Cooled-off Cowboys set to host hot Buccaneers in prime time
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) The Dallas Cowboys, with rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, were the hottest team in the NFL before their 11-game winning streak ended last week.
Now they're playing one of the hottest teams in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose five-game streak is the club's longest since the Super Bowl-winning season of 2002.
First-year coach Dirk Koetter just isn't sure which team is hotter going into the Sunday night spotlight, a first for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.
''Yeah, we're playing with confidence and I think these guys have earned a certain amount of swagger,'' Koetter said. ''I think that comes with the territory, but if we've earned some swagger, how much has Dallas earned? They just had an 11-game winning streak snapped and we're sitting there with Detroit at a five-game winning streak.
''That looks kind of puny compared to Dallas' 11.''
The Cowboys (11-2) are struggling for the first time with Prescott and Elliott. Even though they beat Minnesota two weeks ago, Prescott had a season low in passing yardage and Elliott needed a 30-yard run late to get to 86.
Then came the 10-7 loss to the New York Giants , Prescott's worst game as a pro when Dallas had a chance to wrap up the NFC East title and a first-round bye. The Cowboys will try again this week, but will need this time a Giants loss or tie against Detroit.
''I just worry about the next game,'' Prescott said. ''But coming off a bad game, you have that chip on your shoulder. You want to go back out there and that's what it's about for me each and every day, is coming in and proving myself, not just after a loss.''
Defense has led a surge by the Buccaneers (8-5) to a tie for the NFC South lead with Atlanta, capped by a 16-11 win in which New Orleans was held without a touchdown for just the second time since quarterback Drew Brees joined the Saints in 2006. Tampa Bay has an NFL-high 14 takeaways during the winning streak.
''They are extremely fast,'' Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. ''They get a lot of people around the ball. That's why they have so many turnovers. That's a combination of their speed and pursuit.''
Things to consider in the second meeting in as many years between the Cowboys and Buccaneers, who snapped a five-game skid against Dallas with a win at home last season:
PRIME TIME FOR JAMEIS: This game was moved from early Sunday, offering Tampa Bay a chance to shine against a storied franchise that's tied for the best record in the NFL this season. The Bucs are chasing their first playoff berth since 2007 and on the verge of ending a string of five straight last-place finishes in their division.
But the biggest focal point is Winston, last year's No. 1 overall pick.
''Not really taking that away from the Cowboys because they are a prestigious franchise,'' Winston said. ''But we have to focus on the Bucs.''
THIRD AND LONG: The Cowboys were one of the best teams in the NFL on third down most of the season before slumping to 2 of 24 combined against the Vikings and Giants. Penalties and negative plays led to a high number of third-and-long situations, and the passing game frequently broke down from more manageable distances. Dallas also didn't convert on first or second down as much.
''If you have 15 third downs in a game (against the Giants) it's probably going to be a struggle,'' Garrett said.
STINGY CREW: Tampa Bay's defense has played much better since allowing more than 1,000 yards within a five-day span during losses to Oakland and Atlanta.
The team has allowed only 17 second-half points during its surge, one of the best stretches in franchise history.
''For whatever reason, after that Thursday night game (against Atlanta), it just became a new defense,'' tight end Cameron Brate said. ''Those guys are playing with so much confidence and energy, which carries over to the rest of the team.''
McFADDEN MYSTERY: Darren McFadden, Dallas' leading rusher last season, is active for the first time in 2016 after breaking his right elbow in a household accident during the offseason. Garrett isn't saying whether he'll make the game-day roster, or what role he will have if he does. Backup running back Alfred Morris' role has diminished significantly in recent weeks.
MUTUAL RESPECT: Winston and Dak Prescott are meeting for the first time, but aren't strangers.
They were roommates at Peyton Manning's quarterback camp. And Prescott, a fourth-round pick who was expected to be the third quarterback before injuries to backup Kellen Moore and 10-year starter Tony Romo, appreciates what Winston has done in the spotlight from the beginning.
''I definitely admire the work he does, just being a great leader,''' Prescott said.
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