By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — So much for notion that Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys might not be up to the challenge of beating Tom Brady.
Prescott played his best game in weeks, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another to answer critics of “America’s Team” with a 31-14 rout of Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC wild-card playoff game on Monday night.
“It just shows he’s resilient,” Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said. “The light’s different on Dak. I think the criticism is unfair and unjust sometimes. But the way he handles it, the way he comes back every time and shows who he truly is, it’s a credit to the work he puts in. It makes us keep believing every time.”
Prescott completed 25 of 33 passes for 305 yards and played turnover-free ball for the first time in eight games as the Cowboys (13-5) dominated the listless Bucs (8-10) in what may turn out to be Brady’s last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.
“Not the way we wanted to end it,” Brady said. “Kind of typical of the way we played all season.”
Dallas beat Brady for the first time in the seven-time Super Bowl champion’s career and won in the postseason on the road for the first time in 30 years to earn a trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers in the NFC divisional round next Sunday.
“You watched this team that had all the reasons in the world to have criticism — you can call it doubt, you can call it whatever you want — and they came back and they’re not the same team that came to town,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “They’re a better team having beaten Tampa and beaten a great player at quarterback.”
The Cowboys had dropped eight straight playoff games away from home since winning the NFC championship game in San Francisco on Jan. 17, 1993.
They were also coming off a poor performance in a lopsided regular season-ending loss to Washington.
“Didn’t listen,” Prescott said about all the talk about the Cowboys not being ready for the playoffs.
“Simply just didn’t listen to anybody else’s opinions, anybody else’s thoughts. Made sure I was conscious of what I put in my own head,” Prescott added. “Got a great supporting cast in my team, people that believe in me. That’s all that really matters to me, and just stay focused on what I can do.”
About the only thing that went wrong for the Cowboys was kicker Brett Maher missing his first four extra points, becoming the first player in NFL history to miss that many in a game. Maher finally converted on his fifth attempt after coach Mike McCarthy decided against sending him out to try a field goal from roughly the same distance as a PAT.
Tampa Bay receiver Russell Gage was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field late in the fourth quarter. Gage slipped and fell to the turf while running a route and took a blow to the neck as he went down. He was unable to get to his feet and silence fell over the stadium as players took a knee and medical personnel tended to him.
Coach Todd Bowles said Gage was taken to a hospital with a concussion and was being evaluated for a neck injury. Gage’s injury occurred two weeks after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field in a Monday night game at Cincinnati.
Brady, who signed with Tampa Bay in 2020 and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title two years ago, will be a free agent this winter. He retired briefly last February before changing his mind and returning for a 23rd season at age 45.
Brady threw a career-high 66 passes, completing 35 of them for for 351 yards, including second-half touchdowns of 30 yards to Julio Jones and 8 yards to Cameron Brate. He was sacked twice and also threw a costly interception — a second-quarter, end-zone pick from the Dallas 5 that prevented the Bucs from potentially taking the lead when they were only trailing 6-0.
Prescott tossed the first of his two TD passes to Dalton Schultz to get the Cowboys going, then turned Brady’s first red-zone interception since 2019 into points by finishing a 15-play, 80-yard drive by circling left end for a 1-yard TD run on fourth down.
The Dallas quarterback expanded the lead to 18-0 with an 11-yard TD throw to Schultz, then threw 2 yards to Michael Gallup for a 24-point lead early in the third quarter. It could have been 28-0 if not for Maher missing all four extra points.
Prescott’s last TD pass, an 18-yarder to CeeDee Lamb on fourth-and-4, put the Cowboys up 31-6 with 10:13 remaining.
Little came easy this season for the Bucs, just the fourth team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike year.
While Brady broke his own league record for completions in a season and ranked third in passing yards behind Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, Tampa Bay finished 25th in scoring at 18.4 points per game and never won more than two in a row while holding off Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta to repeat as NFC South champions.
“It’s always tough,” Brady said of the disappointing finish to the season. “But we didn’t earn it. They did.”
Cowboys: TE Peyton Hendershot (thigh) left the game in the first quarter. … T Jason Peters (hip) limped off in the second quarter and did not return.
Buccaneers: C Ryan Jensen was activated from injured reserve to the active roster after missing the entire regular season with a knee injury suffered on the second day of training camp. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.
Cowboys: At San Francisco next Sunday in the divisional round.
Buccaneers: The wait begins to learn if Brady will retire, return for a fourth season with Tampa Bay or sign with another club in free agency.
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