Sunday, September 23, 2012 , Updated 9:00 p.m., September 23, 2012
Dallas Cowboys 16, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10
Cowboys pulled out an ugly win against a poorly-coached Bucs team.
ARLINGTON The Dallas Cowboys got the home win they needed, if not the one they wanted, Sunday in a 16-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium. The win improved Dallas to 2-1 on the season. Tampa Bay fell to 1-2.
The game was marred by turnovers, penalties, and inexplicably bad coaching decisions. Dallas got the game started just a minute in when Tony Romo threw an interception on his own 30-yard line. With their backs to the goal line, the Dallas defense committed two penalties for 20 yards to help the struggling Buccaneer offense into the end zone, as Tampa's six offensive plays netted just nine yards. The drive was capped by a Josh Freeman touchdown pass to Luke Stocker for the early 7-0 Tampa Bay lead.
The Cowboys took the ball back at their own 16 after the kickoff, and nine plays later they had moved it 15 yards to their own 31. Fortunately for Dallas, Tampa Bay's offense was even worse, as Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee intercepted Freeman on a 3rd-and-14 pass at the Tampa Bay 23.
From there it was all DeMarco Murray, who ran it twice and caught two passes on the next four plays, capping the short drive with an athletic 11-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.
Both teams traded punts the rest of the half, with Dan Bailey's 32-yard field goal at 2:51 of the second the only exception.
Following halftime and another three-and-out for the Bucs offense, Romo and the Cowboys finally started moving down the field. Romo completed passes of 18 yards to Dez Bryant and 21 to Mile Austin to get down to the Tampa Bay 17. Unfortunately for Dallas, Romo was hit by Gerald McCoy and fumbled, and the Buccaneers recovered the turnover.
After another Bucs offensive drive stalled, Dallas got the ball back at their own 11 with 4:48 left in the third quarter. Romo drove to the Dallas 40 where he was sacked and fumbled again, with the Bucs recovering in excellent field position down 10-7. Freeman and the Bucs could not accomplish anything with the Cowboys' gift, however, throwing three incomplete passes and getting hit with a 10-yard penalty to take them out of field goal position. Despite starting the drive on the Dallas 31, Tampa punted on 3rd-and-20 from the 41 for a pointless touchback.
Despite the three turnovers, Romo again led his team down the field, connecting with Austin on a 49-yard pass down to the Tampa Bay 30. Romo also connected on several other big-yardage passes on the drive, but was frustrated by yet more penalties and the Cowboys had to settle for a 26-yard field goal to make it 13-7.
Both teams traded punts until just under five minutes left in the game. Tampa Bay punted from their own end zone to Dez Bryant, who broke several tackles to return the kick down to the Buccaneers' six yard line. A poorly-timed holding penalty drove Dallas back to the 17, and the Cowboys again settled for a chip-shot 22-yard field goal to make it 16-7.
Down by two scores with just 2:41 remaining, the Buccaneers' coaching staff appeared to quit on the game, inexplicably calling two short-yardage running plays and bringing out their punting unit on 4th-and-11 with 2:06 remaining. At the two-minute warning the team appeared to have a change of heart, however, and Freeman connected with Vince Jackson for a 29-yard pass to move the chains. Tampa drove down the field to the Dallas 10-yard line, where they threw two poor passes and settled for a field goal to make it 16-10. Dallas recovered the onside kick, and despite the Buccaneers' attempts to crash the kneeldowns they never touched the ball again.
The two teams combined for 23 penalties for 176 yards, with Dallas getting flagged 13 times for 105 yards. Dallas outgained Tampa Bay nearly 2-to-1 in yardage, 297 to 166, including 250 yards to 91 through the air.
Romo had a down day, going 25-for-39 for 283 yards and one interception. Romo was also sacked four times, including once in the third quarter where it appeared he had taken a helmet-to-helmet hit and was down with his eyes closed for a few tense seconds.
Murray had a poor day rushing, with 18 carries for 38 yards and one touchdown. Miles Austin led all receivers with five catches for 102 yards, and Bryant added six catches for 62 yards.
Freeman was terrible, going 10-for-28 for 110 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. 71 of those yards came in the final drive, where Freeman went 4-for-8.