Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
4:47
PM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn't matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush but two key fourth quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4 late in the fourth quarter, sealed the game.

Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they're expected to compete at an elite level.

What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but can't believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams by playing like this.

Witten's bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He's got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys' tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn't scored since Nov. 20 at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn't cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he's healthy.

Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury, to his ribs, but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn't have any more issues. With Church out, Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn't play because of a calf injury.

False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. Free also was penalized for a false start. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with quarterback Tony Romo or a lack of concentration.

Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

What's next?: The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), safeties Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) and Barry Church (right leg).
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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