By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys had to answer a lot of questions after their second loss of the season last week and they responded against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
People were beginning to wonder if Dak Prescott was hitting a slump at the worst possible time, but he came out and played very well in the win. The defense continues to improve and helped win this game for Dallas, 26-20, against a Tampa Bay team that was hot following a five-game winning streak. Now sitting with a record of 12-2, here is a look at the Dallas Cowboys team grades after this huge NFC win.
Dak Prescott played the two worst games of his rookie season in the last two weeks for the Dallas Cowboys, losing one of them. There was talk about Tony Romo starting once again, causing a lot of unwanted noise. However, on Sunday, Prescott won the 12th game of his rookie season, one short of tying Ben Roethlisberger's NFL rookie record. Prescott threw 32 completions for 279 yards and finished with only four incompletions in the game. He didn't throw a touchdown, but he also didn't turn the ball over.
Ezekiel Elliott continues to lead the NFL in rushing, with 159 yards in this game as well as one touchdown on the ground and 29 more yards through the air. While people are talking about Dak Prescott, it is Elliott who might get MVP talk by the end of the season. He is up to 1,551 rushing yards on the year with 12 touchdowns. He's also 294 yards away from DeMarco Murray's single-season Cowboys' rushing record.
Jason Witten led the team with 10 receptions, although he did fumble one of them in the fourth quarter and put the game in danger. He had 51 total yards while Dez Bryant led the team with 82 receiving yards on eight catches. Overall, Prescott completed a pass to eight different players in the game, an impressive night for Dallas on offense.
He isn't someone that many people talk about, but David Irving was the MVP of this win for the Dallas Cowboys. He only had two tackles in the game but had two sacks and five quarterback knockdowns. He really exploded in the fourth quarter and was in Jameis Winston's face, causing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to fail in their final two drives against Dallas.
However, it wasn't just David Irving that won this game for Dallas. A pass rush that is normally nonexistent came to life against Tampa Bay. On top of the two sacks by Irving, Terrell McClain and Maliek Collins both recorded sacks and the Cowboys knocked down Winston nine times as a team. The pressure also got to Winston, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball once. Collins got the fumble recovery while Jeff Heath, Byron Jones and Orlando Scandrick all picked off Winston; Scandrick on the final Tampa Bay drive of the game.
Special Teams: B+
Through his NFL career, Dan Bailey has been one of the best kickers in NFL history. He ranked first for field goal accuracy in NFL history. Despite that, over the past two weeks he has missed three field goal attempts, including two in this game. That said, all three missed kicks were from a very long distance: A 55-yard miss from last week and the two misses this week coming from 56 and 52 yards. Bailey hit his four other attempts in this game, three in the fourth quarter to give Dallas the win.
The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff has done a great job of shutting out the noise coming from outside of the organization. Despite two bad games in a row by Dak Prescott, they have stuck with the rookie and he is rewarding them for it. Dallas played their best defensive game of the season, and while they didn't score many touchdowns, the offense did what was needed to win this tough NFC contest.
If the Dallas Cowboys would have beaten the New York Giants last week, they would have clinched the NFC East. Now, they are still fighting for that spot. The Cowboys just need to win one more game to clinch the NFC East, and if they win that game, they will also have a first-round bye in the playoffs. Up next is the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, a team that is trying to withstand a surging Green Bay Packers to keep their playoff hopes alive.
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