The point at which the Bucs' 13-9 loss turned could arguably be traced back to the Cowboys' final possession of the first half. It took a perfect storm of poor plays and worse decisions by the Bucs forDallas to reach the end zone, scoring the game's lone touchdown.
When the Cowboys took possession after a missed 51-yard field goal by K Matt Bryant with 2:23 left in the second quarter, the Bucs looked ready to squash any hopes of a late Dallas score, especially after DE Gaines Adams sacked QB Brad Johnson to leave the Cowboys facing third and 12.
That changed when CB Ronde Barber grabbed the back of RB Marion Barber's shoulder pads, drawing a flag for a horse-collar penalty - a personal foul that gave the Cowboys 15 yards and an automatic first down.
The call surprised Barber, apparently.
In "my expert opinion, which is not ever good, obviously, I didn't think it was (illegal)," he said. "I guess I've got to find out what defines it. I don't know. I thought a horse collar is when you grab him from behind and drag him down."
Some would argue that is exactly what Barber did. Nonetheless, all wasn't lost. At least not until that penalty was followed by three more on the Bucs defense - a pass-interference call on CB Phillip Buchanon, illegal contact against CB Aqib Talib and a personal foul against LB Cato June.
June's penalty added an exclamation point to WR Patrick Crayton's 13-yard reception to the Bucs 4, moving the Cowboys half the distance to the goal. WR Roy Williams took it from there, catching a fade pass over Buchanon for a 2-yard touchdown.
On his foul, which came when he retaliated after what he called a dirty hit from OT Marc Colombo, June said, "I'm not backing down from nobody. Never."
Bucs WR Joey Galloway returned after missing five straight games with a right foot sprain, finishing with three catches for 38 yards.
Although Galloway was back, he played a vastly different role than he is accustomed to. He did not start, instead coming off the bench and playing mostly in the slot, as opposed to being split wide, his usual position. WR Antonio Bryant now has a stranglehold on that position, forcing Galloway to adjust.
"I moved around a little bit," Galloway said. "I came in at different parts of the game that I'm not used to. But it's something I may have to get used to as I try to get back."
Galloway ran a variety of routes with his change in position. But he looked as though he could be a factor even in a more limited role. And he still showed an ability to do what he does best: get deep. QB Jeff Garcia narrowly missed him with an overthrown ball in the second quarter as Galloway was streaking toward the end zone with a pair of defenders after him.
"It's something to build on," Galloway said.
QB Jeff Garcia faced an adequate pass rush most of the day, but the Cowboys' rush intensified on the Bucs' final drive. With the front line knowing the Bucs were in a passing situation, the Tampa Bay offensive line sprung frequent leaks that left Garcia running for cover.
"They were doing the best job they could possibly do," Garcia said. "I felt like there was enough time to make decisions, and that's all I really ask from them."
But WR Michael Clayton saw it differently.
"The line has to step up in protection," he said. "If we had another half a second, we could make a play."
No turnover zone
The Bucs entered having recorded a turnover in 21 straight games, the longest active streak in the league.
Unfortunately, it's no longer an active streak.
The Bucs' inability to force a turnover enabled the Cowboys to sustain several drives that would otherwise have been thwarted. And having missed out on several opportunities to come up with interceptions, it was frustrating for the Bucs.
"Sometimes you get turnovers, sometimes you don't," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Those guys over there get paid, too. I think we played a pretty good game. But, yeah, it'd be nice to have four turnovers."
Brad buckles down
Cowboys QB Brad Johnson didn't exactly overwhelm the Bucs with his 122 yards passing. His longest completion, after all, was 14 yards. But the 40-year-old former Buc was much improved from his debut last week, when, in his first game in place of injured QB Tony Romo, he was sacked three times and threw three interceptions.
This time, he played cautious and smart.
The Bucs "shut people down," he said. "For us, we did not want to turn the ball over and give them a chance to score on short fields."
Having watched Johnson on film during the week, Bucs LB Derrick Brooks saw a different guy, too. In fact, he fully expected that.
"Last week, he tried to force some things, and it ended up being turnovers," Brooks said. "This week, he just threw the ball away at times, and a couple times, he took his shots. We knew he wouldn't give us the chances that St. Louis had."
No party over there
WR Antonio Bryant knows the Cowboys probably better than anyone on the Bucs roster, having spent two-plus seasons in Dallas.
He said he didn't have any particular emotions facing his former team, but he claimed to have a good sense of the feeling in the Cowboys locker room after they won a nail-biter.
"I'm just disgusted," Bryant said. "I hate losing games like that. It hurts because of all the hoopla surrounding them. We went out there and played a horrible game. I can just tell you this: Over there in that locker room, they're not celebrating. It's more like, 'Whew, we won one.' I guarantee that's how they feel over there, because when they scored that touchdown, it wasn't the kind of celebration I know occurs in this stadium. It was more a sigh of relief than a celebration."
Bryant should know.
- Dallas' 172 total yards are the fewest in a Cowboys win in team history.
- Bucs LB Derrick Brooks started his 200th straight game, the second longest active streak in the NFL behind Jets QB Brett Favre.
- With two sacks, Bucs DE Gaines Adams, right, now has 10 for his career. It was his second two-sack game (9/14/08 vs. Atlanta).
- The Bucs defense held the Cowboys to 70 yards rushing, has yet to yield a 100-yard individual rushing performance and is the only team not to allow a rushing touchdown this season.
- With 228 passing yards, QB Jeff Garcia moves to ninth on the Bucs' all-time passing yardage list with 3,465 yards.