The Cowboys already had a playoff spot locked up heading into Sunday night. And after hanging on to beat the Buccaneers, 26-20, Dallas is one step closer to earning the division title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
A week after the Cowboys suffered a tough home loss to the Giants, the rookies who got them to this point -- but struggled against New York -- returned to form. Ezekiel Elliott ran all over one of the league's best defenses, torching Tampa Bay for 159 yards and a touchdown on only 23 carries.
Never mind the Rookie of the Year, Elliott remains in the thick of MVP race, and for good reason. He has revitalized a stagnant offense, and has made life immeasurably easier for rookie backfield mate Dak Prescott.
Here are six takeaways from the Cowboys' big win.
1. Elliott is the exception to just about every rule
After years of saying running backs aren't worth high first-round picks because, basically, you can find comparable talent in later rounds -- and it's much more difficult to find, say, shutdown cornerbacks -- we will happily admit that Elliott is a glaring exception. Drafted fourth overall in May, he has been better than advertised for the Cowboys in general, and Prescott in particular. Yes, it helps to play behind the galaxy's greatest offensive line, but it's not like Darren McFadden was setting the world on fire last season (though, admittedly, he did rush for 1,000 yards).
This 42-yard rip late in the game is a microcosm of Elliott's season:
Added bonus: Elliott's second quarter touchdown that includes a Salvation Army-inspired celebration (that inevitably drew a flag):
NBC sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya asked Cowboys coach Jason Garrett about Elliott's excessive-celebration penalty for jumping in the life-sized Salvation Army pot and he made a good point. "We allow the Lambeau Leap," Garrett said. "We allow snow angels. We have to get that rule straightened out ... but [Elliott] shouldn't have done it."
In related news: When in doubt, just feed Zeke.
2. On second thought, let's not bench Dak Prescott
Remember all that talk about Dak Prescott getting benched for Tony Romo? Feels like just a week ago because, well, it was just a week ago. Turns out, the rookie fourth-rounder isn't getting benched (Garrett said as much after the Cowboys lost to the Giants in Week 14), and he reinforced that reality in a dominating performance against a very good Bucs defense. When it was over, Prescott completed 32 of 36 passes for 279 yards and ran for a touchdown.
He was the model of efficiency, completing passes to eight different receivers, with Dez Bryant leading the way (eight catches, 82 yards). Hopefully, this puts to rest any conversations about Romo's Triumphant Return, though we suspect those conversations will resurface with Prescott's next incompletion.
Dak Prescott completed 88.9% of his passes, 2nd-highest for QB in a game (minimum 30 attempts- Rich Gannon, 2002 89.5%)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 19, 2016
- via @eliassports
3. Here's something you might never see again
That right there is a Jason Witten fumble. He has put the ball on the turf exactly twice in five years, and six times in his 14-year career.
4. The Bucs' tight end is pretty good, too
Don't know if you've heard, but Cameron Brate went to Harvard. (This is the new, "Hey, did you know Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard?" Yeah, we all know.) He also has become one of Jameis Winston's favorite targets, and for good reason. Here he is on a third-quarter drive.
First, the unbelievable:
Followed a few plays later by the ol' reliable:
5. Jameis showed glimpses
The second-year quarterback wasn't perfect, but he showed why he has a chance to be really special. When Winston is on, he's damn near unstoppable. The ball comes out quickly, and accurately, and there's not much a defense can do to stop him.
The problem is when his mechanics break down, or if he gets rattled in the pocket, then the mistakes follow. Winston was 17 of 35 for 247 yards against the Cowboys. That includes two touchdowns, but also three interceptions, including one that sealed the Bucs' fate late in the game.
6. The playoff picture
The Bucs drop from the No. 6 seed to the the No. 8 seed, out of the final wild-card spot and now behind the surging Packers, who are seventh. Tampa Bay's remaining games: at New Orleans and home vs. Carolina. The Cowboys remain the top seed in the NFC with games remaining against Detroit and at Philadelphia.
Check out the entire playoff race here.
You can relive all the action from Sunday night's game in the CBSSports.com live blog below: