The Buccaneers and Cowboys were evenly matched, an observation anyone could make. Tampa Bay (4-5) were trying to grow as a team around rookie quarterback Jameis Winston while the Cowboys (2-7) were struggling to get just one win before Romo returned from a broken left collarbone.
“Obviously to a man, we’re all disappointed,” said Dallas QB Matt Cassel after the 10-6 loss, ideally his last game as starter with Tony Romo set to return from his broken collarbone. “We keep saying that we’re going to get this thing turned around, and we truly believe it. Unfortunately we keep getting in these tight games we’re not able to finish.”
After eight consecutive scoreless drives thanks to the hapless offenses of Dallas and Tampa Bay, the play came down to the Buccaneers final drive from the Tampa Bay 44-yard line. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr committed a five-yard holding penalty to give the Buccaneers free yards towards either a game-winning touchdown or a game-tying field goal. The Buccaneers went back to the well of running back Doug Martin, who would finish carrying it 18 times for 63 yards, for a four-yard run. Two 17-yard receptions to undrafted receiver Donteea Dye and tight end Brandon Myers, along with a three-yard Martin catch mixed in, set up the Buccaneers first-and-goal from the Cowboys 5-yard line. Martin gained a solitary yard on first down, and a tipped pass from Winston fluttered to the left corner of the end zone on second down.
The Cowboys seemingly got their break on third down when Winston dove for the end zone on a quarterback draw only to fumble the ball midair, untouched before he crossed the plane. Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey recovered, and the game was over. But a late flag for defensive holding on hero Jeff Heath, who had two interceptions up to that point, gave Tampa Bay first-and-goal at the half-inch line. A naked bootleg right by Winston gave the Buccaneers a four-point lead with less than a minute to go that was insurmountable for this Romo-less offense.
That's not to say backup Matt Cassel didn't try to mount a comeback. He hit running back Darren McFadden for 11 yards to set up a second-and-10 from the Buccaneers 45-yard line after spiking the ball to stop the clock. At least the Cowboys could get closer to maybe lob one up to Dez Bryant, who was just a murmur so far in the game with five catches for just 45 yards. Cassel went for it all on second down and tried to hit Bryant on a post-route, but safety Bradley McDougald picked off the 50-yard heave after Bryant lost his concentration after a shove in the back concurrent with the the ball's arrival. The back judges missed the shove, and the Buccaneers defense sealed the win.
Dallas got on the board early with a 42-yard Dan Bailey field goal to make it 3-0 with 4:00 to go in the first quarter.
The Buccaneers responded with kicker Connor Barth hitting a 52-yard field goal to tie up the game 3-3 with 14:51 left to play in the second quarter.
Luck was with Bailey again for the second straight week as his 53-yard field goal bounced off the upright and over the crossbar to give Dallas a 6-3 lead with 10:41 to go in the second quarter.
Winston rushed for a one-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left in the game to put Tampa Bay on top 10-6.
“The touchdown was magical, man,” Winston said.
The Cowboys were unable to get to Winston save for two times on Sunday afternoon, a drop by DeMarcus Lawrence of 14 yards and another by Tyrone Crawford for four yards. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers sacked Cassel three times.
McFadden rushed 17 times for 32 yards, and there was a Christine Michael sighting as the backup Dallas rusher carried the ball three times for eight yards.
Cassel finished the game going 19/30 for 186 yards and an interception. Winston went 22/39 for 264 and two interceptions.
Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans led his team with eight balls for 126 yards. Bryant led Dallas with five catches for 45 yards, and tight end Jason Witten made five grabs for 42 yards.
* Jameis Winston earned the first fourth-quarter comeback of his career. The last number one overall signal caller to do that was Eli Manning on Jan. 2, 2005.
* Dan Bailey's 48-yard miss in the second quarter was his first miss of the season. With Bailey's streak at an end, we look back on eight games without a miss, making it his longest such streak to start a season in his career.
* The Dallas Cowboys now have 10 points off of six takeways this season, the lowest in the NFL. Last season, they had 86 points off of takeaways for the entire season.
* Byron Jones' delay of game penalty is just the third defensive delay of game the entire season. The only other two teams to have committed this penalty are the Panthers and the Titans.
* Jeff Heath intercepted two of Winston's passes. The last Cowboys safety to intercept two passes in a game was Darren Woodson on Dec. 15, 1996 against New England (credit to Jeff Sullivan of DC Star Magazine).
* The Cowboys losing streak now exactly matches that which closed out the 1989 season that left the team 1-15.
*“We’re not finishing games,” Dallas defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “I don’t know (why). It’s definitely a head-scratcher. Definitely a disappointing loss. It was right there. We held them to three until the last three minutes or so. It’s just frustrating.”