Dez Bryant works his way downfield on a 45-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal to give the Cowboys a 16-7 lead. (US Presswire)

The weather was nice outside Cowboys Stadium, but nothing inside was relatively pleasant on either side of the ball. But the Cowboys are making no apologies for their 16-10 win over the Bucs to improve to 2-1.

Offensively, the Cowboys never got into a rhythm but thrived off a patchwork defense that played without two starters. DeMarcus Ware had two sacks and CB Brandon Carr made a smooth transition to safety, a position that took an even bigger hit with Barry Church out for the season with an Achilles injury suffered in the game.

It wasn’t QB Tony Romo’s best performance by far. But he improved to 4-0 against the Bucs as a starter despite two lost fumbles, getting sacked four times and picked off once. Romo did throw for 283 yards and spread the wealth to three receivers -- Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree -- who each had at least five catches.

Tampa Bay's offense struggled, producing just 166 total offensive yards, including 91 passing.

When the game turned: The Cowboys wanted the game-breaking play to occur much earlier in the day, but it didn't come until Bryant’s 45-yard punt return gave the Cowboys the ball at the Tampa 6 with 4:44 left. The Cowboys only managed a field goal, but it made it a two-score game at 16-7.  

Highlight moments: The game changed considerably when the Bucs nearly blocked a Chris Jones punt, which would’ve been the second in two weeks. LB Dekoda Watson just missed the block and instead hit Jones for a roughing penalty. On the back end, the Bucs lost a fumble that led to a field goal.

WR Austin made a big catch over Tampa Bay CB Eric Wright late in the third quarter that led to field goal. With the play breaking down, Romo scrambled to his right and heaved a bomb down the seam of the field where Austin outjumped Wright for the ball and a 49-yard reception.

Top-shelf performances:

Cowboys: WR Austin: five catches, 107 yards; QB Tony: 25 of 39, 283 yards, 1 INT; LB Sean Lee: six tackles, an INT; OLB Ware two sacks

Bucs: DT Gerald McCoy: two sacks; DE Michael Bennett: two sacks; CB Aqib Talib: seven tackles, an INT.

What they said about Dez Bryant’s 45-yard punt return

  • Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- “Very nice. We’ve been wanting him to find that straight line past that first wave and he did that. When he’s got that running room, he’s hard to defend on punt returns.”
  • Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis -- “You knew it was a matter of time before he would break one like that. We did a nice job of giving him some room by the sideline, and he did the rest.”

Numbers you should know: The Cowboys were able to get off the field defensively when Tampa Bay had third-down attempts. The Bucs were 3 of 15 on third downs and 2 of 9 in the second half.

Injury update: The Cowboys were already without six players, including defensive starters Kenyon Coleman and S Gerald Sensabaugh. But it got worse with S Church out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles. The Cowboys need to figure out what their contingency plan will be at safety. WR Austin left the game for X-rays on his ribs but returned to the game with a big catch. Tampa Bay also suffered a big loss with DE Adrian Clayborn likely out for a while with an injury.

 Going forward: The Cowboys will get a second straight home game and a much-needed extra day as they take on Chicago in the Oct. 1 Monday night game.  The Bucs fall to 1-2 with a second-straight road loss, but they won’t hit the road again for more than a month as they get three in a row at home, along with a bye week. The Redskins come to Raymond James Stadium next week, followed by the Chiefs and Saints.

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