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Key matchups

Jason Witten vs. Jermaine Phillips

Witten is tied for first among NFC tight ends with Jeremy Shockey at 39 receptions and third among Cowboys with 450 yards. A big body (6 feet 5, 265 pounds) with uncommon agility, Witten can be physical when necessary but is capable of using finesse. Witten is looking for his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection. Phillips is coming off one of his better games after looking suspect for most of the season, but this is a tough assignment for the strong safety.

DeMarcus Ware vs. Anthony Davis

The Cowboys' 3-4 defensive alignment will present a unique challenge to the Bucs, pitting, for example, a bulky left tackle such as Davis against the athletic Ware. The outside linebacker leads Dallas with six sacks, eighth most in the NFC. The short week will probably lead to a lot of in-game adjustments by the Bucs for what should be a tough assignment.

Terrell Owens vs. Ronde Barber

Thanksgiving Day games are remembered most for premier players and the memories they make. This matchup could produce a few. Barber is playing better of late after showing numerous weaknesses at cornerback earlier in the season. And Owens is, well, Owens. Just see his seven receiving touchdowns (second most in the league) for evidence he is still a significant threat.

THE BASICS: Even in his 19th season as a coach, Bill Parcells knows a good thing when he sees it. Most recently, that thing is quarterback Tony Romo, who became the starter last month.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive, making Parcells look pretty smart for replacing veteran Drew Bledsoe.

Romo might be the hottest quarterback in the league. With a rating of 100.0 (only Peyton Manning's 100.5 is better), he has completed 68.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns in four starts. Another key to Romo's success: He is significantly more mobile than Bledsoe, who absorbed 16 sacks in six games. Romo has been sacked seven times in six games.

At receiver, the Cowboys have 19,569 yards and 149 touchdowns in veterans Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn. Owens provides a nice complement to Glenn. Owens makes tough catches in traffic while stretching the field. Glenn is one of the league's fastest wideouts.

In all, the Cowboys have five pass plays of 40 yards or longer this season.

And, by the way, the running game isn't shabby, either. That's where the Cowboys boast another one-two punch in Marion Barber and Julius Jones, who have a combined 1,222 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Defensively, Dallas has given up yards from time to time but not for long stretches. It leads the league in time of possession, limiting opponents to 27:26 per game. Dallas has allowed 285.8 yards per game.

And unfortunately for it, just as Tampa Bay seems on the verge of getting the running game going, it runs into a Cowboys team limiting opponents to 85.7 yards per game.

Credit DeMarcus Ware (six sacks) and Greg Ellis (41/2 sacks) for making it hard on opposing quarterbacks, too.


Bucs: Out - tight end Alex Smith (ankle), defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (ankle); questionable - cornerback Juran Bolden (shin), offensive tackle Anthony Davis (ankle), tight end Dave Moore (illness), running back Michael Pittman (shoulder), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle).

Cowboys: None.

BUC BEATER: In three games against the Bucs, Owens has 11 catches for 199 yards (18.1 average), including a 75-yard touchdown in 2003 while with the 49ers.

SERIES: The Cowboys lead 8-3 all time. The Bucs have won the past three after losing the first eight. Among Dallas' victories are playoff wins in consecutive seasons, a 1981 division game and 1982 first-round game. In their last meeting, Oct. 26, 2003, the Bucs won 16-0 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs won the last meeting in Dallas, 10-6 on Sept. 9, 2001.

KEEP IN MIND: The Cowboys have the most efficient red zone offense in the NFC, scoring touchdowns on 23 of 38 visits inside opponents' 20. On nine other occasions, the Cowboys have come away with field goals, giving them a 60.5 percent conversion rate. Dallas was 2-for-2 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone against Indianapolis on Sunday. In all, Dallas has scored 189 points in the red zone.