Tampa Bay’s Thanksgiving Day debut was one for the birds. Dallas quarterback Tomo Romo’s, however, turned out to be one of indulgence.
Making just his fifth professional start, Romo feasted upon a suspect Buccaneer secondary, turning in a performance unprecedented in Cowboy’s Turkey Day lore en route to a 38-10 victory.
Once anointed “America’s Team”, Dallas has been a fixture on Thanksgiving since 1966, but not since the days of Danny White has a quarterback’s star shined so bright on a Thursday afternoon in November. Romo played with the poise of a seasoned veteran, tossing three touchdowns by halftime. A little more than halfway through the third quarter he had broken White’s Thanksgiving Day record by throwing his fifth touchdown pass.
By comparison, Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowski looked like he may have been caught up in the moment, throwing two interceptions and completing just 10 passes on the day for 120 yards. However, he and his company of underdogs began the game well, marching 80 yards on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead on Mike Alstott’s 1-yard touchdown run, his second rushing touchdown of the season.
Along the drive, Gradkowski used his legs to scramble for a first down and then executed a textbook play-action pass, hitting wide receiver Joey Galloway on a 53-yard strike down field. But connecting with open receivers and putting points on the board would not turn out to be a trend on this day. While they produced 90 yards of offense and a touchdown on their opening drive, the Bucs could manage only 117 yards and a field goal on their next eight possessions.
It didn’t help that they were facing a Cowboys defense ranked No. 6 in the league and second only to Chicago in the NFC in takeaways. And the wheels showed signs of coming off when Gradkowski came up short on a deep ball to Galloway and was intercepted by Cowboys safety Roy Williams, who returned it to the Bucs’ 48.
Romo engineered a 10-play drive peppered with runs by Marion Barber and culminated by a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Terry Glenn to put Dallas up 14-7. Glenn was one of six Dallas receivers with a catch and ended the day with two touchdowns.
Barber finished with 83 yards on 16 carries, most of which came while trying to run the clock out in the fourth quarter. He was extremely efficient as a receiver, catching two passes out of the backfield, both for short touchdowns.
Starter Julius Jones added another 40 yards on the ground for the Cowboys as they out rushed Tampa Bay 137 to 101.
Bucs running back Cadillac Williams was effective in the first half, gaining 67-yards on 14 carries. At one point in the second quarter he touched the ball on five of six plays, helping set up a 46-yard Matt Bryant field goal that cut the Dallas lead to four. But he was given the ball just three more times in the game, adding 11 yards to his total.
From that point on, Romo and the Cowboys hit their stride. With the help of a Chris Hovan roughing the passer call, they covered 74 yards in 1:28 and punctuated a four-play drive with the first of Barber’s two touchdown catches, a 1-yard pass from Romo.
Dallas opened the third quarter with the efficiency of a team destined for the playoffs, piecing together an eight play, 82-yard drive that ended in similar fashion, with a 2-yard pass from Romo to Barber on a run-pass rollout option which made it 28-10.
At that point, the fans watching on television across the country had been treated to everything except desert, and in Cowboy country that means a little slice of Terrell Owens. Avenging an earlier drop in the end zone, Romo found T.O. for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Owens appropriately placed the ball in the Salvation Army’s red pot near the back of the end zone, his donation to the Bucs’ thrashing and Romo’s fifth scoring pass in six series. He led all receivers with eight catches for 107 yards, more than half of the 211 total yards of offense that Tampa Bay produced.
Struggling kicker Mike Vanderjagt sliced in a 22-yard field goal to wrap up the scoring and send the Bucs home humbled at 3-8. Dallas improves to 7-4.
When the day was done, the Bucs defense surrendered a total of 435 yards to the Cowboys, and Romo walked away from his best day as a pro, completing 22 of 29 passes for 306 yards. His quarterback rating a gaudy 148.9. Gradkowski’s a disappointing 29.2.
Tampa Bay, which had played three games in 11 days, has 10 days off before traveling to Pittsburgh to play the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers on Dec. 3.
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