NFL: Cowboys 31, Bucs 15
TAMPA, Fla. ó Tony Romo was nearly flawless in getting the Dallas Cowboys back on track in the NFC East.
Romo threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth score Saturday night, helping the first-place Cowboys beat the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-15.
Dallas stopped a two-game losing streak in which it blew fourth-quarter leads to allow a seemingly solid grip on the division lead slip away.
The victory gave the Cowboys (8-6) a half-game lead over New York. Although the Giants hold a tiebreaker advantage after beating Dallas 37-34 last week, the Cowboys can claim the division title and host a playoff game by finishing with wins the next two weeks.
The Bucs (4-10) lost for the eighth straight time.
Romo threw a pair of 8-yard TD passes to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in the first quarter, then finished a seven-play, 89-yard drive with a 9-yarder to Laurent Robinson to make it 21-0 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Romo made it 28-0 on a quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the opening half.
Tampa Bay managed just one first down and was outgained 279 yards to 55 in the first two quarters, but found a way to make it interesting in the second half.
The Bucs, who had had yielded 69 consecutive points dating to the second quarter of the previous week’s 41-14 loss to Jacksonville, finally got on the scoreboard in the third quarter when rookie Adrian Clayborn sacked Romo from behind, forcing a fumble that linebacker Dekoda Watson returned 4 yards for a TD for a much-needed spark.
Josh Freeman’s 13-yard TD pass to Dezmon Briscoe and a two-point conversion throw to Kellen Winslow trimmed the Dallas lead to 31-15 heading into the final quarter.
The Cowboys have led in the fourth quarter in five of their six losses, however there wouldn’t be a late collapse this time. Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs twice in the last six minutes, and Sammy Morris picked up a first down inside the Bucs 10 to give the Cowboys an opportunity to run out the clock.
Austin’s TD midway through the first quarter was set up by Tampa Bay’s NFL-leading 32nd turnover, a fumble by Freeman.
The Tampa Bay quarterback scrambled 25 yards on third-and-5 to march the Bucs near midfield, but the opening possession of the night came to an abrupt halt on the next play when Freeman took off again for a 7-yard gain and was stripped of the ball at the Cowboys 44.
Linebacker Bradie James recovered and it took Romo seven plays to get Dallas in the end zone for the first time. The Cowboys marched 69 yards in 10 plays on their next possession, with Romo finishing the drive by finding a wide-open Bryant to make it 14-0.
In three career games against Tampa Bay, Romo has thrown for 908 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He was 23 of 30 for 249 yards.