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Sean’s Scout: Smith Returns Cowboys to NFC East Prominence in Win Over Bucs

The put an end to the 2018 race on Sunday, jumping ahead of the 27-20 from AT&T Stadium to clinch their second division title in three seasons. Relying on two forced turnovers to jump-start an offense that was held scoreless a week ago, the Cowboys left plenty of room for improvement as they focus on hosting a playoff game in two weeks.

Linebacker returned a fumble 69-yards for the Cowboys second scoring, following a Dak Prescott rushing touchdown to put the Cowboys ahead early. Tampa Bay drew within 17-13 with a touchdown before the half, but came no closer to holding back Dallas in the second half thanks to another forced fumble from that created a Michael Gallup touchdown.

Scoring off of their will likely have to continue for the Cowboys to have any playoff success, but for now here's more on how they punched their ticket to the postseason with their ninth win of the season – guaranteeing a winning season for third year in a row.

  • Jaylon Smith's great afternoon started early, as he and rewarded the Cowboys faith in their young linebackers with a healthy scratch.

Smith's fumble recovery for a touchdown may be the highlight of his career, but Jaylon was more than ready to handle the dirty work for 's defense in this game as well. With defensive captain lost for the game on the Bucs' second play from scrimmage, the Cowboys easily could have come undone.

On their first play without Crawford, ran behind the Cowboys for a 38-yard gain to the Dallas 13. With a run stop on second down and pass defended on third down, Smith assured the Bucs would manage just a field goal on their opening drive.

When considering how routine Smith makes these plays look, paired with his dash down the Cowboys sideline to beat the pursuit to the end zone on his touchdown, Smith's return from injury remains one of the most inspiring sports stories anywhere in recent memory.

  • Much was made of Dak Prescott's zero rushing attempts last week at the Colts, rightfully so after his first attempt in two weeks went for a walk-in touchdown.

The Cowboys were their usual bashful selves in the from this point on, but give Offensive Coordinator credit for calling Prescott's keeper at the right time.

Not only did Tampa Bay enter this game with the worst red zone defense in the league, but their 128.1 rushing yards allowed per game is sixth worse in the league. Prescott's fake to was all he needed to get outside the numbers and follow his blocks for an easy score.

  • Maliek Collins continues to impress at the 3T-DT position, coming up with a sack of Winston that gave the Cowboys favorable field position on 's first field goal.

As is the case up and down the Cowboys defensive line, the range all four players show on any given down is extremely impressive. In sacking Winston back at the two-yard line, Collins overpowered the left as Randy Gregory gave Winston nowhere to go with a strong rush off the right side.

It's possible the Cowboys will still add to their rotation for the , giving them plenty to like about their ability to get after the from all four spots. Despite adding his name in the book a few more times Sunday afternoon, Gregory again looked like a pass rusher capable of carrying a defense – lined up across from a proven game changing talent in .

For as much publicity as this rushing duo can earn in two weeks time, the disruptive combination of Collins and on the inside has been equally important for the Cowboys defense.

Gregory's second forced fumble allowed the Cowboys to create all the separation they would need with a four-yard score extending Dallas' lead to 27-13 in the fourth quarter.

  • This touchdown was of course provided by Michael Gallup, winning on an outside fade route to bail out another questionable play call from Linehan in the red zone. 

The play Gallup scored on was nearly identical to the fade the Cowboys threw on first and goal, though incomplete to the other side of the field for . Gallup caught Brent Grimes flat-footed and found more than enough room in the back of the end zone to secure a well-timed ball from Prescott.

Given that saw just five targets in this pivotal game for the Cowboys, their distribution on offense leaves a lot to be desired. Gallup still deserves credit for the strides he's made as an athletic play maker on the ball, growing up in a hurry as the team's pick to compliment Cooper well.

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All that stands between the Cowboys and yet another opportunity to host a playoff game is a meaningless trip to MetLife Stadium to face the . A win would give the Cowboys their first ten win season since Prescott and Elliott's rookie year, and although this season has mostly failed to capture that same magic, there's hope for Dallas again after bouncing back from a shutout to win a division in front of their home fans.

Sean Martin
Sean Martin
Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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