After kicking off their season with an impressive effort against the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Dallas Cowboys took a big step back in Week 2.
They know that kind of inconsistency won't get them very far going forward.
Hoping to bounce back in its home opener, Dallas aims for a fifth consecutive victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who could be under a watchful eye Sunday following their controversial actions last weekend.
While a 24-17 win over the New York Giants on Sept. 5 had many singing the Cowboys' praises, Dallas (1-1) looked like a completely different team last Sunday in Seattle. It fumbled four times - losing one - and failed to find much running room in a 27-7 loss.
"We want to be a team that can go out there and win and be consistent every week," linebacker Sean Lee said. "That's the identity we're working toward, tough, relentless, hard-nosed football team that's going to be there. We didn't do that. We didn't execute and that's why we lost."
Getting their ground game going again could prove crucial for the Cowboys, who were limited to 49 rushing yards against the Seahawks after running for 143 in Week 1. Dallas has dropped 18 of its last 22 when rushing for fewer than 100 yards.
"Identity is an ongoing thing. It's an ongoing thing for players, it's an ongoing thing for a football team," coach Jason Garrett said. "At times, we've done a really good job playing to that identity and other times we haven't, but it's emphasized to our team a lot and we're trying to get better and better in that."
The Cowboys haven't had much difficulty running the ball during their four-game winning streak in this series, averaging 121.3 yards on the ground. Dallas ran for 160 and outgained Tampa Bay 399-190 overall in a 31-15 road victory Dec. 17.
The Buccaneers (1-1) beat Carolina 16-10 in their opener and nearly won in East Rutherford last Sunday, but gave up 25 points in the fourth quarter and lost 41-34 to the Giants.
"It hurts, but I still believe in my teammates, and the coaching, and the staff," defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. "It's going to come together and it's going to be something great."
In addition to its defensive meltdown, Tampa Bay drew the Giants' ire for ramming into New York's offensive line with Eli Manning set to take a knee with 5 seconds left in the game - a desperate attempt to knock the ball loose.
"To me it's a clean, hard, tough, finish-the-game play," first-year coach Greg Schiano said. "Some people disagree with that. That's certainly what makes the world go round. Everybody has opinions. I don't have any remorse or regret. It's clean hard football. It was no sneak attack. We were down ready to go, and that's how we do it all the time."
While Schiano doesn't sound like he'd avoid using the tactic again, Garrett isn't too concerned.
"I don't want to speak to that situation. That was between Tampa Bay and the Giants. Certainly, there's a style of football they're trying to implement down there in Tampa and feel like that's in some ways indicative of how they want to play, how they're going to handle an end-of-the-game situation," he said.
"We're going to focus on our team and the things that we've got to get better at, and preparing for that ball game."
Along with an improved rushing effort, the Cowboys need a more efficient performance from Tony Romo, who went 23 for 40 for 251 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Seahawks.
The three-time Pro Bowler will face a Buccaneers team that allowed a team-record 510 passing yards to Manning last weekend. Romo has been superb in three career matchups versus Tampa Bay, averaging 302.6 yards while throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson connected five times for 128 yards and a score last week. The duo will try for another big day against a Cowboys pass defense that's allowing 160.0 yards per game - third lowest in the league.
Dallas, though, may not have starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh available due to a calf injury.
The Buccaneers have been outscored by an average of 19.8 points during an eight-game road losing streak. They haven't dropped nine in a row as the visiting team since a 10-game skid spanning the 1995 and '96 seasons.
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