Five reasons why Tom Brady, Buccaneers were blown out by Cowboys in NFC wild-card playoffs


The Buccaneers’ third playoff stint with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback was their shortest. After winning the weak NFC South with an 8-9 record, Tampa Bay played like a sub-.500 team as it was routed by visiting Dallas 31-14 Monday night in the NFC wild-card playoffs.

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ defense dominated the game, taking an 18-0 lead by halftime and a 24-6 advantage after the third quarter. Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense mostly went cold when it counted; the night was stamped by Brady’s first red-zone interception as a Buccaneer.

While the Cowboys will advance to a marquee divisional round matchup at the NFC No. 2-seed 49ers in Santa Clara next Sunday night, the Buccaneers enter an offseason wondering if Brady will re-sign to return for a fourth season while rumors of a reunion with Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas swirl.

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If the game was Brady’s last for the Buccaneers, it would rank as his least memorable moment for the GOAT, the polar opposite of winning Super Bowl 55 over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on the same field.

Here’s breaking down the Buccaneers’ breakdown, a fitting end to a frustrating season for Brady:

1. Brady was back being stuck in a compressed, one-dimensional offense

When the Buccaneers beat the Cowboys 19-3 in Week 1 to open the season in Arlington, they rushed for 152 yards, with Leonard Fournette producing 127 of them. On Monday, Fournette and rookie Rachaad White combined for 12 carries and 52 yards. The Bucs didn’t bother trying to stick with the run after falling behind by double digits, which set up Micah Parsons and the Cowboys to pin their ears back and just worry about Brady and his receivers.

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The Buccaneers lost their ability to create deep shots off play-action and they couldn’t stretch the field vs. the Cowboys’ active back seven. Julio Jones did come up with a 30-yard TD off a sideline strike from Brady, but that came when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Beyond that, the Buccaneers didn’t have any pass plays go for more than 20 yards. The Cowboys contained vs. take calculated chances with blitzes that would have created easy one-on-one downfield shots for Brady. The offensive line had veteran center Ryan Jensen back, but it wasn’t a good all-around night for him and stalwart tackles Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith.

2. The Buccaneers’ usually strong third-down defense let them down

The Buccaneers allowed teams to convert on third down at a 36.9 percent clip during the regular season, good for seventh-best in the NFL. The Cowboys used their rushing attack set up third-and-manageable situations for Prescott. They were successful on 7 of 13 attempts (54 percent) and were also were 2 for 2 on fourth down, including Prescott’s naked bootleg TD that put them up 12-0.

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Tampa Bay saw a big dropoff in run defense in 2022. falling to No. 15 in the NFL and allowing on average 120.7 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys reached 129 rushing yards while averaging more than 6 yards per play. They consistently facilitated Prescott and he kept executing.

3. The Buccaneers’ typically bad red-zone defense continued to struggle

The Buccaneers allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 62.5 percent of trips inside the 20 during the regular season, seventh-worst in the NFL. The Cowboys went 4 for 4, doing whatever they wanted with Prescott’s passing and running. Their other TD, the first of the game, came from just outside the red zone when Prescott hit wide-open tight end Dalton Schultz.

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The Buccaneers’ run defense slide hurt here, too. The defense’s short-area coverage let them down during the season as well, as teams were able to spread the field and create good matchups. The Cowboys and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore were able to do the same with Prescott.

4. The Cowboys kept getting pressure on Brady in key spots

Brady did his best to avoid sacks, but he rushed some throws that could have been intermediate completions. He threw his early interception while needing to throw the ball away under duress. Eventually, Parsons dropped Brady and the Cowboys.ended up with a couple sacks in the box score.

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Along with the INT, Brady’s sloppy high-volume stat line (35-for-66 passing, 351 yards, two TDs, 5.3 yards per attempt, 72.2 passer rating) suggested he wasn’t comfortable outside of throwing short to wide receiver Chris Godwin.

5. The Cowboys cooled off Mike Evans with Trevon Diggs

From early in the game, Diggs was charged with shadowing Evans, the Buccaneers’ top field-stretching perimeter and red zone threat. Evans ended an 11-game scoring drought with 10 catches for 207 yards and three TDs in the Bucs’ NFC South-clinching victory over the Panthers in Week 17.

Evans was also a factor in the Week 1 win over the Cowboys, with five catches for 71 yards and a TD. Credit Diggs and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn with taking Evans away from Brady until garbage time. Evans ended up with a quiet six catches for 74 yards on 10 targets.

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When Evans struggled to get open and make an impact, the Buccaneers were thrown off. During those 11 games without Brady throwing a TD to Evans, the Buccaneers averaged only 16.7 points per game.

Brady didn’t play well Monday, and he didn’t get any help, particularly the Buccaneers’ defense looking mostly lost vs. Prescott. All of that gave him no chance to improve to 8-0 against the Cowboys. Now, he must answer bigger questions in the offseason ahead of his Age-46 season.

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