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Cowboys flex defensive muscle in tough 16-10 win

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher (97) tries to block Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman’s (5) pass during the second half as the Dallas Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-10, Sunday, September 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas at Cowboys Stadium.

By Clarence E. Hill Jr., Fort Worth Star-Telegram –

ARLINGTON, Texas — Dan Bailey made three field goals as the defense took control to lead the Dallas Cowboys to a physical, penalty-filled 16-10 win over Tampa Bay Sunday in front of a loud crowd of 81,984 at Cowboys Stadium.

A week after being overpowered in a loss at Seattle, Dallas matched big hits with Tampa Bay while the sputtering offense continually moved into field goal range.

The game was also slowed by penalties. Dallas had 13 for 105 yards and Tampa Bay had 10 for 69 yards.

Dallas’ defense held the Bucs to 166 total yards, with most coming on the final drive in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas lost starting safety Barry Church with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“It was far from artistic,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought the defense was outstanding. They allowed us to stay in the ball game.”

Offensively, Tony Romo passed for 283 yards, but no touchdowns with one interception. He was under duress most of the game and was rocked twice on sacks.

“He (Romo) did get hit too much in this ballgame,” Garrett said. “It wasn’t clean. He didn’t feel in rhythm.”

Dallas’ only touchdown came on an 11-yard run by DeMarco Murray in the first quarter.

Connor Barth’s 28-yard field goal moved Tampa Bay within 16-10 with less than a minute to play, but James Hanna recovered the onside kick and the Cowboys ran out the clock.

Following through on coach Greg Schiano’s philosophy to play to the end, Tampa Bay charged the Cowboys on three consecutive kneel downs and used two timeouts in the final 40 seconds as the crowd booed.

Before Barth’s field goal, Tampa Bay had done little on offense outside Luke Stocker’s 1-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

“I can’t give our defense enough credit. That was a good a performance as I’ve been around,” Romo said.

Dallas’ first possession ended quickly when Romo was intercepted by Aquib Talib on the third play of the game at the Cowboys’ 29. Six plays later, Josh Freeman threw a 1-yard touchdown to Stocker for a 7-0 lead.

Dallas punted away its second possession, but got the ball back quickly when Sean Lee intercepted Josh Freeman off a deflection at the Bucs’ 23. Four plays later, Murray scored on an 11-yard sweep for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.

Special teams helped set up the Cowboys’ next score. Orie Lemon recovered a Jordan Shipley fumbled punt at the Bucs’ 29 plus 15 yards for roughing Bailey on the same play.

Eight plays later, Bailey made a 32-yard field goal to give Dallas a 10-7 lead.

Dallas followed with an onside kick, but the Bucs recovered at the 49. Penalties, the theme of the day on both sides, pushed the Bucs back to their own 39 and four plays later, Tampa Bay had to punt.

With 57 seconds left and beginning at their own 20, Dallas reached Tampa Bay’s 48 before Romo’s Hail Mary pass fell incomplete on the final play of the half.

“There were too many minus plays in the first half that kept us behind the chains,” Garrett said.

After forcing a Tampa Bay punt to start the second half, Dallas marched to the Bucs’ 17. On second and 10, Romo fumbled and the Bucs recovered to kill the drive. The play was originally ruled an incomplete pass as he tried to shovel the ball to Murray. Tampa Ball challenged that it was a fumble and won.

Dallas faced a similar fate after forcing another punt.

Facing a third-and-4 play at their own 40, Romo was sacked by Michael Bennett and Eric Wright recovered. The play was originally ruled just a sack. Tampa Bay challenged again that it was a fumble and won.

However, three plays later Tampa Bay was punting again.

“There are three or four games that are going to be very hard on offense. In those games you need your defense to step up. To have a defense to do that is very exciting,” Romo said. “The teams that do that are playing at the end of the year.”

Dallas extended its lead early in the fourth by culminating a 72-yard, nine-play drive with Bailey’s 26-yard field goal to make it 13-7 with 11:10 left in the game.

The Cowboys sealed the game when Dez Bryant returned a punt 44yards, including leaping over the punter at the 15, to the 6. Four plays later, Bailey’s 22-yard field goal made it 16-7 with 2:43 to go.

“Nothing was easy. This is a very, very satisfying win even though it’ll get lost in the shuffle as the season goes because of how it looked. To win the game like we did today really excites me,” Romo said.

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