The Wild Card round of the playoffs are set, and the Buccaneers know who and when they will be playing this weekend. Or should I say next week, as the Bucs will host the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night at 8:15 pm. But first…
Resting Up in Atlanta
The Buccaneers lost in Atlanta (technically speaking) 30-17, but Todd Bowles began pulling starters with the game tied at 10 in the second quarter. So, y’know, it would have been nice to have seen the team finish the season with a win – as well as a winning record – but avoiding a disastrous bite from the injury bug was something more important.
As far as the first quarter and a half, Tom Brady seemed to be on the same page with Chris Godwin, who snared 6 of 7 targets for 55 yards on the day. Brady completed 13 of 17 passes for 84 yards and a first-drive touchdown to Kyle Rudolph.
If you’re looking for optimism, it looks like Byron Leftwich continues to move away from repetitiously sledgehammering the opposing defensive line for 1 and 2-yard gains. While they didn’t go no huddle as they did against Carolina, the Bucs’ offense did operate out of the shotgun and throw the ball plenty, while also mixing in some play action. Thus, the game plan involving the starting offense was, in this writer’s humble opinion, a positive from the game.
Injury Bug Still Bit the Bucs
Unfortunately, despite resting starters, said injury bug did bite center Robert Hainsey right in the hamstring, and now his status for this weekend is in doubt. Add in Ryan Jensen’s uncertain return from a season-long knee injury, and it’s certainly possible you could see a new center on Monday night. Likely Nick Leverett, which would mean plugging in Luke Goedeke at left guard. Ugh.
New Season, Same Opponent
The Buccaneers opened their 2022 campaign at AT&T Stadium, which saw the Bucs’ dominant defense carry them to a 19-3 win in Dallas. Dak Prescott was harrassed for much of the game by Tampa Bay’s vicious pass rush until a thumb injury sent him out of the game and put him on the shelf for several weeks.
How things changed for both teams from that point on. The Cowboys would go on to post a 12-5 record, carrying hopes for the NFC East title into last weekend. Cooper Rush spelled Prescott and spearheaded a four-game winning streak. The Bucs slogged through a very navigable schedule to post a 6-8 record before coming from behind in the final quarter and/or overtime to get past two bad football teams and clinch the NFC South. Despite a loss to Washington, the Cowboys are trending up, while the Bucs may (hopefully) have found a late-season spark in what’s been a season-long broken passing attack.
But, despite the records and trends, the postseason is effectively a new season, with each team 0-0. And without question, the Cowboys will be looking to flip this script from the teams’ last meeting.
Brady’s Extended Dominance over Big D
Tom Brady is 7-0 all time against the Dallas Cowboys. His first meeting was in 2003, a 12-0 New England win. It was a struggle, with Brady completing just 15 of 34 attempts for 212 yards and no touchdowns. He performed light years better the next time the teams faced off in 2007, throwing for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns in a 48-27 win. Brady also earned wins in 2011, 2015, and 2019 with New England. Bucs’ fans know about last year’s thrilling season-opening win and this year’s 19-3 win.
So the question remains…can he make it eight?
Prediction: Tampa Bay 24, Dallas 23
Dallas is a team that has not performed particularly well away from home this season. They lost to the Packers while they were still in the midst of a cold stretch. They lost to the Jags before Jacksonville had completely caught fire. And they got clipped 26-6 by the Sam Howell-led Commanders yesterday with the division title still on the line.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a game the Cowboys absolutely could win. To beat the Bucs, you take shots down the field and challenge the secondary, and the Cowboys absolutely have the horses to do that on offense.
But the light bulb has FINALLY gone off for Leftwich. The Bucs will spread the field, play with pace, and get the ball to Godwin and Mike Evans, who the Cowboys will struggle to contain. A late stop from the defense keeps Brady a Buccaneer for at least one more game.