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QB1 had a career game leading Dallas to a 31-14 win over Tompa Bay. Image courtesy of DallasCowboys.com

The sense of relief a fan feels when a playoff game is over and their team is victorious simply can’t be overstated. I’d put it right up there with making it to payday without overdrawing your account. Or a negative pregnancy test. The crushing weight of reality is suddenly lifted, and you can bask in the inveigling comfort of distraction and a make-believe lack of responsibility for just a little longer. It counts doubly so when the faith you had in your team heading into the game was on par with the faith you typically have in making it to payday without, y’know, overdrawing your account.

Yet here we are, Cowboy fans. Our little silver and blue heroes went into Tampa Bay and handily beat a Buccaneers team and a suddenly mortal Tom Brady by a score of 31-14 and will therefore travel to San Francisco for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. We’re still in it, bay-beeee. We’ve got a few duckets under the mattress yet, and drinks are on me!

The thrumming of Brady’s Bucs removes a number of proverbial playoff primates from the backs of the Cowboys. Though it is still just Dallas’ fifth playoff win since their last Super Bowl appearance all the way back in 1995, it means there’s no one-and-done this year and that the string holding that albatross around their neck has broken another thread. It also marks the team’s first road playoff victory since Jimmy Johnson delivered his now famous “How ’bout them Cowboys!” yell after beating the 49ers in the NFC championship game exactly 30 years ago. In addition, the ’Boys also beat TB12, a task they had failed to ever complete up to Sunday’s game — as was mentioned on every football-related broadcast ad nauseam over the last week.

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Though it was certainly within the realm of possibility (I even said as much in my ), I’m not sure I would not have risked even a $1 bet on how exactly the Cowboys secured the W in Tampa — namely, the inarguably Patrick Mahomesian performance by one Dakota Rayne Prescott. If Week 18’s game in Washington was one of his worst ever (and it was), what he threw down on Sunday — 25/33 for 305 and five total TDs — might just be his best. The 76% completion percentage and franchise playoff record 143.3 QB rating are certainly worth mentioning, but I think the most important stat of his day just might be the goose egg in the INT column. It was the type of performance that should shut the mouths of even the most vocal Dak detractors (“Daktractors”?) and should establish what will be needed of him to continue in the playoffs.

As great as Prescott was, plenty of others deserve credit for the victory. Essentially, all the problem areas the Cowboys endured over the last month and a half of the regular season seemed to correct themselves.

The offensive line, despite continued shuffling due to an injury to 41-year-old tackle Jason Peters, was a force in pass pro and created better holes for a resurgent run game. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called likely the best game of his young career, and it will certainly be his Exhibit A to show why he should be hired as a head coach as he interviews for such positions over the next few weeks. A troublesome secondary kept a lock downfield, forcing Brady to dink and dunk his way to his 351 yards on a staggering 66 pass attempts, and the pass rush was finally getting home again. The defense made Tommy Boy age in real time like Matt Damon at the end of Saving Private Ryan. For the first time ever, Tom Brady looked like a 45-year-old playing quarterback in the NFL.

Really, the only flaw in the game was the bewildering meltdown of kicker Brett Maher, who, despite currently being the most accurate kicker beyond 60 yards in NFL history, missed four straight extra point attempts. It made it five PAT misses in a row for Maher, who missed another against Washington. Hopefully, he can unscramble his brain before next Sunday. I have a feeling that, unlike against the Bucs, leaving four points on the field would cost the Cowboys dearly against the Niners.

Speaking of the Niners, Dak and Co. have a tough challenge ahead of them as they continue their storied playoff rivalry against San Francisco next week. I fear the Crimson and Gold more than any other team in the NFC, mostly due to the fact that they have strengths where the Cowboys have weaknesses. One is San Fran’s run game. The addition of Christian McCafferey has taken an already stellar ground attack to a practically unstoppable level.

Another is that they are starting a late-round rookie quarterback in Brock Purdy (the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft). As has been highlighted multiple times this season, for whatever reason, no-name first-year signal callers seem to be Cowboy kryptonite. Dak might need to play another flawless game to keep Dallas in it.

But that’s a concern for later on this week. For now, let me just enjoy the glorious win and a bank account currently in the black.

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