Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 24 September 2012|
Two prized rookie defensive backs crossed paths Sunday as Bucs S Mark Barron and Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne were tested in a tense three-hour, 22-minute duel.
Barron, who had been linked to Dallas before the draft, was credited with six tackles and one pass breakup while Claiborne posted one stop after being flagged for pass interference against WR Arrelious Benn on Tampa Bay's second offensive snap.
Coming off a 27-7 loss at Seattle, the Cowboys hounded Josh Freeman into a 45.2 passer rating.
"We stepped it up, we were way better than last week,'' Claiborne said after his first regular-season home game. "As a unit, we could just feel the difference in the way we were playing.''
On the board
Second-year TE Luke Stocker opened the scoring with his first NFL touchdown, catching a 1-yard pass from Freeman off a fake handoff to rookie Doug Martin.
"It felt good at the time, but unfortunately we lost the game,'' Stocker said. "I wasn't the primary receiver on the play. The running back was supposed to get the first look, but their linebacker (Bruce Carter) bit on the play. I got behind him and Josh made a great throw. I would have loved to have come out with a win.''
Facing the best
Donald Penn took the loss particularly hard, blaming himself for a key letdown midway through the fourth quarter, with Dallas clinging to a 13-7 advantage.
With the Bucs facing third-and-4 from their 15-yard line, Freeman lined up in the shotgun and Pro Bowl OLB DeMarcus Ware burst past Penn for a sack and a strip from Freeman's blind side, with Penn falling on the fumble at the 1-yard line.
Dez Bryant's ensuing 44-yard punt return led to a field goal and a two-score lead. "I've got to give Josh more time,'' Penn said. "I gave up a big third-down sack and I'm a better player than that. It shouldn't happen.''
Penn was reminded that Ware, who finished with two sacks and two forced fumbles, ranks as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers.
"Yeah, that's right, but I'm pretty darned good myself,'' Penn said. "I've got to stand up and block longer. I've done it before – against him. That was the wrong moment to fail.''
The clubs combined for 23 penalties, including four flags against Cowboys RT Doug Free, making for a sloppy matchup in front of a crowd of 81,984 as replacement officials worked the game.
In the third quarter, the Bucs won two challenges and were awarded possession when replay officials ruled Dallas QB Tony Romo fumbled after being sacked.
"The refs are doing a great job,'' McCoy said. "Everybody wants to complain, but people just need to accept that the refs are who they are. No ref wants to go out there and just make a bad call. It is what it is. I'm sure when the real refs are back, people are going to complain still.''
On the final play of the first half, the Bucs used 6-foot-5 WR Vincent Jackson as a defender in the end zone as QB Tony Romo launched a pass from midfield that was batted down by S Mark Barron.
The Bucs punted on eight consecutive possessions before Barth's field goal with 40 seconds remaining.
Tampa Bay had won 13 of its past 14 games when holding its opponent to 20 points or less.
The Bucs limited Dallas to 38 yards on the ground and opponents are averaging only 2.3 yards per carry through three weeks.