For the second straight week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers jumped out to an early lead on an NFC East team while on the road.
And for the second straight week, the Bucs squandered that lead and lost the game in frustrating fashion.
Despite sacking Dallas quarterback Tony Romo four times and causing three turnovers, the Bucs struggled offensively and couldn't come up with enough points to beat the Cowboys on the road.
Quarterback Josh Freeman had a bad game and connected on only 10-of-28 passes for 110 with one touchdown and one interception. The Bucs only produced 166 yards on offense and gave up 297 to the Cowboys.
Once again, Tampa Bay's defense was stout against the run; allowing only 38 yards on 23 carries. But they also struggled to run the ball themselves and averaged only 3.0 yards per carry on 25 rushes.
Wearing their red jerseys and pewter pants, the Bucs kicked the ball off to the Cowboys to start the ball game. It didn't take long for Tampa Bay's secondary to make amends for a woeful performance last week. On third-and-15, cornerback Aqib Talib jumped in front of receiver Miles Austin for his first interception of the 2012 season.
Talib's interception gave Josh Freeman and company excellent field position at the Dallas 29-yard line. The Bucs got into the red zone thanks to a pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne. The offense then rode rookie tail back Doug Martin all the way down to the 1-yard line. From there, Freeman threw a TD pass to tight end Luke Stocker on a picture perfect play-action pass to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead.
The Bucs offense returned the favor and gave the ball back to Dallas right outside the red zone after a Sean Lee interception. On third-and-14, Freeman tried to dump it off to third down back D.J. Ware, but the ball bounced out of his hands and went right to Lee. The Cowboys would tie the game moments later after running back DeMarco Murray took a handoff over the left side for an 11-yard score.
Tampa Bay gave Dallas another gift when Jordan Shipley, who was just re-signed this week, muffed a punt and couldn't get back on top of it. The Cowboys recovered the fumble and got an additional 15 yards tacked on when linebacker Dekoda Watson roughed up the punter. Romo was able to get them into the red zone, but Tampa Bay's defense clamped down and held Dallas to three points after Dan Bailey hit a 32-yard field goal.
The Cowboys tried a little trickery after their score and attempted an onside kick. However, the Bucs were ready and linebacker Mason Foster recovered the ball near mid-field to set the offense up with great field position. But the offense squandered an excellent opportunity and had to punt it back to the Cowboys after two penalties derailed the drive.
Dallas got the ball one last time before the half and attempted to add to their lead. The Bucs knocked down Romo's hail mary attempt and went into the locker room down 10-7.
After a three-and-out on offense to start the third quarter, Tampa Bay's defense had trouble slowing down Romo's weapons – Dez Bryant and Miles Austin – on the outside. Their big plays got the Cowboys into scoring position, but the Bucs defense caught a break when Romo fumbled the football inside the red zone. Romo tried to get rid of the football with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy draped on his back and appeared to throw the ball forward for an incompletion. But head coach Greg Schiano challenged the play and won when the referees overturned the call after the replay showed the ball was out of Romo's hand before it went forward.
The Bucs defense dialed up the pressure again and defensive end Michael Bennett caused another fumble when he sacked Romo for a second time late in the third quarter. Like the previous turnover, the call went Dallas' way first. But after watching the replay, Schiano challenged the play and won after the call was overturned when the officials saw that Romo lost the ball before going to the ground.
It was all for not though, because the offense sputtered once again. On first down, Freeman got called for intentional grounding. Then, he failed to connect with wide receiver Vincent Jackson on second and third down, and the Bucs had to punt once more despite the excellent initial field position.
After stopping the Bucs, the Cowboys moved down the field and got into the red zone. However, they could only extend their lead to six points after McCoy nearly knocked Romo out of the game with a devastating sack on second down. Romo just checked it down to running back Felix Jones on third down to make Bailey's field goal attempt a little easier.
Needing only a touchdown to take the lead, Tampa Bay's offense moved backwards and just avoided disaster when linebacker DeMarcus Ware stripped the ball from Freeman on a sack. Ware nearly recovered it, but watched instead as left tackle Donald Penn jumped on the ball at Tampa Bay's own 1-yard line.
Dallas got the big play it needed on the ensuing punt when Bryant made a few tacklers miss and raced down the sidelines for a 48-yard return. After a couple of short runs, Bailey gave the Cowboys a two-score lead with a 22-yard field goal with 2:43 left in the game.
Down by nine with little time remaining, the Bucs continued to stink it up on offense. Instead of taking shots down the field, the Bucs continued to hand the ball off to Martin and lost yardage. On fourth down, Freeman finally got the ball to Jackson for a 29-yard completion to keep their drive alive. A few plays later, Freeman threw a perfect strike down the sideline to Mike Williams for a 23-yard pickup. Freeman tried get the ball into the end zone, but the offense had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Connor Barth so they could have a chance at an onside kick.
The ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful and Dallas was able to run the clock out in victory formation after the Bucs tried to force a fumble to extend the game. Despite having an early lead, the Bucs dropped to 1-2 after losing to the Cowboys on the road 16-10.
Next week, the Bucs return home to take on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and the 1-2 Washington Redskins.
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