Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys eager for bounce-back game against hungry Buccaneers

The Dallas Cowboys are the only team in the NFL to clinch a playoff spot.
The Dallas Cowboys are the only team in the NFL to clinch a playoff spot. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

The Dallas Cowboys, the only team in the NFL to clinched a spot in the playoffs, are starting over.

After having their 11-game winning streak snapped by the New York Giants last week, the Cowboys (11-2) will try to regroup against the hungry Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.

Despite the 10-7 loss at the Giants, the Cowboys can clinch both the NFC East division title and a first-round bye with a win and a New York Giants loss. The Giants host Detroit Sunday.

If the Cowboys win and the game between the Giants and Detroit ends in a tie, Dallas will also secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

“We have to respond and get ready for Tampa,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We’re always excited to see how we respond to adversity. We won a lot of games in a row. In each of those games, we’ve responded the right way.”

Twenty-six teams remain in contention for the playoffs, including the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay has won five consecutive games and are tied with Atlanta for first place in the NFC South. Last week, Tampa Bay defeated New Orleans 16-11.

Second-year quarterback Jameis Winston has passed for 3,364 yards and 23 touchdowns. His favorite receiver is Mike Evans, who has 80 receptions and 10 touchdowns.

“Obviously, highly regarded coming out, a lot of success in college. Just going through the process that young quarterbacks go through,” Garrett said of Winston. “He has really good command of their offense. He’s a natural leader.”

Defense is the Bucs’ calling card, led by tackle Gerald McCoy’s seven sacks. McCoy has 33.5 sacks since 2013, the most among NFL defensive tackles.

The Bucs also lead the league in takeaways.

“They’re just a good defense. They have good defensive linemen, fast linebackers and guys who make plays in the secondary. It’s a system that they believe in,” Garrett said. “It’s certainly showing up on the tape.”

The buzz in Dallas has been the recent play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who had his worst game as a pro in the loss to the Giants. His passer rating was a season low 45.7 and he was intercepted twice.

“We have a lot of confidence in Dak Prescott,” Garrett said. “He’s done a really good job for us up to this point. We won 11 out of 13 games that he’s started. He’s handled every situation as well as he can handle it.”

Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott had 107 rushing yards against the Giants. It was the sixth 100-yard performance of the season for Elliott, who leads the NFL in rushing with 1,392 yards.

The Cowboys got a spark from their defense, which was led by Sean Lee’s franchise, single-game record 22 tackles.

“He’s been remarkably good. He is a great football player,” Garrett said of Lee. “He’s probably playing his best ball right now. His production is off the charts. He’s everywhere.”

The Cowboys forced nine punts and held the Giants to two of 15 on third downs in the loss. Rejuvenated end Benson Mayowa has two sacks and a forced fumble in his past two games.

Although the Cowboys are in the playoffs, there’s a lot of movement to be made around the league as the games become more important and continue to be closely contested.

There have been 122 games decided by eight points or fewer and 112 games decided by seven points or fewer through Week 14.

Statistical comparisons

 

Cowboys

Buccaneers

Record

11-2

8-5

Scoring average

26.2

22.5

Opp. Scoring average

18.3

22.8

Total offense

385.2

355.2

Rushing

152.2

104.8

Passing

233.1

250.3

Total defense

350.9

360.5

Turnover margin

+2

+6

Penalties/yards

84-706

94-798

Dallas Cowboys regular-season schedule

Sept. 11

Giants 20, Cowboys 19

Sept. 18

Cowboys 27, Redskins 23

Sept. 25

Cowboys 31, Bears 17

Oct. 2

Cowboys 24, 49ers 17

Oct. 9

Cowboys 28, Bengals 14

Oct. 16

Cowboys 30, Packers 16

Oct. 23

Bye

Oct. 30

Cowboys 29, Eagles 23, OT

Nov. 6

Cowboys 35, Browns 10

Nov. 13

Cowboys 35, Steelers 30

Nov. 20

Cowboys 27, Ravens 17

Nov. 24

Cowboys 31, Redskins 26

Dec. 1

Cowboys 17, Vikings 15

Dec. 11

NY Giants 10, Cowboys 7

Dec. 18

vs. Tampa Bay

7:30 p.m.

KXAS/5

Dec. 26

vs. Detroit

7:30 p.m.

ESPN

Jan. 1

at Philadelphia

Noon

KDFW/4

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