The fun and games are over; the real season begins now for the Dallas Cowboys. Playoff success is what Cowboys seasons are judged upon and despite low expectations to start, this year is no different. Many left the team for dead after the Week 1 injury to quarterback Dak Prescott, but the Cowboys surprised and got to 12 wins.
It was improbable, but now that Dallas has shown they can wins games and be discussed as one of the top teams, rabid fans want more. There’s a faction of Cowboys fans that need a final four showing to validate this franchise.
A playoff run will have to start with beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and legendary quarterback Tom Brady.. The Cowboys want just a piece of what Brady has accomplished in the postseason and that journey begins on Monday night. Here’s are six things to know about the wild-card opponent for the Cowboys.
Tom Brady has never lost to the Cowboys, ever.
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This point is going to be hammered home over and over and over again leading up to the game. The Buccaneers quarterback has never lost to the Cowboys, going 7-0 in his illustrious career across two franchises. Since joining the Buccaneers, Brady has beaten the Cowboys twice, both in regular season opening games. Dallas was close to knocking off Brady in the 2021 opener, but a last-minute drive with a questionable push off no-call aided Tampa’s win.
OK. Here comes Tom Brady and Tampa Bay. Brady is 7-0 vs Cowboys, 3-0 vs Dak Prescott.
— Babe Laufenberg (@BabeLaufenberg) January 9, 2023
To be the best, you have to beat the best and even though it has been a rough year, the postseason is when he’s at his best. Cowboys fans would love nothing more than to beat Brady and send him packing, perhaps forever.
Brady has never lost to the Cowboys, but Dallas has never lost to Brady in the postseason, and this game has no history until it gets played. Both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles have beaten Brady on their Super Bowl paths, can the Cowboys join them?
Tampa Bay had a losing regular season record
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The Buccaneers won the NFC South, but they did so with a losing record. It was a division that was one of the worst in the football, having no team finish over .500, and Tampa won with a final record of 8-9.
This wasn’t the dominant team they’ve been since Brady arrived when they won 11 games and a Lombardi before following it up with another 13 victories last season. At one point in 2022, the Buccaneers had lost five out of six games and were 3-5 on the season.
However, Tampa was a team that came on late, winning two of their last three, and likely would’ve won their last three games if they didn’t rest their best players for most of Week 18. It’s a veteran team who started to turn it on at the right time and they have the pieces to play much better than their final record.
Have two 1,000 yard wide receivers
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The Buccaneers won’t be reminding anyone of the Air Coryell offense, as their quarterbacks only threw for 26 scores, but they do have two outstanding receiving options who, for the second year in a row, both had 1,000-yard seasons.
Veterans Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both surpassed the landmark with Evans leading the way with 1,124 yards for his NFL-record, ninth-straight 1,000-yard season.
The pair is a problem for a defense struggling to find a reliable second cornerback and with issues stopping explosive passing plays of late.
The Cowboys gave up 21 pass plays of 20 yards or more over the final five weeks of the season. That was the most in the NFL.
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) January 10, 2023
Evans had three scores of over 30 yards in Week 17, so he had the ability to beat Dallas deep. The Cowboys will need to find a way to slow down a dangerous receiving duo.
They're banged up on the offensive line
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
As the injuries have started piling up for the Cowboys on the offensive line, the same is true of the Buccaneers. Last week Tampa played without one of their starting tackles, LT Donovan Smith, and then lost starting center Robert Hainsey during the game.
Both are currently listed as questionable, and the Buccaneers have not updated whether their starting center coming into the year, Ryan Jensen, will be available after missing the season due to a training-camp knee injury.
Right tackle Tristan Wirfs missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, but he’s expected to play.
With both starting tackles hobbled and the uncertainty at center, the Cowboys could be able to exploit a shuffling offensive line and attack Brady. Dallas sacked Brady twice in the first game, both by edge rusher Micah Parsons.
Pressuring Brady, especially up the middle, has long been the easiest way to beating him and the Cowboys might have an advantage due to some injury questions on the Buccaneers’ offensive line.
Leonard Fournette was a problem in the first matchup
Dallas’ defense had some trouble stopping the running game for much of the season, but they have gotten better late in the year. The problems began in the first game, where Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette shredded them for 127 yards, averaging six yards a carry.
It was Fournette’s highest average on the season, as well as his only 100-yard performance. The defense needs to be better about slowing down Fournette or the Cowboys will have a tough time winning.
He’s also known as a player who excels in the playoffs, Fournette has nine career playoff touchdowns in eight playoff games.
They pressure the quarterback
Dec 23, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is sacked in the second quarter by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea (50) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa’s defense had 45 sacks on the season, which was good enough to crack the top 10 in the league, coming in ninth. It’s a defense that doesn’t have one dominant pressure player, but they have a strong pass rushing team that can get to the quarterback a number of ways.
Eight Buccaneers defenders had three sacks or more, including defensive tackle Vita Vea, who led the team with 6.5. Linebackers Anthony Nelson and Devin White had 5.5 apiece, while Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and safety Antoine Winfield had four as well. Winfield’s four sacks were tied for second-most by a safety in the NFL, trailing only Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson, who had five.
The Buccaneers get after the QB from each level of their defense, and they’ll come at the Cowboys’ offensive line in waves. Quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked twice in the season-opening loss, and his backup Cooper Rush was taken down twice as well. Keeping Prescott upright will be one of the keys to winning this game for Dallas.