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DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay's defense set the tone for Sunday's game in Dallas by causing the Cowboys' fourth-ranked offense, led by backup quarterback Brad Johnson, to go three-and-out on their first three drives of the game. The Bucs didn't allow the Cowboys offense to produce a first down until the last play of the first quarter.
Dallas running back Marion Barber entered this game averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but the Bucs defense managed to hold him to 2.8 yards per attempt. Barber broke a few tackles and had some success in the third quarter, but he still finished the contest with just 71 yards on 25 carries.
Tampa Bay's pass rush proved to be effective as well. Defensive end Gaines Adams sacked Johnson twice, in the second and fourth quarter, respectively. Both of Adams' sacks came from the right side and on second down. The QB takedowns put the Cowboys offense in third-and-long situations. Adams finished the game with two sacks and three tackles. Fellow defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg White notched three and one tackles, respectively.
The Bucs defensive tackles were disruptive throughout the game. Nose tackle Chris Hovan knocked down a pass from Johnson in the early part of the fourth quarter. Midway through the same quarter, Hovan tackled Barber in the backfield for a 2-yard loss to set up a third-and-6 play. Backup DT Ryan Sims notched Tampa Bay's third sack of the game midway through the fourth quarter, which put Dallas in a third-and-20 situation. Hovan and fellow DT Jovan Haye each had two tackles. Jimmy Wilkerson also had two tackles. Sims had one tackle and one sack.
Tampa Bay's solid run defense was one of the main reasons why Dallas converted just 3-of-15 (20 percent) of its third down tries on Sunday.
LINEBACKERS The Bucs received a big break early in this game when Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, the team's leading receiver, left the contest injured in the first half. He caught just one pass for 8 yards. His replacement, Martellus Bennett, caught three passes for 21 yards. Barber hauled in six passes for 29 yards, but the Bucs defense, particularly its linebackers, were fairly solid in coverage.
Tampa Bay's linebackers were extremely active throughout the game. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud finished the game with a team-high 12 tackles. Ruud and safety Sabby Piscitelli failed to stop Barber on a fourth-and-1 run play midway through the fourth quarter, but Ruud was otherwise solid vs. the run.
Bucs strongside linebacker Cato June recorded seven tackles, but he was involved in a penalty-filled drive that led to Dallas' only touchdown of the game late in the second quarter. June was called for a personal foul (unnecessary roughness) that put Dallas on Tampa Bay's 2-yard line with just six seconds remaining in the half. That led to Johnson throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Roy Williams. In addition to his seven tackles, June also had a pass deflection on a blitz on Dallas' fourth possession of the game.
Tampa Bay's defense played extremely well vs. Dallas' fourth-ranked offense, but it failed to create a turnover. Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks had a shot at an interception on Dallas' fourth drive of the game when he leaped up in the air and nearly came down with Johnson's errant throw down the seam. However, Brooks couldn't hold onto the ball and Dallas settled for a field goal, which proved to be big in this game. Brooks finished the game with three tackles.
SECONDARY Dallas QB Brad Johnson completed 19-of-33 passes (57.5 percent) for 122 yards and tossed one touchdown, and more importantly, no interceptions.
The secondary got off to a promising start when cornerback Phillip Buchanon blitzed on a third-and-9 play and forced Johnson to throw the ball away to end a drive in the first quarter. Buchanon nearly intercepted Johnson on a third-and-6 play in the second quarter, but had no such luck. Buchanon's near-pick came on the same drive that Brooks nearly intercepted Johnson. The Cowboys settled for a field goal on that 14-play drive, which was capped off by a field goal.
Dallas' key drive was its last of the first half. On a third-and-12 play, Bucs CB Ronde Barber appeared to tackle Marion Barber in the flat well short of the first down marker. However, Ronde Barber was flagged for a horse collar tackle, which gave Dallas an automatic first down and kept Dallas' drive alive at the Bucs' 34-yard line. A few plays later, Buchanon was called for pass interference on a third-and-5 catch by WR Roy Williams, which resulted in a first down at Tampa bay's 23-yard line. On the next play, Bucs rookie CB Aqib Talib was called for illegal contact on a deep ball thrown to WR Terrell Owens, who ran a double move on down the left sideline. That penalty gave Dallas the ball at Tampa Bay's 16-yard line. A few plays later, June was called for a personal foul infraction, which gave the Cowboys the ball at the 2. With just six seconds remaining, Johnson connected on the next play with Roy Williams on a fade to the corner of the left side of the end zone for Dallas' first and only touchdown of the contest, which gave the Cowboys a 10-6 lead.
Bucs strong safety Sabby Piscitelli, who replaced starter Jermaine Phillips in the second quarter due to a serious arm injury, led the secondary with five tackles. Barber notched four takedowns while Buchanon recorded three of his own. Phillips had two tackles before he had to leave the game.
Although he did not have a tackle, Talib made a key pass breakup down the right sideline that was intended for WR Terrell Owens early in the fourth quarter. But on the next drive, Talib allowed Owens to haul in an 11-yard pass on a third-and-6 play for a first down.
Tampa Bay's defense held Owens to five catches for 33 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS The Bucs deactivated rookie return specialist Dexter Jackson and promoted rookie running back Clifton Smith, who returned punts and kickoffs. Smith excelled as a punt returner, averaging 16.4 yards on five attempts with a long of 20. However, Smith struggled as a kickoff returner. He averaged just 20.7 yards on three attempts and fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half. Dallas recovered the ball, but a 15-yard personal foul penalty gave the Cowboys the ball at the Bucs' 48-yard line. Tampa Bay's defense eventually forced a punt.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell averaged 37.5 yards per attempt on four tries. He pinned three of his four punts inside Dallas' 20-yard line.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant was 3-of-4 on field goal attempts. Both of his first half field goals were from 36 yards out. The field goal he made in the third quarter was good from 41 yards out. Bryant missed wide right from 51 yards away in the second half, and that miss proved to be costly.
Tampa Bay's coverage units were solid, allowing Dallas to average just 18.8 yards per kickoff return and 2.5 yards per punt return.
COACHING Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit did an outstanding job of limiting the Cowboys' fourth-ranked offense. Kiffin was creative with how he attacked quarterback Brad Johnson and running back Marion Barber. He used blitzes effectively and put Dallas' offense in some long down and distance situations, but the one thing the Bucs defense did not do is create a turnover.
Tampa Bay's offense squandered solid starting field position, especially in the first quarter. The Bucs offense penetrated the Cowboys' 25-yard line four different times, but came away with three field goals. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden called a game that featured 44 passes and 19 running plays, which produced just 262 yards of offense and no touchdowns. Dallas' secondary was without four key contributors — Terrence Newman, Roy Williams, Anthony Henry and Pacman Jones — for half of Sunday's game, but the Bucs could not take advantage. Despite being inside the 25-yard line four different times, the Bucs did not have a single pass attempt in Dallas' end zone.
Even with his third quarter fumble, Clifton Smith proved to be a significant upgrade over Dexter Jackson on special teams.
Tampa Bay was called for seven penalties for 58 yards vs. Dallas. Four of those penalties were called on Tampa Bay's defense during Dallas' first and only drive that resulted in a touchdown on Sunday.