traveling Bucs.
Facing a hot Dallas team that has now won four of five behind new starting QB Tony Romo, the Buccaneers jumped out to a first-possession lead but struggled to make big plays or stop the Cowboys from doing so. The result was a 38-10 win for the home team and the Bucs' sixth consecutive road loss dating back to last December.
There was little for the Bucs to be thankful for after FB Mike Alstott's first-quarter touchdown run and DT Chris Hovan's drive-ending sack on the Cowboys' first possession. Dallas tied the game by the end of the quarter, took a 21-10 lead into halftime and finished with the highest point total allowed by the Buccaneers since a 38-35 loss to Indianapolis on October 6, 2003.
The Cowboys are certainly thankful for Romo, the fourth-year quarterback making his fifth career start. The NFL's highest-rated passer, Romo was impressive again, completing 22 of 29 passes for 306 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a near-perfect passer rating of 148.9.
For all of his good work over the past month, during which the Cowboys went 3-1 after he replaced Drew Bledsoe, this was Romo's first game with even three TD passes. Tampa Bay's defense actually applied quite a bit of pressure in the first half but Romo frequently escaped it to hit plays downfield. In the second half, as he has been for three straight weeks, Romo was blazing hot, completing nine of 10 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
Dallas fans are hopeful that Romo will stop the revolving door that has been their quarterback position since the retirement of Troy Aikman. A telling stat that may lend them hope: Romo's performance against the Bucs made him the first Dallas quarterback since Aikman in 1999 to throw four touchdown passes in one game. When Romo got his fifth scoring toss in the third quarter, it tied the Cowboys' all-time single-game record, held in part by Aikman.
Bucs' starter Bruce Gradkowski, a rookie making his eighth start, started well also, but suffered by comparison. While he completed 10 of 20 passes for 120 yards, several notable downfield opportunities to former Cowboy receiver Joey Galloway came up empty and the Bucs weren't able to keep up with Dallas' scoring. Gradkowski was also intercepted twice for the game's only turnovers. For that reason, the yards were nearly even at the half (199-183, Dallas), but the home team had a 21-10 lead.
In the second half, the Cowboys were simply unstoppable, though they went to a very conservative run-heavy approach after scoring their fifth touchdown. On four second-half possessions, the Cowboys gained 236 yards, scored two touchdowns and a field goal, ran out the last 5:30 with a final march and were not required to punt.
Dallas actually started that run with a critical two-minute touchdown drive to end the first half. The momentum from that score easily carried over into the third quarter, as the Cowboys took the opening drive 82 yards for another score. WR Terry Glenn's 45-yard catch at the Bucs' 11 keyed the march, but it ended the same way as the Cowboys' previous drive did, a short rollout touchdown pass to RB Marion Barber. This one was on fourth down as the Cowboys, leading 21-10 already, chose to go for it from the two-yard line.
The Bucs helped the Cowboys keep the ball rolling by turning it over two plays later. A short pass deflected off RB Michael Pittman's hands and was intercepted by diving LB Akin Ayodele. Five plays later, Dallas was in the end zone again on Romo's fifth TD pass, this one to WR Terrell Owens on an easy seven-yard slant. Dallas tacked on a field goal with a methodical, 13-play drive and then simply ran out the game's last 10 minutes with Barber and FB Lousaka Polite.
Once again, the Bucs were determined to establish the run early. Their first four plays were runs, though one was a successful third-down scramble by Gradkowski. After an Alstott plunge up the middle gained three yards on first down, Gradkowski faked another handoff to the big back, scrambled out of trouble and, on the run, threw an impressive, 53-yard completion to a wide-open Galloway. That play plus an impressive leaping grab by Galloway over CB Anthony Henry on third-and-four from the Dallas 18 set up Alstott's one-yard touchdown run over left tackle.
That uplifting drive marked just the second time this season that the Bucs had scored a touchdown on their opening possession. Gradkowski engineered a similar feat in his first career start, at New Orleans on October 8. Unfortunately, the Bucs' offense failed to maintain that momentum, mostly due to a pair of missed downfield opportunities to Galloway.
The Cowboys, in contrast, came out throwing and picked up a quick first down. However, a downfield attempt to Glenn was off target and nearly intercepted by CB Juran Bolden. That set up a third-and-five, which failed when a big Buc blitz freed up Hovan up the middle for an eight-yard sack.
After Dallas' punt, Tampa Bay's next drive ended in a three-and-out and S Kalvin Pearson helped the Bucs avert disaster on the ensuing punt. Return man Terence Newman found a seam and might have been gone for a touchdown if not for Pearson's diving tackle from behind.
Pearson's hustle only delayed Dallas' first score, however. One play after failing to pull in a low throw as he ran free down the right sideline, WR Terrell Owens converted a third-and-eight with an 18-yard catch down to Tampa Bay's 42. On the missed connection on second down, the Cowboys deftly faked a tight end screen at the line of scrimmage and Owens ran past the defenders who reacted by coming upfield. Romo hit WR Patrick Crayton for 21 yards three plays later and Glenn two snaps after that for 30 yards and the game-tying touchdown.
Glenn's score could have been partly due to an ill-advised moment of "gutting-it-up" by a Buccaneer defender. On first-and-10 from the Bucs' 27, S Will Allen run-blitzed off the right edge and made a brilliant tackle on RB Julius Jones for a loss of three. Allen appeared to tweak his left ankle on the play, but waved off a possible replacement from the sideline as he limped into place. On the next play, Glenn cut in front of Allen near the goal line and Allen fell trying to make the cut, leaving the receiver wide open. The slip may or may not have been due to the ankle problem, as Allen did come back for the very next defensive series.
And that series came almost immediately. Gradkowski tried to go deep to Galloway on first down after Michael Pittman got the kickoff out to Tampa Bay's 41, but S Roy Williams intercepted the pass and returned it 27 yards just across midfield. The game's first turnover resulted in Dallas' go-ahead touchdown – a two-yard catch by Glenn on third-and-goal – but not before Owens dropped a potential score on second down. Cowboy trainers had to attend to Owens after the play, as he was flipped by CB Ronde Barber and landed hard on the end zone turf. Dallas never reported an injury to Owens, however, and he was back on the field for the Cowboys' next offensive possession.
The Bucs' offense got right back into the game, too, taking the ensuing possession well into Dallas territory, mostly by going back to the ground. Gradkowski's heads-up scramble and four-yard toss to Alstott converted a third-and-three, and Williams broke free on a third-and-two sweep for a 22-yard gain down to the Dallas 30. Gradkowski had another shot at a touchdown pass to Galloway, who got past CB Anthony Henry down the left sideline, but Gradkowski's lob gave Henry enough time to catch up and make a diving deflection. Tampa Bay settled for Matt Bryant's 46-yard field goal to make it 14-10 with seven minutes left in the half.
Dallas scored again just before halftime, however, thanks in part to a roughing-the-passer call on Hovan, who made helmet-to-helmet contact with Romo during a 15-yard completion to Owens. The penalty put the ball at the Bucs' 44 and a 33-yard completion to Crayton put the ball the one. Romo rolled out on an option play on first-and-goal and, when the defender came up to cut him off, dumped it over to Barber for the touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
The Bucs did cross the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight week, gaining 101 yards on 24 carries. Williams led the way with 78 yards on 17 totes, averaging 4.6 yards per run. Galloway led the pass-catchers with 71 yards on three carries. On defense, Allen and Ruud shared the team lead with eight tackles apiece.
The Bucs fall to 3-8 with the loss while Dallas improves to 7-4. Tampa Bay's next game is in Pittsburgh on December 3.
Game Notes: LB Derrick Brooks finished his assault on the Bucs' all-time participation records on Thursday. The Dallas game marked the 184th start of his career, moving him past former T Paul Gruber into first place on the team's career chart. Gruber played in and started 183 games for the Buccaneers from 1988-99; Brooks broke Gruber's games-played record three weeks ago and now has 187. He has never missed a game in his 12 seasons as a Buccaneer and hasn't missed a start since the beginning of the 1996 campaign. … While the Bucs had never before played on Thanksgiving, the Dallas game wasn't the first Thursday contest in their history. Tampa Bay also played a Thursday night ABC game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 11, 1980, avenging the previous year's NFC Championship Game loss with a 10-9 win. On Oct. 19, 2000, the Bucs returned to Thursday night with a 28-14 loss at Detroit on ESPN. … Dallas' victory snapped the Bucs' three-game winning streak in the head-to-head series. After the Cowboys won the first eight games in the series, including playoffs, the Bucs prevailed in games played in 2000, 2001 and 2003. … Bruce Gradkowski's 53-yard completion to WR Joey Galloway on the first drive of the game was the longest completion of the rookie passer's brief career. … FB Mike Alstott's first-quarter score marked the 70th touchdown of his career and his 57th rushing TD. He is far and away the Bucs' career leader in both categories. … DT Chris Hovan's sack on Dallas' opening drive marked the first sack of Hovan's two seasons as a Buccaneer. He had 17 sacks in five seasons with Minnesota before joining Tampa Bay. … RB Cadillac Williams' 22-yard run in the second quarter moved him past Jerry Eckwood into eighth place on the Bucs' all-time rushing chart. Eckwood had 1,845 rushing yards as a Buc, and Williams' 22-yarder put him at 1,846. By the end of the game, Williams had 78 yards in the game and 1,875 for his career. … K Matt Bryant's 46-yard field goal in the second quarter marked his eighth consecutive successful attempt, dating back to the Oct. 22 win over Philadelphia in which he made three field goals, including the game-winning 62-yarder. … QB Tony Romo's five touchdown passes tied a record for Buccaneer opponents. The New York Jets' Ken O'Brien was the first to do that against Tampa Bay, on Nov. 17, 1985, and it was later matched by Cincinnati's Boomer Esiason on Oct. 29, 1989 and Atlanta's Wade Wilson on Dec. 13, 1992.
Inactives: The Bucs named the following seven players inactive prior to Sunday's game: CB Alan Zemaitis, LB Shelton Quarles, T Donald Penn, TE Alex Smith, WR Paris Warren, DT Ellis Wyms and designated third quarterback Luke McCown. Quarles, Smith and Wyms were all out due to injuries. The Bucs had to name only seven inactives because they went into the game with a 52-man roster after placing DE Simeon Rice on injured reserve.
The Cowboys named the following eight players inactive: WR Skyler Green, CB Nathan Jones, DT Montavious Stanley, G Travis Leffew, G Cory Procter, DE Stephen Bowen, T Pat McQuistan and TE Tony Curtis.
Injuries: FB Mike Alstott had the wind knocked out of him in the second quarter and was taken to the locker room for further examination. Alstott returned to the game before halftime. G Dan Buenning sustained a knee sprain in the fourth quarter and did not return.
For the Cowboys, WR Terrell Owens had to be helped off the field in the second quarter and T Marc Colombo was briefly taken to the locker room in the first half, but the team did not report an injury in either case.