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Cowboys rookies bounce back in win over Buccaneers

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott rebounded from last week's dismal performance to pace the Dallas Cowboys (12-2) to a 26-20 victory over Jameis Winston and the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) in Week 15. Here's what we learned:

  1. Quarterback controversy, begone. One week removed from the worst performance of his rookie season, Dak Prescott put to bed suggestions that Dallas should consider playing Tony Romo, completing 89 percent of his passes -- the second-highest mark in NFL history with a minimum of 30 attempts -- and running for a score against one of the hottest defenses in the league. Prescott went to his bread-and-butter with incredible efficiency: Jason Witten short in the middle (10 catches), Dez Bryant past the sticks (8), Cole Beasley outside the numbers (4). It was only when Dallas got cute with its play-calling (see: multiple unsuccessful jets sweeps to Lucky Whitehead) that the Cowboys went backwards against the Bucs. With his 279-yard evening, Prescott broke a three-game streak of fewer than 200 passing yards and looked more than ready to lead the 'Boys into January.

Dak was of course buoyed by another star turn from fellow rookie and MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott. The running back scampered and hurdled for a career-high 159 yards and one touchdown, shedding Tampa Bay's hard-hitting tacklers with ease. With two games to go against Detroit and Philadelphia, Elliott needs just 258 rush yards to break Eric Dickerson's rookie record (1,808); if he runs like he did against the Bucs' stiff front, Elliott will write his name in the record books. As Dallas' dynamic duo goes, the team goes. The dichotomy between the past two SNF games is a clear indication of that.

  1. Tampa Bay was undone by turnovers. The Cowboys converted two Jameis Winston giveaways in Buccaneers territory -- one strip sack and one interception -- into 10 points, which was more than the deciding deficit. When the Cowboys gave the Bucs life with a fumble of their own, Tampa Bay squandered the opportunity with a three-and-out. The mark of a young team is its inability to play smart football in big spots and take advantage of turnovers. On a night that was supposed to be Tampa's coming-out party, Winston and the Bucs let themselves down.
  1. When Winston wasn't winging it and keeping plays alive with his unworldly pocket presence and footwork, he was facing a world of hurt at the hands of David Irving. With DeMarcus Lawrence sitting this one out, Irving, an undrafted second-year end, filled in more than admirably, deflecting one of Winston's passes, sacking him twice and hitting him five times. Along with linebacker Justin Durant, who was Dallas' standout pass rusher on the night, and the inimitable Sean Lee, Irving led a Dallas front seven that unnerved Winston at key points in the second half and kept him from leading a comeback.
  1. With the win Dallas kept its distance from the sneaky Giants, who moved to 10-4 with their win over Detroit, in the NFC East. The Cowboys can clinch the division, a first-round bye and home-field advantage with a win over the Lions on Monday Night Football next week. The Bucs, on the other hand, are in murkier territory. The loss knocks Tampa Bay out of the immediate playoff picture with the Redskins (7-5-1), still to play Monday, taking their spot in the sixth seed. The Bucs finish with two NFC South opponents: New Orleans, whom they beat in Week 14, and Carolina at home.
  1. While Tampa Bay's defense, which had allowed a league-low 12.8 points per game since Week 10 entering this game, was neutralized by Prescott's quick strike approach, there's still plenty to like about Mike Smith's unit. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, in particular, had a monster game in the middle of the field, recording a season-high 21 combined tackles and what should have been a pivotal forced fumble on Witten in the fourth quarter. There are a lot of pieces in Tampa to build around, like Keith Tandy and Lavonte David. It's just a shame they were overwhelmed on national television by Dallas' special rookies.
  1. Kicker news of note: Dan Bailey is no longer the most efficient field goal kicker in the history of the NFL. Nope. After Bailey missed two 50-plus-yard attempts in the first half, that honor now belongs to Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (89.6 percent).
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