Any more Tony Romo questions?
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott came into Sunday night’s game against Tampa Bay bearing the first heat of his NFL career, playing under the increasingly loud questions about whether Romo might be a better fit for America’s Team under center. Prescott hadn’t played terribly of late, but two uninspiring games against Minnesota and the New York Giants were enough to stoke the hot-take fires in Dallas.
Enter the Sunday night game — yes, yet another Sunday night Dallas game — against a hot Tampa Bay, prime ground for a Prescott stumble that could have sent the PLAY ROMO flames roaring high into the Dallas night. It didn’t work out that way; Prescott was precise, controlled and effective throughout in securing a 26-20 Dallas victory that snapped a five-game Bucs winning streak.
Prescott was 32 of 36 for 280 yards, an efficient performance that showed he belongs on the field but fell short of transcendent. Prescott threw for exactly zero touchdowns, though he did run for one. Ezekiel Elliott added another, capping a career-best 23-carry, 159-yard performance that included a leap into the Salvation Army kettle behind one end zone. The remainder of the Cowboys’ points came from the foot of Dan Bailey, who was 4 of 6 on field goals for the evening. In other words: The Cowboys were good enough to beat Tampa Bay, but — given the fact that the Bucs had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter — not good enough to scare the best teams in the NFL.
Playing the frenetic Jameis Winston was probably the best option possible for Dallas. Winston spent much of the night wheeling around the backfield as if he were still at Florida State, back in the days when he could dazzle and outrun college-level secondaries. Pros aren’t so easily fooled, and Winston was a mere 17 for 35 with three interceptions, two fumbles (one lost), and four sacks.
Still, champions win the games they’re supposed to win, and the Cowboys ought to be be favored in every matchup they have from now until the first week in February. Dallas hasn’t yet clinched the No. 1 seed or even the NFC East, thanks to a Giants team that won’t go away. But the next Cowboys win or Giants loss will clinch the division and the top seed for Dallas. The Cowboys close with games against the Lions and Eagles.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, now faces a tough road, and its playoff destiny is out of its own hands. The Buccaneers are now behind Washington and are tied with Green Bay in the race for the final NFC playoff spot, and are a full game behind the Falcons for the NFC South crown. Tampa Bay has the Saints and Panthers remaining on its schedule.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.