Tampa Bay’s longest winning streak since 2002 came to an end with a mistake-plagued performance Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was the main culprit, turning the ball over four times in a 26-20 loss to the Cowboys.
“Overall top to bottom, we did not play as well as we have been playing,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “This will serve us well down the road, but it hurts a lot tonight.”
Tampa Bay (8-6) had won five in a row to surge into NFC playoff contention. The Bucs, a game back of Atlanta (9-5) in the NFC South, fell behind Washington (7-5-1) in the race for the second wild card. The Redskins face Carolina on Monday night.
Winston beat the Cowboys as a rookie, scoring a touchdown in the last minute of a 10-6 win last season. The second-year pro was in a far more giving mood this time.
Winston threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns, but only completed 17 of 35 attempts. The former No. 1 overall pick was picked off three times and lost a fumble.
His fumble in the red zone in the second quarter led to the Cowboys’ first touchdown, a 2-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. Winston’s second interception led to Dan Bailey’s field goal to break a 20-20 tie. The last pick clinched the victory for the Cowboys.
Winston did come out of halftime on a mission, as the Bucs went from 17-6 down to up 20-17 with two quick-strike touchdown passes. The two third-quarter drives each covered at least 75 yards and lasted less than five minutes.
Bucs receiver Mike Evans was back at AT&T Stadium for the first time since playing for Texas A&M in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.
Evans told ESPN.com last week that he “couldn’t stop staring up at the scoreboard” in the Aggies’ 41-13 rout of Oklahoma. Evans had seven catches for 83 yards against the Sooners.
His return netted four catches for 59 yards. Evans has yet to find the end zone in two visits to Arlington.
The Bucs had given up a league-low 12.8 points per game during their five-game unbeaten run, with opponents scoring just six touchdowns.
The Cowboys doubled that point total and found the end zone twice. Atlanta was the last team to surpass 26 points against Tampa Bay in a 43-28 win on Nov. 3.
▪ Defensive end Will Gholston injured his elbow in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Koetter thinks Gholston suffered a dislocation.
▪ Tampa Bay is 4-12 in the all-time regular-season series with the Cowboys, including 1-9 on the road.