By Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida
It was a slow start offensively, with neither team converting for a first down over four possessions, but Dallas broke the streak halfway through the first quarter. The series started with running back Tony Pollard carrying the ball 5 yards before being brought down by Antoine Winfield Jr. On second down, Dak Prescott threw a 15-yard pass to Mike Gallup, and then Pollard rushed for two more.
On the next play, the Buccaneers’ pass rush forced Prescott to scramble out of the pocket limiting the Cowboys to a 3-yard pass to Noah Brown. However, lineman Akiem Hicks was called for roughing the passer and gave the Cowboys 15 yards and a first down. The Buccaneers were unable to stop Pollard who broke free and rushed around the outside for 18 yards, before Prescott found tight end Dalton Schultz in the end zone on a 22-yard touchdown pass. The score remained 6-0 after kicker Brett Maher’s extra-point attempt went wide right. Maher set a playoff record on Monday night after missing four of his five attempts.
Tampa Bay finally found their own momentum in the first quarter and an opportunity in the end zone. After Chris Godwin had lost a yard and Rachaad White rushed for four, Tom Brady completed a short pass to the running back on third down. White escaped the first tackle and was able to reach the first down marker. The drive continued with Brady’s 11-yard pass to Godwin and White’s 12-yard rush to move into Cowboy’s territory.
From the 38-yard line, running back Leonard Fournette carried the ball a few yards, but Brady’s incomplete pass to Ko Kieft cost them a down. On 3rd and 6, Brady threw as 12-yard pass to Mike Evans at the 22-yard line.
Seeing an opportunity, Brady took a shot at Cameron Brate who was in the end zone. Brate was under triple coverage, however, could not come up with the catch. Brady did find Godwin on a short pass at the 16-yard line. On 3rd and 4, Brady scrambled out of the pocket while signaling a run, but dumped the pass to Godwin and picked up 11 yards on the play.
As the start of the second quarter, the Buccaneers were 1st and goal on the 5-yard line. Brady’s first pass to Julio Jones was broken up by linebacker Micah Parson. On the second attempt, Brady was unable to find an open receiver and tried to throw it away. As the ball released, safety Jayron Kearse pivoted in the back of the end zone and intercepted the pass. This was the first red zone interception for Brady as a Buccaneer, and a telling sign for the rest of the game.
“I was [trying to throw it away]. I was trying to throw it to Chris [Godwin] and the other guys were blocking and just tried to throw it out and didn’t obviously get enough on it,” Brady said, “that certainly didn’t help our cause.”
Dallas capitalized on the turnover. They utilized running back Ezekiel Elliot on back-to-back plays for a first down. And when they faced 3rd and 8 from the 46-yard line, Prescott hit receiver T.Y. Hilton with a 14-yard pass over the middle. it was followed by a short pass to tight end Jake Ferguson, who took off in open field until he was finally brought down by Carlton Davis at the 6-yard line.
The Cowboys scored on 4th and goal at the 1-yard line. Prescott faked a handoff to Elliot, and then ran to the outside and into the end zone for a touchdown. As the first half came to a close, the Cowboys scored again with Prescott’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Schultz. Even with two missed extra-point attempts the Cowboy’s led 18-0. A comeback was not outside the realm of possibility, if the Buccaneers made corrections in the second half.
Unfortunately, the issues continued into the third quarter on both sides of the ball. After Tampa Bay’s offense went three and out on their first possession, Prescott opened the Cowboy’s drive with a 26-yard pass to Schultz. It was a calculated series that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown pass to Gallup, and a 24-0 lead.
As their defense struggled to hold off the Cowboys, Tampa Bay’s offense continued to have their own set of problems. Incomplete passes, penalties, and a nonexistent run game haunted the Buccaneers.
Brady explained, “they played [well] defensively and put a lot of pressure on us and we just couldn’t make enough plays. Kind of typical of the way we played all year – just inefficient in the passing game and not very good in the run game. It’s hard to beat good teams like that.”
However, the Buccaneers finally put a scoring drive together at the end of the third quarter. Dividing passes amongst White, Godwin, Jones, Russell Gage, Brady was able to move from the 5-yard line into Cowboys’ territory. On 3rd and 7, he found Evans on a short pass that resulted in an 18-yard play to the 30-yard line.
With no huddle, Brady launched a 30-yard pass to Jones who made a diving catch in the end zone for the touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but the Buccaneers were now on the board 24-6. The gain was short lived, as Prescott answered in the fourth quarter with an 18-yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb, and Maher finally made his first extra-point of the game to continue the lead 31-6.
The final score of the game was Brady’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Brate who managed to reach over the pylon as he was pushed out of bounds. The two-point conversion was a success.
Despite Giovani Bernard recovering the onside kick, the Buccaneers’s final drive ended on 4th and 6 with an incomplete pass to Jones and a minute left in the game. The Cowboys took a knee knocking the Buccaneers out of the playoffs with a devastating 31-14 loss.
“Big credit to them. They executed both sides of the ball. They were great in the redzone – scoring and defending the redzone,” head coach Todd Bowles explained, “I thought Dak [Prescott] got the ball out, found some places but we made our own blunders well enough to help them along. They deserve all the credit.”
As Tampa Bay’s 2022 season comes to a close, the question remains what the team will look like next year and who will be at the helm. Brady dodged questions after the game regarding his next move, but did convey his appreciation to the organization, fans and media in what may have been his fond farewell. Only time will tell.
The videos used in this story were provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers youtube channel.