The Dallas Cowboys exercised a lot of demons Monday night in Tampa Bay. They went into the game 1-4 when playing on grass. They were 1-6 wearing the navy blue jerseys in the playoffs. The team had never beaten Tom Brady, and they hadn’t won a road playoff game since Jimmy Johnson yelled, “How bout them Cowboys?’ after a win in San Francisco all the way back in 1992.
The team that had back-to-back 12-win seasons for the first time since 1996, cleared all those records off the slate with a dominating performance against the Buccaneers. Dallas had the edge in time of possession, turnovers, and total yards. They had less penalties, allowed less sacks, and beat Tampa in almost every way possible.
Minus four missed extra points and a failed onside kick recovery, the Cowboys played a pretty flawless game, which allows for multiple options for the three stars of the game, but who stepped up the most for a Dallas playoff victory?
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It feels like it was a long time ago, but the Cowboys offense started this game with three incomplete dropped passes and a punt. After the way Dallas played in Washington, the nerves of some fans definitely had to bubble up some with Tom Brady getting the football in just 13 seconds of game time.
Micah Parsons set the tone for the defense, though, and from the very first defensive snap of the game.
He blew up a handoff to Rachaad White for a two-yard loss that set up a three-and-out for the Buccaneers that ended with a Parsons pressure and subsequent hold on a third-down incompletion. From that series on, Parsons was an absolute monster that had Brady skiddish in the pocket. Short arming throws, throwing inaccurately off his back foot, and even throwing his first interception in the redzone since 2019, Brady’s had Parsons and company playing games in his head immediately.
Parsons ended the night with the most pressures on Tom Brady over the last five season with nine. He added three tackles, a sack, two QB hits, and two pass deflections. Dan Quinn moved Parsons all over the field, making sure the Tampa offense couldn’t pinpoint his position, and it seemed to impact the Buccaneers offensive line and QB.
With the game in hand, Parsons finally got the sack he was working towards all game long in the final two minutes to close out his bid for the third star of the game, but with or without a sack Parsons was the most impactful non QB on the field in Tampa.
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Schultz has definitely become Dak Prescott’s security blanket and earned his franchise tag money all in one night. In the game that mattered the most, Schultz could’ve easily scored three times, and set up CeeDee Lamb for his touchdown pass as well.
Touchdown No. 1 had Schultz finding the weakness in Tampa’s Cover 2 defense, right in the seam. Prescott had to hold the safety, but once he was able too, the pass became an easy pitch and catch to make the game 6-0.
On the second score Prescott ran a bootleg that worked so well he was able to run it in himself, but Schultz was standing in the endzone wide open if the QB needed to throw it. The third saw Prescott find Schultz on a scramble play where the tight end snuck behind the defensive back.
A natural pick by Schultz set up score number four for Dallas, as the tight end seemed to be involved in every big play against the Buccaneers. Schultz ended the night with the most targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He caught seven of nine targets for 95 yards and two scores earning him the second star of the night.
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After the first two drives Prescott was 0-3 with a sack and back-to-back three-and-outs. The Cowboys’ theme for the season has been resilience, and that is exactly what Prescott showed in Tampa.
He went on to throw 25 completions on his next 30 attempts for 305 yards and four touchdowns while also running for a score, and not getting sacked the rest of the game.
Prescott was obviously excellent statistically, but he was even better analytically. CPOE, or completion percentage over expected, is a measure of how much higher or lower is a quarterback’s completion percentage was relative to what is expected on the types of passes the QB is throwing. Patrick Mahomes led all full-time starters with a 3.5% rate in 2022. Prescott had a rate of 13.4% against the Buccaneers.
EPA, or expected points added had Prescott adding almost three-fourths of a point per play at .74.
He was the NFL’s best quarterback of the wild-card round, and while it all started with him finding Schultz for the first touchdown, Prescott later did it himself on a fourth down for the second score with an elite bootleg.
The Cowboys final score was another fourth-down attempt, and this one put the game away. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore caught the Buccaneers defense in man coverage, and got Lamb wide open with a natural pick play for a walk-in TD.
A single playoff victory isn’t the goal of this Dallas team, and if Prescott plays like this the Cowboys could go on a deep run in the playoffs.