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Sunday, December 18, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 31, Bucs 15

By Calvin Watkins


TAMPA, Fla. -- This is what you're supposed to do.

The Cowboys beat up a weak Tampa Bay Buccaneers team 31-15 on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium. The Cowboys ended their two-game losing streak, and quarterback Tony Romo moved to 3-0 lifetime against the Bucs. More importantly, this team can relax (well, for maybe a few hours) because it took care of business.

What it means: For a few hours, the Cowboys are in first place by themselves in the NFC East. The New York Giants will play the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon. If the Giants win, the teams go back to being tied. The Cowboys needed this victory. Things were tense all week in the locker room as a result of a two-game losing streak and losing a first-place lead.

Running game takes over: For the first time in his career, Felix Jones rushed for more than 100 yards in consecutive games. He carried 22 times for 108 yards. He ran with speed, power and fresh legs. There are always concerns about Jones' ability to carry the ball 20 times or more, especially the way Jason Garrett used DeMarco Murray in November. Sammy Morris did a nice job backing up Jones. He rushed for 53 yards on 12 carries. His only mistake was dropping a third-down pass with 10:09 to play. As a whole, the Cowboys rushed for 160 yards, the seventh time this season they ran more than 100 yards as a unit.

Defense plays well but ... : Josh Freeman led the NFL with 18 interceptions on the season. The Cowboys' secondary had no picks against him. But Dallas had two sacks, with DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lissemore picking things up. As the game progressed, Jay Ratliff and Ware sat so younger players could get on the field. However, after Freeman completed just two of four passes for 14 yards in the first half, he connected on 15 of 23 passes for 134 yards after halftime. There was a bad fourth-down completion against the Cowboys' defense when linebacker Sean Lee failed to wrap up running back Kregg Lumpkin on a short pass in the flat with about seven minutes to play in the game. The Cowboys sat the vets and, late in the game, sat the majority of their starters in their front seven.

Bennett brothers meet: Tight end Martellus Bennett faced his older brother, defensive end Michael Bennett, for the first time in their NFL careers. The tight end had three catches for 23 yards. The end had one sack and two tackles.

Smith injured: First-round pick Tyron Smith went down with an undisclosed injury with 1:48 to play in the game after a Morris run. Smith was able to walk off the field on his own power, but when he got to the sidelines, team doctors were checking his neck and head area.

What's next? The Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles next Saturday at Cowboys Stadium. In the first meeting, the Eagles beat the Cowboys 34-7. Now, with so much on the line within the division, the Cowboys need to knock off the Eagles in the rematch to keep pace with the Giants or stay ahead of them.