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Cowboys 0-7 vs. Tom Brady

Advancing to the NFC divisional playoffs next weekend would require the Dallas Cowboys to deliver on a franchise first. Dallas is 0-7 against Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who already defeated the Cowboys this season. Game Info: Jan. 16, 2023 | 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN

The Cowboys (12-5) travel to Tampa Bay (8-9) for the unique wild-card matchup on ‘Monday Night Football’ expecting a much different game. The Buccaneers are home for the opening round due to their division title, claiming the NFC South while the Cowboys were second in the NFC East to the Philadelphia Eagles. “It’s 2023. He ain’t beat us this year. That’s all we’re worried about,” Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said of the franchise’s winless record against Brady, which includes the season-openers in 2021 and 2022. Brady is doing more than ever without the benefit of a leading ground game, causing the Buccaneers to pass 78 percent of the time. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich attributes the imbalance to injuries, but Tampa Bay did rush for 152 yards in the 19-17 win to open this season.

“He’s been in a lot of these games. He understands how these games have to be played,” Leftwich said, downplaying the result of the most recent game against Dallas 20 weeks ago. “The last of my worries, really, is Tom. When you get in these moments, it’s making sure we’re good around him, making sure we’re all on the same page.” Big plays are next to nil from the Buccaneers’ ground game, which generated only three gains of 20-plus yards this season. And in addition to being last in the NFL in rushing yards per game, Tampa was 32nd in yards per carry (3.4) in the regular season. The passing attack with Brady and tandem 1,000-yard receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans is a different type of threat.

“We’re going to be close to full strength, they’re going to be close to full strength,” said Evans, who had 10 receptions for 207 yards and three TDs in the division-clinching win over Carolina on Jan. 1. “When we’re healthy, it doesn’t matter who the DBs are. Hopefully we get a lot of Cover-1 — you know I love that.” Getting defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (pectoral) and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) back from injuries would be a boost to a Dallas defense that has been average in recent weeks, including a 26-6 loss at Washington to end the regular season.

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, who is 0-2 against Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles, said the return of center Tyler Biadasz (ankle) brings Dallas close to complete, health-wise. To get quarterback Dak Prescott ready for the prime time playoff spot, McCarthy said he used a video reel of his recent turnovers as a learning tool. The goal is to pinpoint where breakdowns take place, not to belabor a point about protecting the ball.

“You’re much better prepared through your failures than your successes,” McCarthy said of his tact.

Prescott had 15 interceptions in 12 games and was picked at least once in each of the final seven games of the regular season. He has one crutch Brady doesn’t: a productive running game. The Buccaneers allowed 4.5 yards per carry in the regular season. Ezekiel Elliott (876 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs) and Tony Pollard (1,007, 9) became a dynamic combination while Prescott mended his broken right thumb injured in the September loss to the Buccaneers.

Bowles said nose tackle Vita Vea (calf) and cornerback Carlton Davis III (shoulder) will be back after missing time, but Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen (knee) might not be cleared to make his season debut. Jensen was injured in training camp. “He’s practicing hard, so we’ll see where he is. He’s got some tests to pass,” Bowles said. Jensen’s replacement, starter Robert Hainsey, was limited in Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury that forced him out of last week’s game at Atlanta.

Not since 1991 have the Cowboys gone on the road to win a wild card playoff game. Brady is the NFL’s all-time leader in playoff wins with 35, a total that includes seven Super Bowl victories. Dallas, which also owns 35 all-time playoff wins, has four postseason victories since the franchise last won a Super Bowl to end the 1995 season. “I think we’ll pay most attention to the fact that we’ve had the opportunity to compete twice against them,” McCarthy said. “We have zero responsibility or time to worry about what’s happened in the past.” –Field Level Media

ML: Cowboys (-143) | Buccaneers (+120)

Spread: DAL -2.5 (-118) | TB +2.5 (-110)

Total: 45.5 – Over (-110) | Under (-110)

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