Monday Wild-Card Liveblog: Cowboys at Buccaneers

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Wild Card - Five down, one to go, as the NFL's wild card weekend sprawls over the full three-day weekend. We've already seen the third-biggest comeback in playoff history, one third-string quarterback pull off a victory and two more backups come excruciatingly close to pulling off wild upsets, and the vindication of DVOA's appraisal of the Minnesota Vikings. All that's left is the final NFC matchup, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers take on Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.

America's Team versus the GOAT! There's a certain subset of fans who will go crazy for that matchup, and a second, possibly larger subset, that will absolutely hate it. Between years of playoff victories and dominance for Brady and multiple dynasties of success for Dallas, there will be a substantial group of fans rooting for team meteor to wipe this one out. Something has to give, after all. But even the haters have something to pull for here -- either the Cowboys will lose yet another road playoff game, extending their drought that's been going on since 1992, or Brady will confirm his first losing record as a starting quarterback. So no matter what your preferred outcome of this one is, there'll be something to watch for.

And we'll be covering tonight's game live in a special Monday edition of the Football Outsiders liveblog. That's right, it's three days in a row of liveblog action. And because we're live, you can participate in the discussion as well! Join in on the conversation -- either in the comment section in this article, on Twitter by tagging @FBOutsiders or @BryKno, or on our brand new Discord server, where some of your favorite writers will be hanging out and reacting live.

Let's finish this thing strong!

Pre-Game: Cowboys at Buccaneers Storylines

It's not just the winless playoff road streak since 1992 the Cowboys are trying to break. They haven't beaten Tom Brady...well, ever, going 0-7 against him; one of just four teams that have never beaten Brady in his career. Those are interesting bits of trivia, but more pressing is the fact that the Cowboys have entered the postseason on a sour note.  Over the last five weeks of the season, they ranked 20th with a -5.9% DVOA, losing to Washington and Jacksonville and suffering several other close calls. They've been listless as of late; a far cry from the team that was threatening to top the DVOA charts at midseason. They need to get their mojo back, and fast.

Not that the Buccaneers have been in a much better position. Brady's first losing regular season has been a struggle; with nearly all the pressure lying on the passing game as the run game has wavered between ineffective and nonexistent.  Over that same five week period, Tampa is 27th with a -22.7% DVOA, with only the division-clinching win over Carolina on New Years being a feather in their cap.  Brady may have more experience than the rest of the NFC field combined -- he entered the postseason with 35 wins, while every other NFC quarterback combined for two -- but this is the worst team he's ever led into the postseason, and they're trending in the wrong direction, to boot.

One of these teams will win and get to travel to San Francisco next Sunday, where they will be underdogs.  As for this one, the visiting Cowboys are 2.5-point favorites, as teams with losing records generally do not get the benefit of the doubt despite winning their division. 

6:19 PM: Ryan Jensen Activated

On July 28th, Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen was carted off the Tampa Bay field with a blown knee; he's been on injured reserve ever since. Tampa has been rolling with Robert Hainsley ever since, and he's been...fine. Not a Pro Bowl player like Jensen was, but adequate to task.

Well, Jensen is back! The Buccaneers activated him from IR this morning; he's been getting reps with the first-team offense all week and looks to be good to go.  Making your season debut in the playoffs?  That's hard stuff!

Obviously, tons of questions surround this move. Does Jensen have the stamina to play the entire game, or will he rotate with Hainsley? What kind of rust is he going to be in after not seeing game action for nearly a year? Will he be able to move fast enough if the Bucs find themselves in a hurry-up situation?  Watch the center of the line early and see how he's holding up; that's one of the big X-factors in the game today.

6:50 PM: Injury Report

The Buccaneers get Jensen back, but they're fairly banged up.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph (knee), guard Nick Leverett (knee) and safety Keanu Neal (hip) are all out. This was expected for Rudolph and Leverett, doubtful coming in; Neal was questionable and is a bit more of a surprise.  Of the three, Leverett is the biggest problem; he's the starting left guard and will be likely be replaced by rookie Luke Geodeke.  Neal leaves the Bucs thin at safety, though they should be OK as long as no one else gets hurt, as Mike Edwards and Logan Ryan are both active.

The rest of the questionable brigade is up, as well: Carlton Davis, Robert Hainsley, John Molchon, Carl Nassib, Donovan Smith and Vita Vea.

As for the Cowboys, we knew Trayvon Mullen was going to be out with an illness; that makes Xavier Rhodes the third corner tonight. He's had one padded practice with the team, so we'll see if Brady and company target him. No one else had an injury designation, and everyone else is good to go, despite some limited practices for Tyron Smith and Demarcus Lawrence earlier in the week.

7:25 PM: Speaking of Offensive Lines...

The Buccaneers aren't the only one who can start 40 year olds in playoff game!

Jason Peters is getting the start at left tackle for the Cowboys tonight; it's his second start of the season after he got the nod in Week 18.  The re-shuffled offensive line didn't cover itself with glory against Washington, but the talent between Peters, Tyron Smith and Zach Martin is undeniable. We'll see if they can get it together tonight.

8:00 PM: Blue Jersey Curse

The Buccaneers and Cowboys are the last teams in the NFC field who prefer to wear their white jerseys, as opposed to their colored ones. That means Tampa Bay, as the home team, gets white, and Dallas has to wear...the Cursed Blue Jerseys.

1-6 isn't great, though I suppose we haven't seen them even try to break the 'curse' since 2003.  That's so long ago that the Buccaneers' starting quarterback was, uh, already a Super Bowl champion.

Either way, both of these teams better bow out before the Super Bowl so we avoid having to see the Bills bust out their monoblues to end the season.  That, or Buffalo needs to lose.  THAT, or we need to arrange some kind of heist to steal all of Buffalo's blue pants.

...Excuse me, I have some phone calls to make.

8:15 PM: Playoff Lenny?!

Presented without comment.

...No.

8:26 PM: Go Forwards, You Guys

The first three drives have gained 0, -2 and -5 yards.

Someone let these offenses know that the ideal way to move the ball is down the field towards the other team's goal line. They may need a refresher.

8:39 PM: Cowboys Go Forwards

The first team to get out of neutral is Dallas -- perhaps, not coincidentally, with Tony Pollard in the backfield rather than Ezekiel Elliott.  But Prescott started pressing the ball downfield more against that banged up Tampa secondary, and he found some openings.  The touchdown went to Dalton Schultz, running free up the middle.

6-0 Cowboys, because the extra point was shanked, but at least the game has started now!

8:56 PM: The Great One Makes a Mistake

Tom Brady ranks third in DYAR and eighth in DVOA this season, almost solely because he does. Not. Make. Mistakes. Brady has, by far, the best DYAR and DVOA on bad plays -- interceptions, sacks, fumbles, failed completions, the lot. That's why Tampa's here; there are very, very few points where the Buccaneers lose because of their quarterback.

ESPN flashed up a graphic showing that Brady hadn't thrown a red zone interception since 2019. Well, THAT'S a jinx if I've ever heard one.

I don't think he was trying to throw the ball away there; his arm's not THAT dead. Either way, it's still 6-0, Cowboys.

9:07 PM: Picks into Points

The Cowboys convert the turnover into a touchdown, marching the length of the field to do it.  After their sluggish start, Dallas has kicked things into another gear, as the different looks Tampa is throwing at them aren't phasing Dak. Ever since they decided that, hey, let's throw more than two yards downfield, the Cowboys have been looking much, much sharper.

The big play on the drive was a 34-yard catch and run by Jake Ferguson, but the prettiest play? The naked bootleg by Dak; a thing of beauty.

I love it when you can essentially start celebrating before you reach the end zone.  But Brett Maher misses ANOTHER XP, so it's still just 12-0, Cowboys.

9:15 PM: Bucs Punt Again

The Bucs have no sense of urgency, down two scores.  They punted on 4th & 3 from the Tampa 47; that's a small error by our numbers: a 1.7% loss in win probability. It's close enough that it's not a terrible mistake, but it's also not maximizing opportunities.

The crowd doesn't like it. There's a showering of boos, as the natives are getting restless.

9:35 PM: Six at a Time

It took six plays for the Cowboys to get back to where the Bucs punted from.  And then six plays from there to score.

And then Brett Maher...misses again?!  Three missed extra points, a postseason record.  So, they add six more points, and are up 18-0.  This is...bizarre.

And now we're going into halftime, in what has been a very strange game. Dallas is in control, but I wouldn't call it over yet...especially with Micah Parsons down...

10:07 PM: Brett Maher Makes History

Never before, in the 100+ year history of the NFL, has a player missed four extra points in one game. There are tons of games where you don't get four chances.  And if you miss a couple, then you're off the 7-point grid, and two point conversions start coming into play.

Brett Maher has made history tonight.  Four missed extra points, and the Cowboys are only up 24-0.

Only three other kickers have even missed four extra points in their postseason careers -- Rey Gerela, Stephen Gostkowski and Mike Cofer.  We are watching something historic, folks.

Oh, and the Cowboys are going to win, but that's less interesting at this point.

10:35 PM: Was it Over when the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?!

Hey, the Buccaneers finally decided to show some urgency! A little bit of no-huddle and uptempo, and the Buccaneers have their best drive of the game.

It's...I mean, no.  No.  Not going to happen.  Can't happen twice in one weekend.  Right?

10:47 PM: Looking Ahead

Note to the 49ers: try covering CeeDee Lamb next week.

Yes, with due respect to Touchdown Tom, we're looking ahead in this one.

Barring a miracle comeback, the Cowboys will travel to San Francisco next weekend in a rematch of last year's wildcard game.

It's incredible how many Cowboys-49ers matchups are among the best games in NFL history.  When the NFL made their list of the top 100 games for their 100th season, four of them were Cowboys-49ers playoff games:

  • The Cowboys' 15-point fourth-quarter comeback in the 1972 Divisional Round
  • The Catch in the 1981 NFC Championship
  • The Cowboys' 1992 NFC Championship win, which led to the first Super Bowl for that dynasty
  • The 49ers stopping the Cowboys from three-peating in the 1994 NFC Championship

Odds are against next week's game joining that list, but there's something right about Dallas and San Francisco playing a huge game.

11:09 PM: Mullet Time

We're in garbage time, and so we're scrounging for content. As is the Manningcast, and so we present: mullet time!

We're getting through this, guys, just hang on.

11:26 PM: Ballgame

The Buccaneers did manage a score and successful onside kick, but it ended up meaning nothing. Brady ends with 66 pass attempts, second-most in playoff history, but the Cowboys win, 31-14.

We'll see you next week!  So long from the Super Wild Card Weekend, hello to Divisional Round 64!

Comments

34 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2023, 6:10pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 16, 2023 - 7:17pm

Can both teams lose?

Failing that, can Dallas lose, but Tom Brady shrivel up like he picked the wrong Grail as soon as his cursed charm expires?

Points: 2

#2 by big10freak // Jan 16, 2023 - 8:22pm

That is the first arm bar hold I have seen called in some time this season

FWIW

Points: 0

#3 by morganja // Jan 16, 2023 - 8:38pm

Roughing the passer? Really? 

Points: 0

#27 by RickD // Jan 17, 2023 - 9:54am

Looking through the comments a day later and I know exactly which play this way.

The NFL did not help things when they tried to take judgment out of the hands of the officials.  In this case RTP was called because the defender grazed the QB's chin strap.  Wasn't remotely close to the reason why the rule exists. And the penalty helped the Cowboys get their offense started to score the first TD.

Can't blame the officials, it's a bad rule.  (And this wasn't even the Aaron Rodgers/you're not allowed to be too heavy on the poor QB addendum.) 

Points: 0

#32 by BigRichie // Jan 17, 2023 - 1:41pm

Aaron Rodgers?!? I thumbed you down just for that.

There's a reason they also call the rule Roughing the Brady.

Points: 0

#4 by big10freak // Jan 16, 2023 - 9:05pm

Pretty ticky tack hold

Points: 0

#5 by big10freak // Jan 16, 2023 - 9:08pm

Great fourth down call for the TD

Points: 1

#6 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:22pm

So is DAL going to threaten the record for highest ever postseason game DVOA?

Points: 0

#26 by RickD // Jan 17, 2023 - 9:51am

Opponent adjustments would make that very hard to accomplish.

I doubt it's close. Let's not forget the decade of consecutive blowouts in the Super Bowl (interrupted by 'Wide Right').

Points: 0

#7 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:30pm

Hats off to Dak and the Cowboys tonight. They have been on a mission all night and are executing at a very high level. I feel as if I might be the only non-Cowboys fan who thought this team could win it all this year, but when they play like this, I can’t help myself. Too much talent and too many playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Points: 1

#11 by rh1no // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:45pm

They're certainly talented enough, and Mike McCarthy has taken his team all the way before. But his teams in Green Bay and Dallas have also sputtered out early more than a few times.

If the defense keeps playing this well, though, they could go toe-to-toe with the Niners and Eagles.

Points: 0

#22 by Chuckc // Jan 17, 2023 - 8:15am

The defense seemed to play well but it was hard to tell what with how bad the Bucs looked on offense. They couldn't do anything right

Points: 1

#9 by coltsandrew // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:38pm

I wonder how long it will take for the cowboys to sign a new kicker. 4 missed XPs is absurd.

Points: 0

#10 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:44pm

I think they’ll have a new one by Wednesday night. 

Points: 0

#23 by KnotMe // Jan 17, 2023 - 8:49am

That was the only thing that went right(and left).  At least there was something interesting. Worst game of the weekend. At least it sets up the 49s game to be interesting. America's Team(self proclaimed) should be able to provide credible resistance at least. 

Points: 0

#12 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:46pm

Dak is dealin’ tonight. This is what I need to see out of Josh Allen: completely in control, in total command at the line of scrimmage, taking what the defense is giving him most of the time, and resorting to the grip-it-and-rip-it when necessary and delivering with authority. Really impressive.  

Points: 1

#14 by vrao81 // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:47pm

Brady left Giselle for this?? SMH

Points: 5

#15 by rh1no // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:50pm

How could Peyton resist the opportunity to use his "idiot kicker" catchphrase???

Points: 4

#16 by lenny65 // Jan 16, 2023 - 10:57pm

Man, that was the damnedest thing I've ever seen, and I'm old enough to remember Mike Michel.

Points: 0

#17 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 16, 2023 - 11:07pm

I've never seen Brady just miss guys like this before.

Points: 0

#19 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 16, 2023 - 11:31pm

So it seems like both Dallas and Brady forgot who they were.

\granted, that happens at Brady's age

Points: 0

#20 by Moridin // Jan 17, 2023 - 3:30am

well, as someone who was alluded to at the beginning (wanting both to lose), I'm more than fine with Brady being the first to bow out. Now R-E-T-I-R-E. And Dallas can lose next week.

Points: 1

#21 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 17, 2023 - 7:51am

I’d like to thank the Cowboys for finally delivering Brady the arse-whipping he had coming at 28-3 but never quite received. 

Points: 3

#24 by Cheesehead_Canuck // Jan 17, 2023 - 9:28am

I now welcome the insane Brady to Vegas rumors because I'd quite enjoy watching them be worse than they were with Carr.

Points: 0

#25 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 17, 2023 - 9:50am

Can we get Maher's DYAR?

Points: 0

#29 by Bob Smith // Jan 17, 2023 - 10:43am

Like him or hate him, Brady is somewhat amazing as a passer. When Big Ben had 68 pass attempts in that playoff game he had 4 Int's. Brady had 1 Int. in 66 attempts.                                    The other thing is that Brady only has 11 playoff games out of 48 with multiple Int's, and he didn't get that 11th one until his 43rd game.Next in line is Marino. Dan had 10 playoff games with multiple Int's in only 18 games.

Points: 1

#30 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 17, 2023 - 11:22am

The modern interception rate is less than 60% what it was in Marino's prime, and on more attempts per game. You should expect high attempt/low INT games to be heavily biased toward the modern era.

Points: 2

#33 by Bob Smith // Jan 17, 2023 - 2:56pm

Thanks Aaron. I just read a good article-"The Declining Interception Rate In The NFL"-Sports Illustrated by Jonathon Jones from Oct. of 2019.                     He claims the biggest drop (percentage wise) was from '78-'79  and was due to the Rule change in '78 concerning how defensive backs can hinder receivers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                He quotes a football historian that claims that that Rule change was what really opened up the game for offenses.

Points: 0

#31 by Led // Jan 17, 2023 - 1:13pm

There may have been only 1 INT, but there could've been a bunch more.  Vander Esch had both hands on passes a couple of times, and he wasn't the only Dallas defender.

Points: 2

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