TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — No more thinking that Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys might not be up to the challenge of beating Tom Brady.
Prescott played his best game in weeks, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for another to answer critics of “Team USA” with a 31-14 victory over Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a wild-card playoff game from the NFC on Monday night.
“It just shows that he’s resilient,” Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said. “The light is different in Dak. I think criticism is unfair and unfair sometimes. But the way that he handles it, the way that he comes back every time and shows who he really is, is a credit to the work that he does. He makes us keep believing every time.”
Prescott completed 25 of 33 passes for 305 yards and played turnover-free for the first time in eight games as the Cowboys (13-5) dominated the listless Bucs (8-10) in what may turn out to be their last game. Brady in a Tampa Bay uniform.
“Not the way we wanted to end it,” Brady said. “Something typical of the way we played all season.”
Dallas beat Brady for the first time in the seven-time Super Bowl champion’s career and won the postseason on the road for the first time in 30 years to earn a trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers in the NFC divisional round on next Sunday.
“You saw this team that had every reason in the world to be criticized, you can call it doubt, you can call it whatever you want, and they came back and they’re not the same team that came to town,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “They’re a better team after beating Tampa and beating a great player at quarterback.”
The Cowboys had lost eight straight playoff games on the road since winning the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco on January 17, 1993.
They were also coming off a poor performance in a lopsided regular-season finale loss to Washington.
“I didn’t listen,” Prescott said of all the talk about the Cowboys not being playoff ready.
“I just didn’t listen to the opinions of others, the thoughts of others. I made sure I was aware of what I put into my head,” added Prescott. “I have a great supporting cast on my team, people who believe in me. That’s all that really matters to me, and staying focused on what I can do.”
About the only thing that went wrong for the Cowboys was kicker Brett Maher missing his first four extra points, becoming the first player in NFL history to miss that many in one game. Maher eventually converted on his fifth down after coach Mike McCarthy decided not to send him for a field goal attempt from roughly the same distance as a PAT.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Russell Gage was tied to a backboard and carried off the field late in the fourth quarter. Gage slipped and fell to the grass while he was running a route and was struck in the neck as he fell. He was unable to get to his feet and silence fell over the stadium as players knelt and medical staff tended to him.
Trainer Todd Bowles said Gage was taken to a hospital with a concussion and was being evaluated for a neck injury. Gage’s injury occurred two weeks after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field in a Monday night game in Cincinnati.
Brady, who signed with Tampa Bay in 2020 and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title two years ago, will be a free agent this winter. He briefly retired last February before changing his mind and returning for a 23rd season at age 45.
Brady threw a career-high 66 passes, completing 35 of them for 351 yards, including second-half 30-yard touchdowns to Julio Jones and 8-yard touchdowns to Cameron Brate. He was sacked twice and also threw a costly interception — an end zone pick in the second quarter of the Dallas 5 that kept the Bucs from potentially taking the lead when trailing just 6-0.
Prescott threw the first of his two touchdown passes to Dalton Schultz to get the Cowboys going, then scored Brady’s first interception in the red zone since 2019 by ending a 15-play, 80-yard drive by surrounding the end. left for a 1-yard pass. TD runs on fourth down.
The Dallas quarterback extended the lead to 18-0 with an 11-yard TD pass to Schultz, then threw 2-yards to Michael Gallup for a 24-point lead early in the third quarter. It could have been 28-0 if Maher hadn’t lost all four extra points.
Prescott’s final TD pass, an 18-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb on fourth-and-4, put the Cowboys up 31-6 with 10:13 remaining.
Little came easy this season for the Bucs, just the fourth team in NFL history to reach the playoffs with a losing record in a strike-free year.
While Brady broke his own league record for completions in a season and ranked third in passing yards behind Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, Tampa Bay finished 25th in scoring at 18.4 points per game and never won more than two in a row while holding off Carolina. New Orleans and Atlanta repeat as NFC South champions.
“It’s always tough,” Brady said of the disappointing end to the season. “But we didn’t earn it. They did it.”
Cowboys: TE Peyton Hendershot (thigh) left the game in the first quarter. … T Jason Peters (hip) limped off in the second quarter and did not return.
Buccaneers: C Ryan Jensen was activated from injured reserve to the active roster after missing the entire regular season with a knee injury suffered on the second day of training camp. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Cowboys: In San Francisco next Sunday in the divisional round.
Buccaneers: The wait is on to find out if Brady will retire, return for a fourth season with Tampa Bay or sign with another club in free agency.
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