IRVING, Texas (AP)—Brad Johnson didn’t mind the boos. He gladly traded them for a victory.
In his second start subbing for injured Tony Romo, Johnson repeatedly threw passes that probably wouldn’t get first downs but also likely wouldn’t be intercepted. His safety-first approach annoyed the home fans—until the Dallas Cowboys walked away 13-9 winners over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Johnson passed for a measly 122 yards and the Cowboys gained only 172, their fewest ever in a victory. His aim was off on several potential scores, but he came through on a 2-yard touchdown pass to newcomer Roy Williams just before halftime that proved to be the game-winner.
Fittingly, it capped a drive sustained by four Tampa Bay penalties.
“We knew going in it was going to be an ugly game at times,” Johnson said. “Third-and-long, check it down, let them boo you—that’s OK by me. … You’ve just got to manage the game.”
Considering Dallas had lost two straight games and three of four, the Cowboys (5-3) were happy for any kind of win.
More significant for coach Wade Phillips was the defense giving up its fewest points all season. Phillips took a more active role this week, including telling coordinator Brian Stewart which plays to run.
“I just thought if I got more involved, it would help,” Phillips said.
Sure did. Tampa Bay (5-3) got only three field goals, two coming in the first quarter after drives that reached the Dallas 18 and 14.
In the game’s final minute, the Bucs were driving for a potential go-ahead score when they faced fourth-and-5 from the 18 with 19 seconds left. Under heavy pressure, Jeff Garcia threw an incompletion. As the Cowboys ran around celebrating, offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood threw his helmet in frustration.
“It was lost in the first half,” said Garcia, who was 28-of-44 for 228 yards. “We had them on their heels. There were some great drives and we didn’t execute. Those missed opportunities ended up haunting us.”
Also haunting Tampa Bay will be the penalties, especially on Dallas’ lone touchdown drive.
The Cowboys were stopped on two third downs, but kept the ball because of a horse-collar tackle, then a pass interference. Next came a flag for illegal contact and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for linebacker Cato June punching Dallas offensive lineman Marc Colombo.
After all that, the Cowboys had 6 seconds left and risked time running out by trying one more play. Johnson threw high and Williams used his 4-inch height advantage over cornerback Phillip Buchanon to snag it.
“They got their touchdown in incredible fashion, if you want me to be honest,” lamented Bucs coach Jon Gruden.
Tampa Bay came in as co-leaders of the NFC South. But if the Bucs are going to make it back to the playoffs, they’re going to have to learn how to win on the road. They’re now 1-3 away from their pirate-ship home; two of their next three are on the road, too.
The win buys the Cowboys—especially Phillips—some much-needed breathing room. How’s this for job security: Team owner Jerry Jones gave him a game ball.
“It played out exactly like he had it planned,” Jones said, adding he doesn’t remember ever doing that for a coach.
Now Dallas heads to New York without taking a three-game losing streak into their matchup with the Giants. The Cowboys have a bye after that, then hope to have Romo, running back Felix Jones, cornerback Terence Newman and linebacker Anthony Spencer all back when they go to Washington.
Two more starters went down Sunday. Tight end Jason Witten left with a rib injury, tried to return after X-rays showed no break, then left again. Cornerback Anthony Henry went out in the third quarter with a bruised thigh.
“I think once we get this other game out of the way, then the bye, I think we’ll be as explosive as we need to be,” receiver Terrell Owens said.
Johnson was 19-of-33 and was sacked three times. His longest pass went for just 14 yards and it was on a dump-off to running back Marion Barber. He went to the sideline hearing boos after several early three-and-outs and again in the fourth quarter. Fans also groaned at various give-up plays on third-and-long.
However, he didn’t have a turnover and neither did the Cowboys, a first this season.
“We got the dinks and dunks,” said Owens, whose 33 yards receiving were the team high. “There were more opportunities there, but we didn’t make them.”
There was an irony to the standout performance by the Dallas defense: Linebacker DeMarcus Ware didn’t have a sack, ending his streak at an NFL record-tying 10 straight games.
Tampa Bay was held without a touchdown for the first time since the 2007 opener. Joey Galloway played for the first time since Week 2 and caught three balls for 38 yards.
Williams caught two passes for 10 yards in his first home game with the Cowboys; he was shut out last week in his first game since being acquired in a trade with Detroit.