The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the NFC East title when Dak Prescott accounted for two touchdowns and Jaylon Smith returned a fumble 69 yards for a score in a 27-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Smith’s long return came after a scrambling Jameis Winston lost the ball on a blind-side sack by Randy Gregory, who also recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown for a 14-point lead late in the third quarter.
The Cowboys (9-6) clinched the division title and their second trip to the playoffs in three years with Prescott and star running back Ezekiel Elliott a week after failing in their first chance with their first shutout loss in 15 years, 23-0 at Indianapolis.
Winston threw for 336 yards in another prolific passing game for the Buccaneers (5-10), who outgained the Cowboys 383-232 but hurt themselves with turnovers and holding penalties. Tampa Bay’s third straight loss clinched the franchise’s fifth season of at least 10 losses in the past six years, a week after the Bucs were eliminated from postseason contention.
Smith’s fumble return and Gregory’s recovery at the Tampa Bay 4 helped a Dallas offense that wasn’t sharp for a second straight week. Prescott was 20 of 25 but for just 161 yards.
Prescott ran 7 yards to cap the only lengthy Dallas touchdown drive, a 75-yarder. He threw a 4-yard score to rookie Michael Gallup after Gregory’s recovery, which came when Winston and Bobo Wilson botched the exchange on a handoff to the receiver.
Before the bad Winston-Wilson exchange in a seven-point game, Peyton Barber’s 33-yard run was wiped out by one of four holding penalties against the Bucs.
Smith gave the Cowboys a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, scooping up the loose ball after Gregory hit Winston from behind and outrunning the Tampa Bay quarterback down the sideline for his first career touchdown.
Winston’s 7-yard pass to Mike Evans got the Bucs within a touchdown with 2:05 remaining, but Dallas linebacker Leighton Vander Esch recovered the onside kick. Evans had six catches for 90 yards, and Adam Humphries had 10 grabs for 79 yards.
With a chance to get within a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, Winston was stopped about half a yard short of the first down at the Dallas 1 on a fourth-down scramble.
Elliott, the NFL rushing leader by 98 yards over Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams coming in, had 85 yards on 18 carries and 24 yards receiving on five catches. His final run, an 11-yarder inside the final two minutes, allowed the Cowboys to run out the clock. Elliott has 1,434 yards with a meaningless game at the Giants remaining.
Dallas defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford went to a hospital to have a neck injury evaluated after getting hurt on the second play of the game. Crawford’s neck was stabilized on a stretcher with his facemask removed, and several teammates looked distraught as he was treated on the field. The seventh-year player was moving his arms while on the stretcher, and moved his legs while being treated before going on the stretcher. … Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson, inactive the previous three games, went out early in the second half with a foot injury.
Buccaneers: Finale at home against Atlanta next Sunday.
Cowboys: Regular-season finale at the Giants next Sunday.
Source: The Associated Press