NFC South Reporter
TAMPA, Fla. — Is this how Tom Brady’s time in Tampa Bay ends?
The Buccaneers were dominated on Monday night, losing 31-14 to the Cowboys in what ends up being the second-most lopsided playoff loss of Brady’s 23-year career and their first loss in eight games against Dallas.
Dak Prescott threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth, and the Cowboys got their first red-zone interception in Brady’s three seasons with the Bucs. The Cowboys, enjoying their first playoff win in four years, advance to play San Francisco in the divisional round on Sunday. Prescott’s passer rating of 143.3 is third-best ever in a playoff game with 30+ pass attempts.
The Bucs had struggled to an 8-9 record, the worst of any team Brady has started for, but had the consolation of a division title and a home game against a Cowboys team they beat by 19-3 in Week 1. That could be there. It’s been the Bucs’ best game this season, but Monday night was one of their worst, on both sides of the ball.
Brady, 45, is a free agent this spring and now has three options: retire (as he did briefly last year), return to the Bucs and hope for better success, or sign with a new team and start a third chapter of his NFL career. . He said he will take his time before making any decisions, having changed direction last year and not retiring just 40 days after deciding to quit. He has endured a difficult season on and off the field, with the team struggling in the standings as he divorced his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
Persistent offensive struggles this season, averaging 12 fewer points per game than a year ago, have put Byron Leftwich’s future as offensive coordinator up in the air, whether or not Brady returns. Head coach Todd Bowles is expected to return in 2023, as the Bucs still won back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history and the Glazer family has never fired a coach after just one season
Dallas set a very strong tone in the first half, leading 18-0 on three long touchdown drives, covering 80, 80 and 91 yards. The only thing that went wrong for the Cowboys was kicker Brett Maher, who missed the three-pointer after going 50-for-53 in the regular season. Maher would miss a fourth extra point in the third quarter, so his future with the team is in jeopardy.
Both teams opened the game with four three-and-outs, then Dallas found its rhythm, with Prescott throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz. The Bucs answered with a long drive, but on second-and-goal from the Dallas 5, Brady threw a pass in the back of the end zone that was intercepted by Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse, the first INT from the red zone by Brady in three full seasons. with the Bucs.
The Cowboys answered with another 80-yard touchdown drive — getting it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Dallas called for a double bass for Prescott, who went in untouched for an easy score. They added another score just before halftime, Prescott hitting Schultz again for an 11-yard score. Dallas outgained the Bucs 246-120 in the first half.
Tampa Bay entered the game with optimism, getting back injured players on both sides of the ball to make them as healthy a team as they’ve been all season. Center Ryan Jensen, out since July with a knee injury, returned and made his season debut, but his presence couldn’t spark a struggling offense, earning a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
Brady had 125 yards on 33 carries before the offense found itself late in the third quarter. Brady went 7-of-9 for 92 yards on the drive, hitting Julio Jones for a 30-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Another Dallas touchdown in the fourth quarter pushed the margin to 31-6 before Brady and the Bucs drove down the field for a late touchdown. This is the second-most lopsided playoff loss of Brady’s career: His Patriots lost to the Ravens 19, 33-14, in 2009.
Bucs wide receiver Russell Gage had to be carted off the field after taking a high hit that bent his neck in the final minutes.
Brady is the biggest question mark, but who else could play his last game in a Bucs uniform? Tampa Bay has more than 20 free agents, including linebacker and team captain Lavonte David, and additional cuts may have to be made due to salary cap concerns.
Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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